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Canada to acknowledge injustice against Chinese

By RENA LI in Toronto | China Daily Global | Updated: 2023-06-01 11:08

People walk through Chinatown in downtown Toronto, Ontario, Canada, on April 15, 2023. [Photo/VCG]

Canada has designated the Exclusion of Chinese Immigrants as an event of national historic significance.

"The designation of the Exclusion of Chinese Immigrants as a national historic event, 100 years since its enactment, acknowledges the tragic injustice that Chinese Canadians suffered while also offering an opportunity to reflect on the importance of combating anti-Asian racism," said Steven Guilbeault, minister of Environment and Climate Change and minister responsible for Parks Canada.

The designation Tuesday means that there is now an official memorialization of the grave historical injustice of the Chinese Exclusion Act, acknowledging its xenophobia, human rights violation, racial discrimination and systemic racism. It hampered the development and engagement of the Chinese community and had an adverse impact on generations of Chinese families, according to Lloyd Wong, a professor of sociology at the University of Calgary.

"Our hope is that this memorialization will serve as a call for all Canadians and key institutions in Canada to strengthen educational efforts which recognize the long-term impacts of this exclusionary legislation and to be aware and to combat contemporary anti-Asian and anti-Chinese racism in Canada while never forgetting the past," said Teresa Woo-Paw, chair of the Chinese Canadians Together Foundation.

The 1923 legislation replaced the first Chinese Immigration Act (aka the Chinese Exclusion Act) of 1885, which included the various head taxes (entry taxes) among other measures to deter immigration from China.

After the act was repealed in 1947, Chinese immigration was placed under the jurisdiction of the Immigration Act in the category of Asian immigration more broadly. Asian immigration was limited to spouses and unmarried children age 18 or younger of men already living in Canada.

In 1955, the age restriction for dependants was increased to 25. In 1967, overt racial restrictions were removed, and the Immigration Act has continued to evolve.

In 2006, after two decades of lobbying, Chinese Canadians received an official apology from the federal government for the head taxes and the exclusion of Chinese immigrants.

Mary Ng, Canada minister of Small Business, Export Promotion and International Trade said the Exclusion Act not only prevented Chinese immigrants from coming to Canada, but it reinforced the negative stereotypes and prejudice against Chinese Canadians.

"We contribute to every aspect of Canadian life, from business to arts and culture to sports and science to teachers, to front-line healthcare workers, to farmers, to professionals, and of course to political life," Ng said at an event commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Exclusion Act in Toronto.

"I'm happy to say that now we have eight Chinese-descent Members of Parliament in Canada across all parties, and we serve Canadians in different parts of the country," Ng said. "So, all of us together, make an incredibly strong voice."

Canada senators Victor Oh and Yuen Pau Woo, in partnership with Action! Chinese Canadians Together, will host on a National Remembrance Ceremony on June 23 to mark the 100th anniversary of the introduction of the Chinese Exclusion Act.

"If we don't stand up and tell the next generation how our fathers were treated unfairly, many more tragedies will come," Oh said at the commemoration event in Toronto. "Can you imagine a family that was separated for all that time? So many people who had never seen their wife, who had not seen their sons that were brought back to China to raise but were not able to come back?"

Oh said the media have been unfairly reporting what's going on in the Chinese community, such as alleged Chinese interference in Canadian federal elections.

Although former governor general David Johnston has recommended against calling a public inquiry into foreign interference in Canadian politics, Oh said he believes the Chinese community will be targeted.

"So, we must stand up together. Standing together is strength," Oh added.

As part of the National Remembrance, there will be an exhibition on the Chinese Exclusion Act in the concourse of the Senate of Canada Building.

"It was the Senate that put the final step to make this terrible act possible 100 years ago. So, we have to do something to correct this," said Woo.

Woo said the ceremony is not just to remember the 100th anniversary, but to pledge to take action to make sure anything like the Exclusion Act never happens again.

A Chinese calligrapher presented a scroll that will be sent to the prime minister that said, "Never forget the national humiliation."

"Why was there this term national humiliation?" asked Woo. "It was because the Chinese Immigration Act of 1923, the Chinese Exclusion Act came into effect just before the National Day of Canada (July 1), which at the time was called Dominion Day, and that is why so many Chinese in the country from 1923 onwards did not say Canada Day. They did not say Dominion Day. They said humiliation day."

Asked why the Chinese Exclusion Act should be remembered even if it will never happen again, Woo said the danger is not that people will face the same problem, but the same type of problem that people are seeing today.

"I call it modern exclusion," said Woo.

The two senators called for people from all walks of life to go to Ottawa on June 23 and June 24.

The ceremony will include special performances to mark the occasion, including a new rendition of a song written a century ago to protest the Exclusion Act, titled Never Forget the First of July. It will be livestreamed to viewing events organized by Chinese community groups across the country.

A proposal has been submitted to the Canadian government for the commissioning of a commemorative plaque to mark the 100th anniversary.

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