to original source: Southam
/ Canadian Press
CANADIANS APPEAL FOR APOLOGY, COMPENSATION FOR HEAD TAX
Monday, June 10, 2002
TORONTO (CP) - Chinese immigrants forced to pay a discriminatory
$500 head tax to enter Canada continued their fight for redress Monday
with an appeal of a ruling that threw out their suit against the federal
An Ontario Superior Court judge struck down a class-action lawsuit on
behalf of surviving immigrants last year, saying modern ethics can't be
applied to historical laws. About 400 survivors and 4,000 of their descendants
were asking for $1.2 billion in compensation and a formal apology.
Mary Eberts, the lawyer representing the survivors, argued in court Monday
that the Canadian head tax flew in the face of the international norms
of the day.
Between 1885 and 1923 the federal government collected $23 million - equal
to about $1.2 billion in today's dollars - from about 81,000 Chinese immigrants
under the Chinese Exclusion Act.
"This kind of racial discrimination was contradictory to customary international
law," Eberts told the court as a handful of adults and children wearing
T-shirts emblazoned with "Redress Now" slogans looked on.
The panel of Appeal Court justices hearing the case said Monday that Canada's
own domestic laws would supersede international law.
May Cheng, president of the Chinese Canadian National Council, said outside
court that the Nazis also passed laws to justify their crimes during the
Second World War.
"It's the duty of the court to determine whether these laws were a violation
of our fundamental freedoms," Cheng said.
A 16-year-old dedicated to educating people about the head tax also attended
the hearing and said outside the court she's optimistic the judges will
do the right thing.
"My great uncle was imprisoned when he got to Canada because he didn't
have the money," said Debbie Yam.
"Villagers sent it to him and then he lived in debt for many years, working
to repay them and support his family. It's time to admit what happened
and address it."
Cheng said regardless of the outcome of the case, her organization will
continue to lobby the government for an apology. She said the appeal was
launched partly to keep the issue on the public agenda.
"We are not going to go away," she said. "If Canada wants to promote a
good human rights record, it first has to atone for the past and reconcile
with the communities it wronged."
Kenda Gee, president of the Edmonton-based Head Tax and Exclusion Act
Redress Committee, said the appeal launched in Toronto is likely just
the beginning of a number of private and class-action lawsuits that he
said will be filed on the matter.
He also said there Chinese groups are considering launching an international
"That's not something the federal government would want to get dragged
into," he said. "But these lawsuits were our only course of action, given
the protracted period of negotiations and neglect the government has shown
on this issue."
Chinese Canadians have been lobbying for redress since 1984.
Later this week, Vancouver-East MP Libby Davies will present a petition
with 2,000 signatures to Parliament, calling on the government to enter
negotiations with the country's Chinese community.
Gee said it's time to stop dragging heels while other countries are taking
In February, New Zealand became the first commonwealth country to issue
a formal apology and enter into negotiations to compensate victims of
its head tax on Chinese immigrants. Australia and the United States also
imposed such taxes, but neither has issued a formal apology.
Progress has also been slow for other ethnic groups that have been working
alongside Chinese Canadians for redress since the 80s.
Italian and Ukrainian groups seeking compensation for internment during
the Second World War point to the agreement the Canadian government struck
with Japanese Canadians, saying a precedent has been set for compensation.
In 1988, the Brian Mulroney government reached an agreement with Japanese
Canadians whose property was confiscated during the Second World War.
They were compensated for the crimes.
Mulroney offered an "unqualified" apology to Italian Canadians interned
during the Second World War, but there was no formal apology on behalf
of the government, nor compensation.
"The government set a precedent by apologizing and compensating the Japanese
Canadians," said Jason Sordi, director of the Congress of Italian Canadians.
"In the interest of fairness it needs to address claims by other ethnic
The Ukrainian Canadian Council in Winnipeg continues to lobby for compensation
for financial losses suffered by those interned during the First World
The group is working on a strategy to resolve the issue outside the courts.
"It's important for future generations," said Rick Mantey, director of
the Ukrainian Canadian Council.
"Be it a head tax or an internment, this kind of discrimination has profound
affect on families and communities."
"Imagine how you would view the institutions of Canada if your grandfather
was labelled an enemy and unfairly punished?"