Canadian city apologizes for past racism against Chinese

19:51, September 21, 2010      

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New Westminster of Canada took an unprecedented step Monday, becoming one of the first North American cities to formally apologize to the local Chinese community for its past discriminatory and exclusion practices.

After working with the Chinese community for eight months to conduct extensive researches into the discriminatory measures practiced by the former British Columbia capital, New Westminster Mayor Wayne Wright said the city "recognized it was wrong".

On recommendation of city council, the Vancouver-area city formally passed a recommendation "in support of reconciliation, including a public acknowledgement and a formal apology".` "The City of New Westminster acknowledges, based on a review of city records covering the period of 1860 to 1926 that it acted in a discriminatory manner toward its Chinese community," Wright said. "The City of New Westminster acknowledges that the Chinese community has played, and continues to play, an essential role in the development, growth and prosperity of New Westminster."

As capital of British Columbia from 1858-1866, the young city's Chinese population, numbering about 1,800 at the time, was openly discriminated against as council records from the period show.

With groups like the Anti-Chinese Association, the Anti-Asiatic League, the Anti-Mongolian Association and the Working Man's Protective Association, among others, rallying against them in the largely white and pro-British society of the day, the Chinese migrants, mostly men, could only get menial jobs as servants.

The discrimination was so pronounced that New Westminster on at least two occasions passed resolutions prohibiting the hiring of the Chinese labor. The city would also not hire the Chinese employees nor would it patronize businesses that used the Chinese labor.

In addition to being hit with a Chinese-only head tax of 500 Canadian dollars that was levied nationally between 1903 and 1923, the Chinese in New Westminster were denied access to the city's hospitals and had a graveyard appropriated in what is now prime real estate, to build its namesake high school.

Earlier on Monday, Peter Julian, the federal representative for New Westminster, apologized during a parliamentary session in Ottawa, on behalf of his predecessors, and pushed for further recognition of discriminatory practices.

Bill Chu, chair of Canadians for Reconciliation, said that no amount of compensation "could repair or reduce" the amount of racism the Chinese in Canada experienced in the past.

"We want the truth of the history to come out, meaning we have to be confronted with what happened in history, whether it is good or bad. And that the Canadians must realize that this province was not built by just one group of people. Somehow the contributions by various communities and minorities have to be acknowledged."

Guangdong native Chu added that with British Columbia leading the country in terms of restricting the Chinese employment and immigration, he thought it was appropriate and "overdue" for the province to express its own apology.

"But before they even do that, we would demand that they should first research, express and acknowledge the Chinese history in this land. Without first acknowledging that, the apology from them would mean nothing."

Dawn Black, the provincial representative for New Westminster with the opposition New Democratic Party, said such an apology was unlikely to be "on the front of the agenda" for the ruling Liberal Party.

"It would be totally appropriate for the province of British Columbia to look at the rules, regulations, legislation that may have been discriminatory," she said. "If they do that work and find that is the case, it would be very appropriate for an apology to be made on behalf of the province."

Gim Wong, a World War II veteran who was born in Vancouver, called the apology a "wonderful gesture". His own father had paid the head tax to get into Canada, only to be treated like "a slave" for the privilege.

"I was born 88 years ago. We we're always denied any recognition. For God's sake, we were born here and were not considered citizens. I think it is overdue," he said.

"The Chinese have been in New Westminster for 150 years, if not more, and they suffered a lot of discrimination. It was abusive to do that and everyone had a hard time. But why make it harder for the Chinese? I think the city council and mayor did a wonderful job. It is a kick in the right direction."

Source: Xinhua


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