Monday, December 15, 2008

The Chinese head tax imposed by Canada

According to Wikipedia:

Head tax (Canada)
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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The Chinese head tax was a fixed fee charged for each Chinese person entering Canada. The head tax was first levied after the Canadian Government passed the Chinese Immigration Act of 1885. It was meant to discourage Chinese from entering Canada after the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway. The head tax was ended by the Chinese Immigration Act of 1923, which stopped Chinese immigration except for business people, clergy, educators, students and other categories.[1]
Contents [hide]
1 History
2 Raising the Tax
3 Impact of the head tax
4 End of the head tax
5 Movement for redress
5.1 Liberal Government's proposed foundation
5.2 Conservative Government Apology
6 Today
7 See also
8 References
9 External links

Main article: History of Chinese immigration to Canada
The first major wave of Chinese Immigration into Canada was during 1877 and 1928, consisting of mostly young, literate men who worked in timber or fishing. However, in the early 1880s, some 15,000 labourers were brought from China to do construction work on the Canadian Pacific Railway. They were leaving crushing poverty in China, for heavy work that included dangerous tasks like carrying explosives, for a wage established by the Chinese labour brokers hiring them, that was a third or a half less than their coworkers.[2]
This immigration was large enough — some 3,000 Chinese, when the 1871 census counted only 33,586 in the province — to arouse concern. The province of British Columbia passed a strict law to virtually prevent Chinese immigration in 1878. However, this was immediately struck down by the courts as ultra vires [beyond the powers of] the provincial legislature, because they impinged upon federal jurisdiction over immigration.[3]
As a dominion of the British Empire, Canada tried to discourage, but could not, by its international obligations, completely eliminate, Chinese immigration at its borders.
Canada's federal Chinese Immigration Act of 1885[4] stipulated that all Chinese entering Canada pay a $50 fee, later referred to as a head tax. This was amended in 1887,[5] 1892,[6] and 1900.[7]
Not all Chinese arrivals had to pay the head tax. Some were presumed to return to China after "sojourning" to Canada because of their transitory occupation, or background (students, teachers, missionaries, merchants, members of the diplomatic corps) and were, therefore, exempt from paying this fee.[8][4]
[edit]Raising the Tax

The Government of Canada, under subsequent administrations, increased the tax to $100 and, then, $500, under the Chinese Immigration Act, 1900[7] and the Chinese Immigration Act, 1903, respectively.[8]
In the early 1900s, the value of $500 was two years' salary,[9] or enough to purchase two homes in Montreal,[citation needed] or a 1/4 section of land in many provinces.[citation needed] These taxes went into a Consolidated Revenue Fund and were spent by a government in which the payers had no representation (Chinese were not permitted to vote at the time).[2]
These acts were regarded as examples of anti-Chinese legislation in Canada that were part of general institutional racism against the Chinese in Canada.[9]
The Chinese were the only ethnic group that had to pay a Head Tax to enter Canada, although efforts to impose one on Americans during the colonial period were overruled by the Colonial Office in London. Other Asians, such as the East Indians and the Japanese, were not subject to a Head Tax. There were, however, formal and informal limits to how many Japanese people could immigrate to Canada.[2]
Before the Statute of Westminster 1931, the Government of the United Kingdom controlled Canada's international affairs. Canada could not deter citizens from India, which was still a British crown colony, or Japan, which agreed to the Anglo-Japanese Alliance in 1902. Yet, the Government of Canada made efforts to require citizens of Japan and other British Far Eastern colonies to have to travel by direct voyage only.
[edit]Impact of the head tax

The Government of Canada collected about $23 million in face value[2] from about 810,000 head tax payers, some of the money being used to support Canada's war effort in World War II. The total head tax collected by 1923 has been estimated as equivalent to over $1.5 billion in 1988 dollars.[citation needed]
The head tax system had the effect of constraining Chinese immigration: making labour available for the railroads, and putting limits on the lives of the immigrants. This was in contrast to the goal of exclusion of Chinese immigration altogether, as articulated by contemporary politicions and labour leaders.[8] The system was effective in discouraging Chinese women and children from joining their men, so the Chinese community in Canada became a "bachelor society".[2]
[edit]End of the head tax

