Vancouver council accepts recommendation to apologize for past prejudice against Chinese Canadians

    1 of 4 2 of 4

      Vancouver municipal politicians have acknowledged the city's history of racism against a community with deep roots on Canada's west coast.

      On Wednesday (November 1), council unanimously approved a staff recommendation to embrace a city advisory panel's call for a "public acknowledgement and a formal apology for past legislation, regulations and policies of previous Vancouver City Councils that discriminated against residents of Chinese descent".

      Council also endorsed the Historical Discrimination Against Chinese People Advisory Group's recommendation that the apology "be delivered in a dialect that was spoken by early Chinese residents, as they were the ones most affected by these legislation, regulations and policies".

      In addition, council voted to direct staff to "organize an Acknowledgement and Apology event".

      There are also 12 "priority actions" in the HDC advisory group's report, which is one of the appendices to another report that went to council.

      The report to council discloses how discrimination was meted out against Chinese residents in the past.

      If they were sick, they received treatment in hospital basements. Eventually, a separate hospital, Mount St. Joseph's, was built to keep Chinese patients away from patients in other hospitals.

      And if Chinese residents died, they were barred from Vancouver cemeteries. This meant that in some cases, their bodies had to be returned to China to be interred, though some were buried in New Westminster, where a secondary school was constructed on top of the grave sites. 

      Charlie Quan (left, with his friend Sid Chow Tan) was one of the most outspoken head-tax payers up until his death in 2012 at the age of 105.

      Segregation was imposed through restrictions on where Chinese people could own or rent property.

      In addition, a group called the Anti-Chinese League, which existed in the early 20th century, had a membership that included a mayor and several aldermen and ex-aldermen, according to the HDC appendix to the report.

      In 1900, the city asked the province to pressure the federal government "to exclude all Mongols, especially Chinese", the appendix notes.

      "All City contracts after 1890 contained a clause that prohibited contractors to use any Chinese labour. The full force of the municipal government's statutory powers, as well as its ability to negotiate commercial leases and land grants, was used to implement this ban."

      In 1914, a resolution came before council to prohibit Chinese and Japanese children from attending schools, according to the report to council. This was not approved.

      However, Chinese children and their parents were banned from the city's public swimming pool for six days a week in 1928, a restriction that lasted until 1945. 

      The HDC appendix points out that the first teacher of Chinese ancestry ever hired by the Vancouver school board, Vivian Jung, nearly missed this opportunity because of the city's discriminatory practices.

      That's because she had to obtain a "swimming lifesaver certificate", according to the appendix, to be allowed into the profession.

      When she wasn't permitted into the city's Crystal Pool, her fellow students and teachers also refused to enter the pool in an act of solidarity.

      "With that stand, the long-standing colour bar at the City's only public swimming pool ended in 1945," the appendix states.

      Jung taught at Tecumseh school for 35 years.

      The report also points out that the province made it illegal in 1919 for Chinese restaurants from hiring white female servers.

      "When the City started enforcing the Act strictly in 1937, white waitresses held a public march outside City Hall in Vancouver," it states. "These low income women were ignored by City Hall and lost their livelihoods as a result of the City's action."

      Second World War vet Douglas Jung was among those who fought discrimination, and in 1957, he became the first Chinese Canadian MP.

      Other acts of discrimination against the Chinese included:

      * a provincial ban on running for office and voting in municipal elections, which was imposed in 1876;

      * the City of Vancouver confirmed this prohibition when it was incorporated in 1886;

      * a federally imposed Chinese head tax of $50, which took effect in 1885 and was subsequently raised to $100 in 1900 and $500 in 1903;

      * mob attacks on Chinatown and Japantown in 1907, which were supported by the labour movement;

      * federal legislation excluding virtually all Chinese immigration, which was passed in 1923 and only lifted in 1947;

      * and prohibitions on practising pharmacy, law, and dentistry and de facto bans on working in banking, department stores, medicine, and nursing.

      In 1908, the federal government took steps to restrict immigration from Japan and British-ruled India with the Hayashi-Lemieux Gentlemen's Agreement and the Continuous Journey Regulation, respectively.

      The first woman elected to Vancouver council, Helena Gutteridge, opposed discrimination against Chinese residents in her only term of office after being elected in 1937.

      One member of council, Helena Gutteridge, opposed a 1937 motion to prohibit business licences to "Orientals" without the approval of the city's properties, licences, and claims committee. 

      "Voices such as that of Alderman Gutteridge, and of labour leaders who spoke out against the use of white supremacy to organize unions, are a reminder that even amidst the widespread applications of racist justifications for using the power of municipal government, many stood with Vancouver's Chinese community in contesting and at times defeating discrimination," the HDC appendix states.

      Chinese Canadian Second World War veterans such as Ernie Louie, Douglas Jung, and Roy Mah led the fight to roll back many of the discriminatory measures. And in 1952, the City of Vancouver hired its first employee of Chinese ancestry.