Liberal reliance on the simple science of attrition remains fairly clear:
a good Chinese is a dead Chinese-especially, if the issue can disappear
Many Chinese never
caught up after head tax
Reprinted from: The
Edmonton Journal, A9.
Sunday, August 26, 2001
Kenda D. Gee
While the first Chinese arrived Canada in 1788, the last vestiges of overt
discrimination were not removed until 1969. In the period 1884-1909, alone,
no less than 100 provincial enactments were introduced in British Columbia.
Two years ago, Maclean's Magazine named the collection of punitive
penalties, or Chinese head "taxes" from 1885-1923 as one of Canada's Top
25 Events This Past Century. It, and the Chinese Exclusion (Immigration)
Act, which separated families for a quarter century thereafter, are
icons of a protracted period of oppression lasting close to two-hundred
years, or almost the entirety of their existence in this country.
By any account, the impact and monies profited through the enterprise
of racism against Canada's Chinese are staggering. Chinese arrivals who
were unable to claim exception under prevailing laws as "merchants, students,
teachers, clergyman, or diplomats" each paid $500 into the federal government's
General Consolidated Revenue Fund. (By way of comparison, in 1907, a lot
in Edmonton's Norwood subdivision could be bought for $155.) The accumulated
windfall of $24 million from this measure was enough to purchase Alaska
three times, or build a second railway.
That $500 head tax forced most Chinese immigrants to spend their lives
in indentured servitude.
Few realized that the policies targeting Chinese were at odds with Canada's
international obligations as a dominion. British Imperialist interests
compelled China, a defeated nation, to agree to the free flow of migration
between Mainland and the Empire (its colonies and dominions) in order
to allow the importation of opium that contributed to the political chaos
from which many Chinese were later forced to flee.
Canada chose to model its Chinese head "taxes" after the white supremacy
policies of Australia. Unlike Australia, however, which had abolished
its own, the government in Canada continued to reap profits over four
decades before announcing, remarkably, that they were "ineffective" in
deterring Chinese immigration.
In fact, the Chinese in Canada constituted only a fraction of one percent
of the national population until the 1980s.
The current Liberal administration has tried to by-pass its obligation
to the Chinese community, through its multicultural policy. As laudable
as multiculturalism may be, it neither addresses the enduring effects
of past injustice, nor the unjust enrichment profited by government.
The Chinese community in Canada is not a homogenous group. Of the few
positions of power represented by members of their community, virtually
all are occupied by recent Canadians, or by Chinese Canadians whose families
did not pay the Chinese head "taxes" because they had arrived either as
merchants, diplomats, or other exceptional designation under the discriminatory
If almost one-hundred percent of anglophone and francophone Cabinet Ministers
today were born in Britain and France in spite of their community's rich
history in Canada, how odd would that seem?
We can try to blame the victim--"Why did they have to come?" We can misplace
the relevant-- "These were the sins of my forefathers"--and argue the
arbitrary--"Why should we risk opening the floodgates?"
Or, we can educate ourselves of the historical facts, restore people's
belief in the efficacy of our institutions, and transform our future by
The Liberal reliance on the simple science of attrition remains fairly
clear: a good Chinese is a dead Chinese-especially, if the issue can disappear
But the modern equivalent of dealing with the expendable Chinaman is nothing,
if not nostalgically na´ve. While individual Chinese may pass on, unresolved
issues do not. The failings of this Liberal administration will simply
become their tarnished legacy, judged and written by those in my generation,
Kenda D. Gee is the chair of the Edmonton Head Tax and
Exclusion Act (HTEA) Redress Committee and was a Co-panelist with Roderick
A. Macdonald, former Dean of McGill Law School & Past Chair of the
Law Commission of Canada, at the Roundtable on Reparations of Past Injustices
hosted by the Center for Research-Action on Race Relations (CRARR) in
Montreal, last June 2001.