The head tax was ended by the Chinese Immigration Act of 1923, which stopped Chinese immigration entirely, though certain exemptions such as those for business owners and others permitted some continued immigration[10] It is sometimes referred to by opponents as the Chinese Exclusion Act, a term also used for its American counterpart.[9]
[edit]Movement for redress

In the 1980s, many Chinese and groups lobbied for a refund of the head tax, and an apology, or formal acknowledgment, from the Government of Canada. The modern era redress movement may be traced back to 1984, when Vancouver Member of Parliament Margaret Mitchell raised in the House of Commons the issue of repaying the racist Chinese Head Tax for two of her constituents. [11]After that, thousands of Head Tax payers and their family members approached the Chinese Canadian National Council (CCNC) and its member organizations across Canada to register their Head Tax certificates and ask CCNC to represent them to lobby the government for redress.[12]
Since 1984, the CCNC has been seeking redress on behalf of the surviving Head Tax payers and their families who have suffered from decades of discrimination as a result of these racist laws passed by the Canadian Government. Over 4,000 Head Tax payers, spouses and descendants entrusted CCNC with representing them in seeking an apology and financial redress.[13] The redress campaign included holding numerous community meetings, gathering support from other groups and prominent people, increasing the media profile, conducting research and published materials, making presentations at schools, etc. CCNC continued to meet with various Multiculturalism Ministers. In 1993, months before a federal election, then Prime Minister Brian Mulroney made an offer of individual medallions, a museum wing and other collective measures involving several other redress-seeking communities. This was rejected outright by the Chinese, Italian and Ukrainian Canadian national groups.
After Prime Minister Jean Chrétien was elected in 1993, his Government openly refused to provide an apology or redress. [12]The following few years saw little major activity although no one gave up on redress, and CCNC and its supporters continued to raise the issue whenever they could, including a submission to the United Nations Human Rights Commission.
Another phase of the redress campaign started in 1999 with the planning and implementation of the court action against the Government. The CCNC argued that the federal government should not be profiting from racism, and that it had a responsibility under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and under international human rights law. In addition, the 1988 official apology and compensation (supported by CCNC) for the internment of Japanese Canadians during World War II set a precedent for redressing racially motivated policies. The Ontario court declared in 2001 that the Government of Canada had no obligation to redress the head tax levied on Chinese immigrants because the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms had no retroactive application, and that the case of internment of Japanese Canadians was not a legal precedent for compensating past racist policies. Two appeals in 2002 and 2003 were unsuccessful, [14]but the judge’s supportive words in the original 2001 decision helped to raise awareness and keep up the pressure.
As Prime Minister Paul Martin entered the scene in 2003, there was renewed hope amongst both long-time redress activists and new supporters. The urgency of the situation became the overriding factor as it became clear that there were perhaps only a few dozen surviving Head Tax payers left and maybe a few hundred spouses or widows.
In the years from 2003 to 2006, there were several national events that helped to revitalize the redress campaign. The highlights were the 2003 Last Spike Redress Campaign with the symbolic “last spike” of the Canadian Pacific Railway donated by Pierre Berton to CCNC.[15] In 2004, in response to a submission by the Chinese Canadian Redress Alliance in Montreal, a timely Report by Doudou Diène, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, concluded that Canada should redress the head tax to Chinese Canadians
In the summer of 2005, Gim Wong – an 80-year-old son of a Head Tax payer and a World War II veteran – started his cross-country Ride for Redress on his Harley Davidson motorcycle. [16]The year 2005 also saw the creation of the Ontario Coalition of Chinese Head Tax Payers and Families, which worked closely with CCNC and the B.C. Coalition that was so successful in the early 1990s.
[edit]Liberal Government's proposed foundation
To the surprise of many, on November 17, 2005, a group calling itself the National Congress of Chinese Canadians announced an "agreement" with the out-going Liberal administration to pay $12.5 million for the creation of a new non-profit foundation to educate Canadians about anti-Chinese discrimination. The payments (of the, now, failed, agreement) would have gone to a foundation, not to individuals who had paid the tax, with a specific, pre-condition of "no apology" by the government.
