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  1. Unit 4 Immigration

Unit 4 Immigration

Chapter 4 Chinese Immigration: A Story of Exclusion

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Ask yourself:

  • Why did the Federal government discriminate against a single ethnic group?
  • What debt, if any, do Canadians owe to those who were victims of injustice in the past?
  • What can the path to inclusion be for all minority groups in Canada?
  • Is exclusion ever fair? Why would one group exclude another?
Dr. Joseph Wong talks about the Chinese Head Tax

On this page you will have opportunity to consider the concept of exclusion and by examining a timeline, learn about and grow to understand the prejudice and discrimination against Chinese immigrants since the end of the 19th Century. You will share your views of how a government could respond to demands to redress to injustices such as the Head Tax.

This really happened

An image of a black and white immigration certificate for Chinese people in Canada, with an old photo of a Chinese man in the bottom right corner.

Chinese Immigration Certificate.
Source: Library and Archives Canada Mikan 161424

enlarge image

Between the years 1881 and 1885 almost 15,000 men were brought from China to help build the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR). As soon as the railroad was completed, the Chinese were considered an employment threat to the White workers, so the Federal Government moved to restrict the immigration of the Chinese to Canada. Chinese immigration to Canada started in 1885 in response to the gold rush in British Columbia. The first federal anti-Chinese bill was passed in 1885, imposing a $50 Head Tax upon every person of Chinese origin entering the country. No other ethnic group was targeted this way.

By 1903, the Head Tax was increased to $500 and the government was able to collect $23 million from the Chinese through the Head Tax. Meanwhile, Chinese immigrants continued to come to Canada. In 1923, Canadian Parliament passed the Chinese Immigration Act (aka Chinese Exclusion Act) excluding all but a few Chinese immigrants from entering Canada. When the Chinese Immigration Act was repealed in 1947, a number of activists campaigned against the federal government to seek redress for the Head Tax. Since 1993, the House of Commons have attempted to make offers to repay the Chinese. Finally, in 2006, Prime Minister Stephen Harper made an apology and offered repayment to those Chinese citizens who were penalized with the Head Tax. An estimate of only 20 Chinese Canadian survivors who paid the Head Tax were still alive in 2006.

It is interesting to note that the Chinese population in the past few decades has increased favourably. In recent years, the Chinese head the top of the list of the number of immigrants moving to Canada.

Chinese Immigration: Timeline
DatesEvents
Chinese Immigration: Timeline
Dates Events
1858

The year that the first Chinese Immigrants were drawn to Canada by the gold rush in British Columbia.

1880-1885

15,000 Chinese immigrants recruited to work on the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway. In spite of their contributions to the building of the CPR in British Columbia, the Chinese were paid only half the wages of white workers.

1885

The Federal government passed a Chinese Head Tax bill in order to restrict the number of immigrants moving to Canada. The Chinese Immigration Act took the form of a Head tax of $50 imposed, with few exceptions, upon every person of Chinese origin entering Canada. Captains of ships bringing Chinese immigrants to Canada had to collect the tax before departure.

1900

Head tax was increased to $100.

1903

Head tax was increased to $500, an amount equivalent to two years wages of Chinese labour at that time.

1907

In San Francisco, Labour leaders and workers formed the Anti-Asian Exclusion League calling or job protection for natural-born citizens. Branches of the league spread into British Columbia. An anti-Asian riot of 8,000 men looting and burning their way through Vancouver’s Chinatown damaged Chinese and Japanese businesses.

1922

The school board in Victoria BC segregated Chinese students below grade 8, in one separate school. In response, parents refused to send their children to segregated schools.

1923

The Chinese Immigration Act, better known as The Chinese Exclusion Act was passed, excluding those of Chinese origin from entering Canada. The act was passed on July 1st, known as Dominion Day by Canadians but “Humiliation Day” by the Chinese.

1947

The Chinese Immigration Act was repealed. Chinese Canadians were still not allowed to bring their children over 18 years of age to Canada.

1957

Douglas Jung becomes the first Chinese Canadian member of Parliament.

1967

The federal government finally issued one set of immigration rules for applicants from all countries.

1984

The Chinese National Canadian Council (CCNC) began seeking redress on behalf of survivors and families for the suffering they had to endure from government discrimination.

1999

Canadian Adrienne Clarkson is appointed Governor General of Canada.

2006

Prime Minister Stephen Harper addresses Parliament with a formal apology. The federal government offered symbolic payments of $20 000 to each survivor. There were only an estimated 20 Chinese Canadians who paid the tax still alive in 2006.

2012

China was the number one source country for immigration to Canada. 32,900 permanent residents were admitted.

Action 1

Do >

Creating a Visual Timeline

Each of the events, highlighted in the timeline would have been reported by journalists throughout the country. Choose one of the events and create an illustration that might have appeared on the front page of the newspaper. What headline would accompany the illustration? You may choose to present your drawing in the form of a political cartoon.

Once completed, the class can arrange visual images in sequential order by creating a display or PowerPoint presentation.

Action 2

Do >

Reporting events

Imagine that you are a journalist reporting on the event. What information would you offer your readers about the Chinese immigration experience? How might your report include the 5 W’s of reporting? Who? What? Where? When and Why? How does this event tell part of the story of immigration? What point of view might you take to present your article?

Action 3

Do >

Responding to the story of Chinese immigration

Working best in groups of three, record your reactions about a topic or issue and consider the views of others. Share your responses with two others, to discover whether their opinions were similar or different from yours.

