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Sunday, June 25, 2006

The Chinese head tax blues: Apologies s.v.p.


All will agree that an apology for the Chinese immigrant head tax was long overdue as an attempt to rectify mistakes from the past. Cindy Drukier is right on the mark when she highlights the NCCC/CPP connection in this whole ordeal. It seems that every media that reported on this story failed to mention the punch line--including the Western Standard!

Epoch Times Cindy Drukier reports: The rub that's galvanizing the Chinese-Canadian community is that the deal was negotiated with a single organization, the National Chinese Canadian Congress (NCCC). The NCCC does not represent any head tax payers, nor does it have a track record on rights issues. Many Chinese-Canadians also dislike its close ties with the Chinese Communist Party. (full report)

How fair is it? Is this just the tip of the iceberg--time for more apologies perhaps? Absolutely!

Barbara Yaffe, Vancouver Sun offers her viewpoint:

More than 80,000 paid the tax; 20 remain alive. Why should it take so long to resolve such blatant injustices experienced by so many different ethnic groups?

Late last week representatives of the Jewish community were appropriately calling for a federal memorial to another despicable event in Canadian history -- the 1939 turning away of more than 900 desperate Jewish refugees on the ship St. Louis. Passengers were forced to return to Germany where they are believed to have perished. (full report)

From the GungHaggisFatChoy blog, Todd Wong looks at the big picture and comments:

"If the government uses ill-gotten money because of racism for it's own purposes...is it right for the government to profit from racism? What is the amount of $500 with accrued interest from 1903 to 2006? If the Government was to charge the equivalent of the head tax amounts today... people would be outraged. The Martin government removed the $1000 immigrant landing fee, because it was seen as prohibitive for new immigrants. What would the equivalant racist head tax be if it was charged today?"

From the Chair of the National Conservative Caucus, Rahim Jaffer MP for Edmonton Strathcona wrote:

...On Thursday June 22, 2006 on behalf of the Government of Canada, the Prime Minister apologized in the House of Commons for the implementation of the Head Tax. The Government also announced its intention to offer symbolic individual payments of $20,000 to living Chinese Head Tax payers and living spouses of deceased payers.

The Government will also be establishing a $24-million community historical recognition program to provide grant and contribution funding for community projects linked to wartime measures and immigration restrictions and a $10-million national historical recognition program to fund federal initiatives, developed in partnership with other stakeholders. The specifics of each initiative (symbolic payments, community programs and national recognition programs) are being finalized, and implementation is anticipated to begin in Fall of 2006. Information on eligibility, verification and the application process will be made available once finalized...

Vancouver Sun: Head tax: The right thing to do, the fair thing to do by Daphne Bramham "Apologizing to Chinese-Canadians and paying redress for racist policies goes a long way toward squaring the books"

"They need to remember that the head tax raised more money than that at the time it was charged. It was a time before income tax was charged, and the $500 was equal to two years' salary for an average Canadian or the price of a decent house."

June 24, 2006: There was a sense of history being made on Thursday in an ornate hotel ballroom that was filled with ghosts and overflowed with stories of separation and loss, of bitter memories and reopened wounds.

Ninety minutes before the doors were even opened, hundreds of elderly Chinese-Canadians were lined up to get a seat to see and hear Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologize on behalf of all Canadians for more than six decades of racist and exclusionary immigration policies.

Nearly every one of the 1,000 people seated in the Hotel Vancouver ballroom had a story to tell. Most carried worn documents, photocopies of old documents and photographs that they readily pulled out in explanation of who they are and where they came from.

A few among the rapidly dwindling number of head-tax payers, their spouses and descendants had come to see if they would finally get their money back. But most of the ones I spoke to were there to hear the prime minister say sorry.

King Ming Wong, 75, was there with his wife, Po Chun, and daughter, Grace Schenkeveld, to hear the government acknowledge his suffering. His father paid the head tax on May 19, 1919, and worked as a cook and then in a cannery. First, he couldn't afford to bring his family to Canada, and then Canada wouldn't let him.

