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Apology by Vancouver should help close chapter of pain for Chinese immigrants

It may have been late in coming, but it recognises historic discrimination in legislation, regulation and policies against Canadian citizens from China

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 02 May, 2018, 4:22am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 02 May, 2018, 4:23am

The Canadian federal government under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has made a habit of apologising for past wrongs.

Now, the Vancouver City Council has followed suit in offering a formal apology to descendants of Chinese immigrants who had suffered discrimination for more than a century.

Thousands of Chinese labourers went to Canada during the 1880s to help build the railway from Vancouver to Montreal.

Besides paying a hefty federal government head tax on each worker, Chinese immigrants also faced systematic discrimination in schools, leisure facilities, housing and medical care for more than a century. The head tax, equivalent to two years’ wages, targeted Chinese immigrant workers, as those from Europe and elsewhere did not have to pay a similar levy.

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Even after they died, most Chinese Canadians were not allowed to be buried in local cemeteries, thereby forcing relatives to return their bodies to China.

Until 1952, those of Chinese descent were also barred from jobs in the public service and had no voting rights.

With its long-standing multicultural policy, Canada has been forthright in acknowledging historical injustices, especially those committed against native Canadians and ethnic minorities.

Since entering office, Trudeau has apologised for the executions of First Nations chiefs in the 19th century, the forcible relocation of indigenous children to residential schools in the last century and for the Komagata Maru incident in 1914, in which hundreds of Sikh, Muslim and Hindu passengers were denied entry and forcibly returned to an uncertain and sometimes violent fate in India.

The apology to Chinese Canadians in Vancouver, one of two major Canadian cities with a large Chinese immigrant population, has been a long time in coming.

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One reason for the reluctance or even resistance of some officials to apologise was the lack of funds, because some activists want not only a formal apology but also compensation for the Chinese head tax.

The latest apology recognises historic discrimination in legislation, regulation and policies against Canadian citizens of Chinese descent.

Though late in coming, it should help close a painful chapter in Chinese-Canadian history.