This proposal was instantly met by controversy.
Among other things, the deal had been negotiated without the participation of a number of the most active groups across Canada, including the CCNC.
Accordingly, when the Department of Heritage announced its preliminary agreement on November 24, 2005, funding was suddenly reduced to $2.5 million--most likely the result of fierce and obvious opposition in the broader community. It was also later, revealed that Raymond Chan, the government official claiming to have negotiated with community groups who held no family ties to the issue, purposely misled the government and public that the Chinese community was willing to accept "no apology, [and] no [individual or collective] compensation."
The authors of the unpopular proposal also claimed support of 11 Chinese-Canadian groups. Yet, upon further examination, some of the named groups stated publicly that their names had been used without permission; several other groups listed, did not even exist. The out-going Liberal Government tabled bill C-333 (as a private member's bill) to implement the deal in November 2004, but this bill died when the Government fell on November 28, 2005.
Opposition grew louder in the Chinese Canadian community and, in response, major redress-seeking alliances and coalitions were formed. This marked a major turning point for the Head Tax Campaign across Canada. The public lobby took prominence during and after, the 2006 federal election. In addition, significant, individual efforts in private, would lead to future negotiations with the Conservative Party.
In prior election campaigns in 2004 and 2006, opposition parties, including the New Democratic Party and Bloc Québécois had already stated their support for an apology and redress for the head tax.
On December 8, 2005, Conservative Party leader Stephen Harper released a press statement expressing his support for an apology for the head tax. As a part of his 2006 election platform, Mr. Harper promised to work with the Chinese community on redress should the Conservatives form the next government.[17]
Before ultimately losing the federal election, the out-going Prime Minister and Liberal Party leader Paul Martin issued a half-hearted personal apology on a Chinese language radio program. However, he was quickly criticized by the Chinese Canadian community for not issuing the apology in Parliament and, then, trying to dismiss it completely in the English-speaking media on the very same day.[citation needed] Several Liberal candidates with significant Chinese-Canadian populations in their ridings, including Vancouver-Kingsway MP David Emerson, and the Minister of State (Multiculturalism) and Richmond MP Raymond Chan, also made futile attempts to change their positions in the midst of the 2006 election campaign.
[edit]Conservative Government Apology
The Conservative Party won the election with a minority government, Prime Minister Stephen Harper reiterating his position on the Head Tax issue in a news conference on January 26, 2006:
"Chinese Canadians are making an extraordinary impact on the building of our country. They've also made a significant historical contribution despite many obstacles. That's why, as I said during the election campaign, the Chinese Canadian community deserves an apology for the head tax and appropriate acknowledgement and redress."[18]
Formal discussions on the form of apology and redress began on March 24, 2006 with a preliminary meeting with Chinese Canadians representing various groups (including some head tax payers), Heritage Minister Bev Oda, and Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister Jason Kenney, resulting in the "distinct possibility" of a formal government apology before July 1, 2006 to commemorate the anniversary of the enacting of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1923.[19]
The meeting was followed by the Conservative government's acknowledgement on April 4, 2006 in its Speech from the Throne that an apology would be given along with proper redress.[20]
From April 21 to April 30, 2006, the Conservative government hosted public, national consultations across Canada in cities most actively involved in the campaign, since it first began: Halifax, Vancouver, Toronto, Edmonton, Montreal, and Winnipeg. They included the personal testimony of elders and representatives from a number of groups, among them, the Halifax Redress Committee; the BC Coalition of Head Tax Payers, Spouses & Descendants; ACCESS; the Ontario Coalition of Head Tax Payers & Families; the CCNC; the Edmonton Redress Committee of the Chinese Canadian Historical Association of Alberta; and, the National Redress Alliance headquartered in Montreal.
On June 22, 2006, Prime Minister Stephen Harper offered an apology and compensation only for the head tax once paid by Chinese immigrants.[21] Survivors or their spouses will be paid approximately $20,000 CAD in compensation. There are only an estimated 20 Chinese Canadians who paid the tax still alive in 2006.[22]