King Ming Wong was was six when he saw his father for the last time. His mother died of starvation during the Second World War when his father couldn't get money through. Wong was 13.

It wasn't until 1959 when Wong was 28, a qualified aircraft mechanic married to an architect that he was finally able to immigrate to Canada after having been rebuffed twice.

What the Wongs wanted and got Friday was what they described as fair treatment -- one compensation cheque for each head-tax certificate and money for community recognition of and education about what had happened.

Tim Jay, 63, had driven from Nelson with this 93-year-old mother, Qui Far Jay. He said his mother had "lived, lived, lived and dreamed, dreamed, dreamed until this day would come."

What she had lived for and dreamed of was that Canada said sorry for having charged her husband a $500 tax to immigrate and sorry for its exclusionary immigration act that had kept them separated for most of three decades.

Neither mother nor son wanted or expected the $20,000 that the government has promised to pay to living head-tax payers or their spouses.

Too frail to be able to accept Harper's invitation to witness the apology in Parliament, Jay and her son instead watched it on a huge screen in Vancouver and were satisfied. "I'll never forget this," Tim Jay said. Nor would his mother.

Eighty-six-year-old Li Wei Ping has no memory of his father. Both he and his sister were conceived on his father's three -- possibly four trips -- back to China. And Li Wei Ping only came to Canada in 1986 after his son -- Cecilia's father -- immigrated a few years earlier.

Li Sam paid $500 for the privilege of coming to Canada in 1916 to work first as a mine worker. He worked hard, saved his money and opened a laundromat. But it burned down. So he went back to the mines and saved enough money to open another. But he could never save enough money to bring his family to Canada before 1923 when Canada amended its Immigration Act which had excluded Chinese from Canada.

When Li Wei Ping heard about the head-tax redress movement, he enlisted the help of his Canadian-born granddaughter Cecilia to find out when his father had come and what had happened to him. The 21-year-old SFU student knew nothing about her great-grandfather or even that he had lived in Canada.

Yet on the sixth floor of the Vancouver Public Library and after two hours of plowing through the lists of the 82,000 people who paid the head tax between 1885 and 1923, she found her great-grandfather's name. She also found that he died in Toronto and for many years had been buried there.

"We can't keep hating the government for what it did," Cecilia said. "It is great what they [the government] are doing. It is giving back part of what these families deserve. To us, the apology is the most important thing."

There will be those Canadians who quibble that the cost of redress is too high -- the $20,000 for the few remaining head-tax payers and their spouses, the $24 million for community projects linked to wartime measures and immigration restrictions and $10 million for national historical recognition programs.

They need to remember that the head tax raised more money than that at the time it was charged. It was a time before income tax was charged, and the $500 was equal to two years' salary for an average Canadian or the price of a decent house.

There will be others who will quibble that the price paid was too low.

But the test that should be applied is the one that the Wongs used: Is it fair?

It appears that it is.

It is shameful that it has taken so long for the apology to finally be made. It is distressing that so many Chinese-Canadians died without hearing it.

But Harper's full and unequivocal expression of regret and deep sorrow couched in the most Canadian of terms should make all of us proud.

The racist policy of the past was deliberate, gravely unjust and "one we are morally obligated to acknowledge," he said

"Even though the head tax -- a product of a profoundly different time -- lies far in our past, we feel compelled to right this historic wrong for the simple reason that it is the decent thing to do, a characteristic to be found at the core of the Canadian soul."

Decent and unafraid to finally say sorry.

It is a good platform on which to continue building a diverse, just and fair Canada.

dbramham@png.canwest.com

Related Articles:

Epoch Times: Head Tax Still a Headache

Western Standard: Head Tax Headaches

Epoch Times: Head Tax Redress Comes to a Head

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