BC gov’t apologizes to Chinese-Canadians for policies including head tax

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VICTORIA (NEWS1130) – An apology that is more than 140 years overdue has been made in the BC Legislature.

Premier Christy Clark has apologized to Chinese-Canadians for policies that include the Chinese head tax. She says BC expresses its sorrow and regret for historical government practices once considered appropriate, but now viewed as unacceptable, intolerable racist discrimination.

She says she believes the all-party apology can bring closure to a dark period in BC’s history and on behalf of all British Columbians and all members in the legislature, “we sincerely apologize for the provincial government’s historical wrongs.”

The apology was supposed to be made last year, but OMNI TV Political Analyst Kim Emerson says there were a couple of reasons for the delay.

“One was that the Liberals were still, to a certain extent, mired in the ethnic vote scandal situation. That was a pretty ugly thing for them to have to deal with, the way that they were trying to approach people in the ethnic community to vote and get onside with the Liberal party.”

“The other thing is they needed all sides of the Legislature to come together on this,” adds Emerson. “They wanted it to be a unanimous situation, not simply a partisan one where the government was issuing the apology and the rest didn’t get onboard.”

He adds no financial compensation is accompanying the apology. “This isn’t Jerry Maguire. There is no money. Don’t show any money; there’s none to be had. This is a formal apology issued in the Legislature [and] there will be a reception afterwards.”

“As far as the provincial government is concerned, the federal government’s role and responsibility was compensation. The federal government did a little bit of that a couple of years ago. The provincial government is not doing that,” explains Emerson.

In 2006, the federal government offered an apology for the head tax imposed on Chinese immigrants and included $20,000 in compensation for families or surviving people who paid the tax.

“The NDP says there’s 89 pieces of legislation or rules or regulations that were put in by various legislators. The government says there’s 146, if you include… various other things. But either way, they were discriminatory policies. Not just the head tax. Things like not allowing them to vote, not allowing Chinese people to own property… there’s a whole bunch of things in there. That is all apologized for.”

But Emerson says the apology won’t satisfy everyone. “It’s always going to be a source of hurt… it will always be a source of contention.”

“There is a group that has always pushed for… more compensation for relatives or Chinese people that came here and had to pay the head tax… it’s simply not going to happen,” says Emerson.

The Chinese Canadian National Council is declining the apology. The group is calling for an inclusive redress with the BC government and wants a symbolic return of the funds paid by head tax families. It wants to see the return of a total of $8.5 million in head tax levies, which is says would have a value of about $1 billion today.

“A government should never be seen to be profiting from racism but this is what has happened here today,” claims Victor Wong, executive director of the CCNC. “Only the affected head tax families can accept this Apology and allow the reconciliation process to begin.”

“Will everybody be happy? No,” says Emerson. “No one will ever be completely happy with this because there were decades upon decades of discriminatory policies and legislation that went into this, along with the head tax.”

“Will some people be happy that maybe we can start to put this behind us? That’s probably the best hope we can get out of this.”

One group says the apology is not enough 

The Chinese Canadian National Council‘s Executive Director Victor Wong says the apology from the government lacks sincerity.

“What I mean by that, is it doesn’t bring closure to this issue,” Wong tells News1130. He maintains there should be a re-payment of 8.5 million dollars to families whose relatives have been subjected to the head tax.

“In our view there has to be a symbolic return on the head tax levies. This is a basic principle for us.”

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