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Vancouver City makes official apology to Chinese Canadian community

Xinhua,April 23, 2018 Adjust font size:

VANCOUVER, April 22 (Xinhua) -- Vancouver City Mayor Gregor Robertson made an official apology here Sunday for the city government's past discrimination against Canadian citizens of Chinese descent.

The apology acknowledges the wrong-doings of past legislation,regulations and policies of previous city governments.

The apology was read in both English and Chinese at Vancouver's Chinatown Culture Center. The English version was read by Mayor Robertson, and the Chinese version by former City Councillors Bill Yee and Maggie Ip. The city is planning to lobby for a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) heritage designation for its Chinatown.

"The historical wrongs of Vancouver City Council need to be addressed, particularly as the city is focused now on being a city of reconciliation,and that extends beyond our First Nations to people of other cultures who faced racism and discrimination in the past," Robertson said.

"This is an important step to address that historic travesty and move forward," Robertson added.

Robertson said delivering the apology within the community at a public place rather than at a government building would help convey the city's intention to make sure that Chinese culture is supported and embraced.

In 2016 and 2017, the Vancouver government established an advisory group to help guide the development of a formal apology, which was approved by the city legislature last November. The group is comprised of retired judges, former city councillors, community elders and advocates, historians, veterans and their descendants, who are active volunteers that shared an interest in working with the city to move forward together.

The group's report said residents of Chinese descent were not allowed to vote when the city incorporated in 1886. The situation had lasted until 1948, when veterans of the First and Second World Wars lobbied for voting rights.

Then Vancouver authorities also applied discriminatory policies like the federal head tax, and barred Chinese-Canadians from civic employment between 1890 and 1952.

The discriminatory policies and practices also included various attempts at segregation in schools, public spaces like swimming pools, residential housing, hospitals, cemeteries and other public areas including residential housing, hospitals, and even cemeteries.

Because of restrictions at local cemeteries, Canadian Chinese had to be returned to China for burial, the report said.

In 2006, then Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper offered an apology in parliament for the head tax imposed on Chinese immigrants and included 20,000 Canadian dollars (1,568 U.S. dollars) in compensation for families or surviving people who paid the tax.

Thousands of Chinese immigrants arrived in Canada during the 1880s to help build the country's railway from Vancouver to Montreal, but from 1885, the federal government imposed a head tax of 50 Canadian dollars (39 U.S. dollars), which rose to 500 Canadian dollars (390 dollars) in the early 1900s.

At that time, 500 Canadian dollars was worth about two years of a Canadian Chinese worker's salary.

According to the 1924 Yearbook of Canada, Canadian Chinese paid a total head tax of 24 million Canadian dollars, which hit the appropriation fund by then Canadian government for the construction of so-called Pacific railway.

In 2015, on behalf of the British Columbia provincial government, then B.C. Premier Christy Clark made an formal apology to Canadian Chinese for more than 100 racist laws, regulations and policies of past B.C. governments.

Clark pointed out the contribution of Chinese in building the national railway system, noting that one Chinese worker died for every mile of track laid between Vancouver and Calgary.

It was reported that at least 1,000 Canadian Chinese died building the railway. Enditem