mardi 27 juin 2006

Head tax redress

I wasn't aware of it at the time but June 22, 2006 was an important date in Canadian history. It was the day when Prime Minister Stephen Harper made official apology to the Chinese-Canadian community for the Head Tax and the Exclusion Act. I was able to watch the ceremony marking the Canadian government's Chinese Head Tax redress on CPAC last night and it was incredibly moving. To be honest, I didn't think I would see such an event take place this soon, least of all this year (even with the news conference in January). It was especially meaningful to me because I wrote about this topic in my thesis paper in addition to viewing two documentaries in Montreal dealing with the same subject (the documentaries were Under the Willow Tree: Pioneer Chinese Women in Canada [1997] and In the Shadow of Gold Mountain [2004]). I'm not a descendant of the Chinese railroad workers but my heart breaks for them.

This is probably something that most Canadians are just learning about, myself included. The treatment of the Chinese immigrants in Canada was not something we ever touched upon in Social Studies, which is most unfortunate. Imagine my shock when I was conducting research for my paper and I found out that Chinese people were the only people ever blatantly discriminated against in Canada. To be singled out for their ethnicity, to be forced to pay the head tax, and to ultimately be prohibited from entering the country who required their labour but barred them from the official ceremonies for the Canadian Pacific Railway - no wonder July 1 became Humiliation Day to the Chinese.

The fact that these shameful acts in Canadian history are coming to light and are being recognized for their wrong must be a relief to the Chinese who had to suffer all those years ago. I can't believe that it has taken until now for the government to quit refusing to apologize - I think it says a lot about the current government that they acted quickly on this matter with consultation at the grassroots level to ensure that the people most affected from this could voice their opinions directly to the political leaders. I almost broke out in applause after hearing that Prime Minister Harper, Parliamentary Secretary Jason Kenney and Heritage Minister Bev Oda travelled across Canada to meet with the surviving head tax payers and their families (not to mention, attempt to speak Chinese on television and in parliament)!

I am so grateful that for once, we have a government in power that is willing to admit their mistakes and to apologize to the people they have hurt. It's rare but I pray that the Conservative government continues to lead and act in this spirit of humility. Considering that they have done everything they could to hold this ceremony before Canada Day this year speaks volumes - I am proud of our Prime Minister and his policies. I know a lot of people were wondering if the descendants of the head tax payers would receive redress, but the government took a wise approach with this. They are compensating those who had to pay but not the descendants; instead, they are going to be investing in social and cultural programs so that future Chinese-Canadians and Canadians can learn from the past. It's not often that I can speak admiringly of our political leaders (sponsorship scandal anyone?) but I can't help but truly feel like a Chinese-Canadian now after watching that ceremony.

On a lighter note, I remember passing PM Harper's campaign office every time I took the bus to church in high school. It was located just above Chinatown - who knew that one day he would be the one to make the overdue apology to all Chinese-Canadians? Praise God that it has finally taken place and thank you Lord that I was able to see it!

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