If Prime Minister Stephen Harper does nothing else, he can at least count on one positive item as part of his legacy. At long last, a sitting prime minister has officially apologized for the racist head tax against Chinese immigrants, and has backed that apology with redress. The Globe and Mail has more details. (Extra kudos to VIA Rail for providing complementary seating to nine individuals who paid the head tax who were on their way to Ottawa to accept the nation’s apology).
The move closes a dark chapter in Canadian history where, as a nation, after relying on the Chinese for cheap labour to build our national railways, we embarked on a relentless policy to keep them out of our country, and exclude them from our society. Here’s a full history of the Head Tax and the Chinese Exclusion Act.
As soon as the CPR was completed, the Federal Government moved to restrict the immigration of Chinese to Canada. The first federal anti-Chinese bill was passed in 1885. It took the form of a Head tax of $50 imposed, with few exceptions, upon every person of Chinese origin entering the country. No other group was targeted in this way.
The Head Tax was increased to $100 in 1900 and to $500 in 1903. $500 was equivalent to two years wages of a Chinese labour at the time. Meanwhile, Chinese were denied Canadian citizenship. In all, the Federal Government collected $23 million from the Chinese through the Head Tax.
Despite the Head Tax, Chinese immigrants continued to come to Canada. In 1923, the Canadian Parliament passed the Chinese Immigration Act excluding all but a few Chinese immigrants from entering Canada. Between 1923 and 1947 when the Chinese Exclusion Act was repealed, less than 50 Chinese were allowed to come to Canada. Passed on July 1, 1923, Dominion Day, this law was perceived by the Chinese Canadian community as the ultimate form of humiliation. The Chinese Canadian community called this “Humiliation Day” and refused to celebrate Dominion Day for years to come.
My grandfather immigrated to Canada from Canton, China in 1910, and his parents paid the $500 head tax. As my grandfather died in 1974, he won’t be collecting. The fact that so few people are alive today who paid the head tax or who married someone who did makes this gesture one that doesn’t really cost the government much in terms of revenue, but it’s the gesture that counts. It’s an official acknowledgement of the poor treatment Chinese Canadians received, and it’s something I think the individuals who paid the head tax deserved to hear. The tragedy is that it was such a long time in coming.
Thanks to Stephen Harper for being the one who finally bit the bullet. And thanks to various MPs in all the parties (especially Conservative Inky Mark and NDPer Olivia Chow) for continuing to press on this issue and helping to make this resolution happen.
Another Question to my Readership
I’ve downloaded the beta version of Movable Type 3.3 and have been impressed by the features they’ve added. It looks like a winner.
Movable Type is bringing forward a number of initiatives that streamline the construction of blogs. New users will soon not need to get their hands dirty changing template codes or CSS stylesheets. With a series of standard one column, two column and three column formats, users will be able to change the appearance of their blog with just a few clicks using Stylecatcher.
I participated in the MT style contest, adding my own versions to the mix, but because Stylecatcher requires that users maintain the default template, the best I could do was a close approximation of my current look. You see, I don’t have a default template. The design I cooked up relies on an HTML and CSS code that was designed from scratch. Even though I have a two-column layout just like other Movable Type blogs, I use a different set-up. So I’ve been wondering if I should abandon this setup and try to approximate my look using the MT default template.
The advantage is that I would have a simpler tempate, and one that I could quickly customize using the bells and whistles offered by Movable Type. This disadvantage is that I’d lose a number of bells and whistles of my own, including the appearance of my date and entry titles, my calendar, and my page footer.
So I’ve designed an approximation of this page and displayed it here. I’d like you to compare this page with that one and tell me which you prefer. The online poll (which, sadly, doesn’t seem to work in Safari) is below.
Let me know by next Monday, and I’ll consider the results. Thanks for your help!
P.S. I’ve been quite remiss in not mentioning that Greg Staples has put up his latest Bloggers Hotstove. This past Sunday’s episode was a fun affair with Jason Cherniak and Greg Bester going at it. So, give it a listen, okay?