Currently, the major issues revolve around the content of any future settlement, with the leading groups demanding meaningful redress, not only for the handful of surviving "head tax" payers and widows/spouses, but first-generation sons/daughters who were direct victims.
Some have proposed that the redress be based on the number of "Head Tax" Certificates (or estates) brought forward by surviving sons and daughters who are still able to register their claims, with proposals for individual redress, ranging from $10,000 to 30,000 for an estimated 4,000 registrants.
As no mention of redress for those children was made, the Chinese Canadian community continues to fight for a redress from the Canadian government. A national day of protest was held on July 1, 2006 in major cities across Canada, with several hundred Chinese Canadians joining in local marches.
[edit]See also

Chinese Canadian National Council
National Congress of Chinese Canadians
Anti-Chinese legislation in the United States
Canadian First World War Internment Recognition Fund (

^ James Morton. "In the Sea of Sterile Mountains: The Chinese in British Columbia". Vancouver, BC: J.J. Douglas, 1974.
^ a b c d e (2005), "Asian Immigration", Canada in the Making, retrieved 2007-09-01
^ Todd, Alpheus (1894), Parliamentary Government in the British Colonies (Reprint ed.), The Lawbook Exchange, Ltd., ISBN 1-58477-617-X Page 194. Reprinted 2006 by The Lawbook Exchange, Ltd.
^ a b Canada. Dept. of Trade and Commerce (1885), Chinese Immigration Act, 1885, retrieved 2007-09-01
^ Canada. Dept. of Trade and Commerce (1887), An act to amend the Chinese Immigration Act, 1887, retrieved 2007-09-01
^ Canada. Dept. of Trade and Commerce (1892), An act to further amend the Chinese Immigration Act, 1892, retrieved 2007-09-01
^ a b Canada (1901), Act respecting and restricting Chinese immigration, retrieved 2007-09-01
^ a b c Vancouver Public Library (2007), Chinese Head Tax, retrieved 2007-09-01
^ a b c Parliamentary Debates, House of Commons, Canada, April 18, 2005, page 1100
^ * James Morton. "In the Sea of Sterile Mountains: The Chinese in British Columbia". Vancouver, BC: J.J. Douglas, 1974. (A thorough discussion of Chinese immigration and life in BC, railway politics and a detailed profile of the political agendas and personalities of the time)
^ Most head-tax families haven't gotten a penny |
^ a b Chinese Canadian National Council
^ PRM 2005 - Redressing the Past of the Lo Wah Kui
^ CanLII - 2002 CanLII 45062 (ON C.A.)
^ Redress: Justice In Time - News
^ GungHaggisFatChoy :: Gim Wong completes his "Ride for Redress" in Montreal - flying back to Vancouver for Wednesday
^ Conservative Party Of Canada
^ CCNC Press Release - Chinese Canadians welcome New Year's promise on Head Tax Redress from PM Designate Stephen Harper
^ | Chinese-Cdns. hail promise for head tax apology
^ Throne speech promises crime crackdown, GST cut
^ Canada (2006). "Address by the Prime Minister on the Chinese Head Tax Redress". Government of Canada. Retrieved 2006-08-08.
^ Sympatico / MSN : News : PM apologizes in House of Commons for head tax
[edit]External links

Transcript of Prime Minister Harper's apology in Parliament
Podcast of government announcement and reactions (Quicktime)
National Post-Chinese Cdns Speak of Anger, Anguish - April 23, 2006
Chinese Head Tax & Exclusion Act Redress in Canada -
Generasian Website-Redress Campaign
The CCNC Redress Campaign
National Post newspaper article on NCCC's November 17, 2005 announcement
Vancouver Sun newspaper article on Canadian Heritage's November 24, 2005 announcement
CBC British Columbia story on the Head Tax redress controversy, November 28, 2005
The Star newspaper article on CCNC award, November 29, 2005's blog with advocacy about Head Tax redress
Political debates heats up over Chinese head tax. Canada Votes 2006, January 5, 2006.
Bill C-333 Chinese Canadian Recognition and Redress Act (First Reading), from the Canadian Parliament's Official Homepage, November 15, 2004
Bill C-333 Immigrants of Chinese Origin Exclusionary Measures Recognition Act (Reprinted as amended by the Standing Committee), from the Canadian Parliament's Official Homepage, November 4, 2005. Section 2 (Recognition) and Section 3 (Apology) were deleted after the amendments.


  1. For me such tax sounds somewhat barbaric especially taking into consideration, that the rights of the Chinese canadians were limited. Even at present certain privileges and services are available for Canadians only, the NorthandLoans services are among them.

  2. one of the ideal representation of article about Chinese head tax imposed by Canada.

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