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Head tax redress still inadequate, say descendants

VANCOUVER - Children of Chinese immigrants forced to pay Canada’s discriminatory head tax will rally with supporters tomorrow to demand acknowledgment and compensation for the hardship they faced.

“It’s a reminder to the government and Canadians that the file on this is not closed,” said Sid Chow Tan, founding co-chair of the Head Tax Families Society of Canada.

While the federal government offered ex gratia payments as part of its apology for the head tax in June 2006, the compensation was only available to the relatively small proportion of head tax payers and their spouses who were still living.

The Head Tax Families Society is calling on the federal government to acknowledge that the current form of redress is incomplete and to commit to good faith negotiations with descendants.

“No one can deny that the sons and daughters were affected,” said Tan, adding that families of head tax payers were separated and impoverished for decades.

Over 80,000 Chinese immigrants were forced to pay the tax between 1885 and 1923, which was also charged in the Dominion of Newfoundland until the province entered Confederation in 1949. The head tax began as a $50 fee but was later increased to $500, representing an estimated two-year salary.

The tax was replaced by the Chinese Exclusion Act, which continued to severely limit immigration from China until it was repealed in 1947.

Since the government’s apology in 2006, a number of organizations have been calling for an extension of the compensation to first-generation descendants, but have largely been ignored, said Tan.

“I think the Conservatives have shut the door,” he said.

The New Democratic Party has also called for comprehensive negotiations and payment. Immigration critic Olivia Chow reintroduced a motion shortly before Parliament was dismissed for the summer, calling for the government to compensate the descendants of immigrants forced to pay the tax.

“They too are direct victims of the racist head tax policy and the Exclusion Act,” she said. “If we are talking about justice, it shouldn’t penalize people that died waiting.”

The redress rally will be held tomorrow at 10:30 a.m. at Vancouver’s Memorial to Chinese Railway Workers and War Veterans at the corner of Keefer and Columbia streets.

“We choose to have the rally on July 1 -- Canada Day -- because many of us are very proud Canadians,” said Tan. "We are celebrating the exercise of our rights to redress this issue.”

Garrett Zehr reports for The Tyee.

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