The Vancouver City Council has made a formal apology for a series of racist policies against ethnic Chinese implemented over the last 130 years.
Vancouver apologizes for 130 years of anti-Chinese racism
The apology recognizes the city government’s historic discrimination in legislation, regulation and policies against Canadian citizens of Chinese descent. It was delivered at the city’s Chinese Cultural Centre on Sunday.
Addressing a packed hall of about 500 people, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson said apologizing to a community for past injustices was part of the reconciliation process.
“This is an important day for the council and all Vancouverites to come together and recognize historical wrongdoings committed against Chinese people and to build a better future together,” Roberts said.
Second class citizens
Thousands of Chinese immigrants arrived in Canada during the 1880s to help build the country’s railway from Vancouver to Montreal.
Apart from a steep federal government head tax on each worker, Chinese immigrants confronted discrimination at schools, swimming pools, in housing and in medical care. The discrimination continued after death, with restrictions at cemeteries forcing relatives to return the bodies of Chinese Canadians to China for burial.
Until 1952, people of Chinese descent were barred from jobs in the public service. Until 1947, they were not allowed to vote.
Health sciences professor Kelley Lee, who witnessed the mayor’s apology, said her grandfather, Lee Kum-shing, was among those who had to pay a $389 (C$500) head tax when he migrated from China to Canada in 1911. At the time, the tax was equivalent to about two years’ salary.
She said his family, including her father, Monty Lee, who was born in Vancouver in 1923, faced a wide range of discriminatory policies that barred them from voting, using public spaces and public transport, and kept them out of professions such as medicine and law.
Lee told the South China Morning Post that the apology was “meaningful to the generations of early Chinese immigrants who suffered legalized and systemic forms of racism and discrimination.”
“[It] is especially important ... because this is the place where our family faced its struggles to belong. The apology is an acknowledgement that what happened to us was simply wrong,” she said.
“What is saddest for me is thinking about what could have been for these earlier generations of Chinese immigrants who were denied the opportunity to reach anywhere near their potential. It is tragic to think about what was lost, as a result of discrimination, not only for people like my father, but for Canada as a country.”
Lee said it was important to remember the shameful part of the city’s history because the community continued to grapple with tensions.
Not going back
For city councilor Raymond Louie, whose ancestors migrated from Zhongshan in southern Guangdong province, the apology was an acknowledgment of the past.
“It wasn’t so long ago where people pointed fingers and asked – well, no, not asked – they told us to go back ‘where we came from’,” Louie said. “This was a common refrain when I was growing up and so it’s important for us to not go there again.”
But Vancouver resident Derek Jiang, who moved to Canada two years ago, said he did not care about the apology at all.
“Discrimination is a complex issue, just as the composition of Chinese people here is very complicated,” Jiang said.
As of the 2016 census, Canada was home to almost 1.8 million people of Chinese descent: about 5% of the total population.