Questions to Consider

  • How did you react to the story of Chinese immigration? What surprised you?
  • What are your opinions about any form of ‘exclusion’?
  • Why do you think a federal government would discriminate in such a way? Was there any sound reasoning to imposing a Head Tax on the Chinese?
  • Do you think apologies and repayment are enough to compensate for the treatment of the Chinese?

Take a blank piece of paper and fold it twice, to make four rectangles. Number the spaces #1, #2, #3, #4.

 
#1 #2
#3 #4
  • In #1, write your response to one of the Questions to Consider connected to the issue of Chinese immigration. You might share your gut reaction, give an opinion, raise questions, or make a connection.
  • Exchange papers with another person in the group. Read the response that is written in #1. Then, write your response to it in space #2. What did the response in space #1 invite you to think about?
  • Repeat the activity one more time. Read both responses on the sheet you receive, and write a response to both in #3.
  • The sheet is returned to the person who wrote the first response. Read all three responses on your sheet, and then write a new response in #4.
  • As a follow up, the group can discuss the topic of Chinese immigration. Groups can share response in a whole class discussion.

Action 4

Do >

A personal response to “Exclusion”

A. Complete the following statements:

  • For me, the word exclusion means…
  • A story I know about exclusion is…
  • One way to make up for an exclusion is…

B. Work in groups to share your responses. The following questions can guide your discussion:

  • Is being excluded ever ‘fair’?
  • Why might someone (or a group) exclude others?
  • What does the story of exclusion of Chinese Immigrants remind you of – both personally and globally?

How Should Government Respond to a Past Injustice?

Key concepts › Redress

1a. A relief from a distress

1b. A means or possibility of seeking a remedy

2. Compensation for wrong or loss: reparation

Source: Merriam-Webster

Chinese Head Tax and Exclusion Act: Addressing the issue of Redressing

After the Chinese Immigration Act was repealed in 1947, a number of activists, including Wong Foon Sien, began campaigning the federal government to seek redress for the Head Tax. But it took almost sixty years until an apology was offered. Why did it take so long?

During the 1980’s over 4000 Head Taxpayers and their family members approached the Chinese Canadian National Council (CCNC) to register their Head Tax certificates. A redress campaign unfolded that included meetings, increased media profiles, research, publications and presentations in many communities Although Prime Minister Brian Mulroney made an offer of individual medallions, a museum wing and other measures, these offers were rejected outright by the Chinese Canadian Nations groups. In 1993, Jean Chretien’s Cabinet openly refused to provide an apology or redress. The CCNC persevered raising the issues wherever they could, including a submission to the United Nations Human Rights Commission. In 2001, the Ontario court declared that the Canadian government had no obligation to redress the Head Tax levied on Chinese immigrants.

It wasn’t until 2003, when Paul Martin was appointed prime minister, that there was a sense of urgency, since there were only a few dozen surviving Chinese Head Tax payers. The issue continued to be a hot topic that was brought forth by politicians during federal elections. As part of his Conservative party platform, Stephen Harper promised to work with the Chinese community on redress, a promise that he kept when elected in 2006. He stated, “Chinese Canadians are making an extraordinary impact on the building of our country. They’ve also made a significant historical contribution despite many obstacles… The Chinese community deserves an apology for the Head Tax and appropriate acknowledgement and redress.”

June 22, 2006—House of Commons

Finally, in a speech to the House of Commons on June 22, 2006, Prime Minister Stephen Harper offered an apology for the Head Tax. In his speech Harper said, “We feel compelled to right this historic wrong for the simple reason it is the decent thing to do… a characteristic to be found at the core of the Canadian soul.” 

Harper’s government offered symbolic payments to living Head Tax payers as well as living spouses of deceased payers. Survivors (or their spouses) were paid approximately $20,000 in compensation. Only an estimated 20 Chinese Canadians who paid the tax were still alive in 2006.

Funds were also established for community projects to educate Canadians about the impact of past wartime measures and restrictions.

For the complete speech see: Apology Chinese Head Tax

Statements from the Calgary Chinese Culture Centre tell us how Chinese reacted to the Harper apology.

Alex Louie, a Chinese veteran said, “All I ever wanted was an apology for the government to set the record straight.” Another early pioneer, Mary Mah stated, “The sorrow and the hardship cannot be erased. But we can now begin to feel, in truth, I did not expect to see this, I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling very Canadian.”

Knowing that the Harper government extended an apology and compensation to the Chinese, we still need to consider whether an apology is enough. (See Unit Three: Chapter Two Entry Denied: The Komagata Maru). In order to fight against all forms of racism today are we not obliged to keep alive the memory of race based on discrimination? History is something that cannot be changed and a past injustice is not a wound that can be healed—or is it?

Action 5

Do >

Writing a position paper
  • What do you think can be learned from the Chinese Canadian experience?
  • Do you think a group or the government owe a debt to someone for a past injustice?

For this activity you will have an opportunity to share your views on the concept of redressing an injustice. Write a position paper in which you support or oppose the responsibility of the Canadian government to apologize and respond in some manner to the wrongs committed by the governments of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Consider one or more of the following points that could be included in your paper.

  • What would be considered a fair government response to victims and their offspring?
  • What suggestions can you offer about how Canadians should best respond to the Head Tax?
  • Does a government response to the Chinese set an unrealistic precedent for complaints for other injustices?
  • How does a redress serve a useful social purpose? What is the path to inclusion for all minority groups in Canada?
  • What differences exist between our ideas of right and wrong in today’s society compared to those that existed in the past 100 years on the topics of immigration, race and workers?