Hon. Mobina S. B. Jaffer:
Honourable senators, the month of May is Canada’s Asian Heritage Month. It is a time to reflect on and celebrate the contributions that Canadians of Asian heritage continue to make, but we should also acknowledge the errors from the past to make sure these wrongs are never repeated.
On Sunday, April 22, the City of Vancouver formally apologized to Chinese Canadians for past legislation, regulations and policies that discriminated against them. In front of a crowd of 500 people at the Chinese Cultural Centre, including Senator Woo, Mayor of Vancouver Gregor Robertson said:
This is an important day for council and all Vancouverites to come together and recognize historical wrongdoings committed against Chinese people and to build a better future together.
Honourable senators, as you are aware, Chinese citizens were not allowed to vote between 1886, the year the City of Vancouver was incorporated, and 1948. Chinese citizens were prevented from running for public office and from owning properties in specific areas of the city. Citizens of Chinese descent were also forbidden from working in professional fields such as law, medicine, banking and retail, and they were prohibited from civic employment from 1890 to 1952.
Additionally, our federal government imposed a head tax Chinese citizens were made to pay. In 1885, this tax was $50 per head. In the early 1900s, it rose to $500 per individual. The head tax broke many families apart.
These examples of past policies, just a few of the 160 wrong policies and laws that targeted the Chinese community, were ways to stigmatize and dehumanize the Chinese Canadians of Vancouver. Honourable senators, these policies were purely discriminatory legislation. In a statement, John Horgan, Premier of British Columbia, said:
We must recognize, remember and condemn the historic discrimination which so many members of the Chinese community endured.
I would like to thank our colleague Senator Woo, who thoughtfully invited me to the formal apology to Chinese Canadians by the City of Vancouver. I thank Premier Horgan and Mayor Robertson for their work in bringing Vancouverites and all British Columbians together. Thank you for unifying us.
This initiative will help Vancouver and Canada overcome its past to welcome and embrace all newcomers. Apologies mark the beginning of respect, healing and forgiveness.