Head Tax Apology

Thursday 22, June 2006 is a special day for Chinese Canadians.
Canada apologized formally on Thursday for a head tax it once levied on Chinese immigrants, describing it as a historic wrong and one of “the racist actions of our past.”  

Some historical facts: 

An estimated 80,000 Chinese immigrants paid the tax, which was intended to deter Chinese immigration after Chinese workers helped build the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1885.  

The tax started at $50 per person in 1885 and rose to $500 per person in 1903, equal to as much as two years’ salary.  

After it was withdrawn in 1923, the head tax was replaced by the Exclusion Act, which barred Chinese immigrants from the country altogether until 1947.  

Other untold facts: 

Many families were separated due to the inability to pay the head tax or the eventual Exclusion Act. Some families were separated for a full 25 years. Discrimination, unprotected working conditions and cultural alienation could surely send anyone to the asylum.        

Whether this is a political gesture; (Chinese voters are influential in Toronto, where the Conservatives seek to make inroads, and in
British Columbia, where the Conservatives lost seats in January.) or there still exists many dissident voices; (e.g. Don martin, a National Post columnist, wrote: ”Express regret, show signs of sorrow, shed a tear of remorse if you absolutely must. But Prime Minister Stephen Harper should never ever apologize for the legal actions of history that have morphed into the mistreatment of ethnic groups by modern-day standards.”) or the action came more then a century after the fact, cannot diminish the significant of the action. It stated unequivocally in history and the record of Parliament that a nation had admitted to an injustice done to a group of people whose only crime was that of their skin color. I believe
Canada did what many nations still have not been able to do which is to face the moral dimension of a political decision.  

Susan Eng, of the Ontario Coalition of Head Tax Payers and Families, called it a historic day. “In our private lives, we remain responsible for all of our wrongs,” said Eng. “For the government to step up to the plate and say we take responsibility for our wrongs, I think it sends a major message to all Canadians of the kind of values we hold dear.”  

Today I am not only proud of my birth heritage (Chinese) but I am also proud of my adopted heritage (Canadian). 

For those of you who did not get a chance to see the Parliament segment of the apology, the Honarable Harper actually spoke “
Canada apologizes” in Cantonese.   


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