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Yesterday morning, British Columbia Premier Christy Clark formally apologized to Chinese Canadians on behalf of the provincial government for a sordid 140 year long history of discrimination, destitution, and death. We know it sounds morbid, but that’s the only way to put it.

In 1885, the BC government imposed a $50 head tax per Chinese immigrant, and that figure ballooned to $500 in the early 1900s. As well, Chinese migrants were unable to vote, own property, or even arrive in Canada for years.

In all, Clark apologized for over 100 discriminatory laws passed against immigrants who were essential to building BC. Chinese workers were critical in constructing the railroad, and it is estimated that one Chinese worker died for every mile of rail between Vancouver and Calgary. Makes you think twice about the railroad.

The provincial apology comes 8 years after the federal government offered $20,000 to each family affected by the head tax. Still, not everyone is acknowledging the BC government’s efforts to right these historical wrongs. The Chinese Canadian National Council (CCNC) publicly declined the apology, and instead demands over $1 billion in redress.


Chinese immigrants to B.C.Jennifer Castro who were forced to pay the head tax

Chinese immigrants to BC who were forced to pay the head tax.
Jennifer Castro


All of this occurs a week before the 100th anniversary of the Komagata Maru incident. In 1914, the Crown passed legislation which prohibited the entry of immigrants who “did not come from the country of their birth or citizenship by a continuous journey”, all in order to stop Indian nationals from immigrating to Canada.  Because of the long distance between India and BC, the Komagata Maru, a ship that carried 376 passengers, 340 of whom were Sikh Indians, departed from Hong Kong. When the ship arrived in Vancouver, however, it was forced to turn around and return to Calcutta where  a British gunboat stopped the vessel and killed 19 passengers.

Now, with apologies from the Federal and Provincial governments, and financial redress from the Federal Conservatives, it is my sincere hope that the Chinese Community can begin to heal and forgive.