British Columbia apologizes to Chinese-Canadians for historical wrongs, head tax

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Chinese Head Tax

The Government of British Columbia has issued a formal apology to Chinese-Canadians for the head tax and other racist historical wrongs that date back more than 140 years.

Premier Christy Clark made the apology at the BC Legislature earlier this morning, targeting over 100 historical racist and discriminatory policies that were seen as acceptable and enforced by previous provincial governments in the 1800s and 1900s.

This includes denying Chinese-Canadians in British Columba the right to vote, the ability to hold public office, the right to vote, own property, the exorbitant head tax for immigrants, and other basic human rights.

“On behalf of the Province of British Columbia, and on behalf of the entire legislative assembly, we sincerely apologize for the provincial government’s historical wrongs,” said Clark to the legislature.

“While the governments which passed these laws and policies acted in a manner that was lawful at the time, today this racist discrimination is seen by British Columbians – represented by all members of the legislative assembly – as unacceptable and intolerable.”

“The legislative assembly’s apology today signifies our deepest regret for the hardship and suffering our past provincial governments imposed on Chinese Canadians. The entire legislative assembly acknowledges the perseverance of Chinese Canadians that was demonstrated with grace and dignity throughout our history while being oppressed by unfair and discriminatory historical laws.”

“Moreover, we acknowledge the overwhelming contribution by Chinese Canadians to British Columbia’s culture, history and economic prosperity.

However, the apology is not linked with any compensation to the survivors or widows that had to pay for the Chinese head tax. It comes eight years after Stephen Harper’s federal conservative government formal apology in the House of Commons, which also came with a payment of $20,000 each to approximately 400 affected families.

Chinese immigrants first came to British Columbia in the 1850s, and tens of thousands more came in the decades afterward for the gold rush and jobs from railway construction. However, when railway construction labour was no longer needed and the Chinese were seen as a threat, the federal government issued a head tax to discourage further immigration.

The Chinese head tax began at $50 in 1885 and reached a maximum of $500 by 1903 – an exorbitant amount for incomes of the day.

The head tax was abolished ion 1923, but in its place a new policy virtually prohibited Chinese immigration until 1947. During the entire lifespan of the head tax, the federal government collected about $23 million – a value of $308 million in 2014 dollars – from 81,000 Chinese.

Read the full motion introduced by Christy Clark:

“Be it resolved that this Legislature apologizes for more than a hundred laws, regulations, and policies that were imposed by past provincial governments that discriminated against people of Chinese descent since 1871, when British Columbia joined Confederation, to 1947.

These laws and policies denied British Columbia’s Chinese communities’ basic human rights, including but not limited to, the right to vote, hold public office, or own property; imposed labour, educational and employment restrictions; subjected them to health and housing segregation, and prevented them from fully participating in society.

The House deeply regrets that these Canadians were discriminated against simply because they were of Chinese descent. All members of this House acknowledge that we all aspire to be a fair and just society where people of all nations and cultures are welcomed, accepted and respected.

Be it further resolved that the House acknowledge that the Chinese Canadian Community endured untold hardships and persevered with grace and dignity.

We acknowledge that despite being subjected to discriminatory laws, policies and practices, the Chinese community has made, and continues to make, substantial contributions to the culture, history and economic prosperity in our province.”

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