June 22, 2006
Prime Minister Stephen Harper today offered a full apology to Chinese Canadians for the Head Tax and expressed his deepest sorrow for the subsequent exclusion of Chinese immigrants from 1923 until 1947.
"For over six decades, these malicious measures, aimed solely at the Chinese, were implemented with deliberation by the Canadian state," said the Prime Minister. "This was a grave injustice, and one we are morally obligated to acknowledge."
The Prime Minister stated that the Government of Canada will make symbolic ex-gratia payments to those who were required to pay the Head Tax and to the spouses of Head Tax payers who have since passed away. It will also establish a fund for community projects aimed at acknowledging the impact of past wartime measures and immigration restrictions on ethno-cultural communities.
"We have the collective responsibility to build a country based firmly on the notion of equality of opportunity, regardless of one's race or ethnic origin," concluded the Prime Minister.
In response to the Prime Minister's apology, Canadian Heritage Minister Beverley Oda remarked, "With today's apology the Government is following through on its promise to the Chinese-Canadian community, one which was subjected to a unique situation. My Department will work hard in the coming months and years to strengthen the sense of inclusion of Chinese-Canadians, and indeed of all communities in Canada."
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Over 15,000 Chinese labourers first came to Canada in the mid-nineteenth century to assist in the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway.
Once the railway was complete, the government of the day set in place a number of measures to stop the flow of immigrants from China to Canada.
Beginning with the Chinese Immigration Act of 1885, a Head Tax of $50 was imposed on Chinese newcomers.
The Government subsequently raised this amount to $100 in 1900, and then to $500 in 1903.
This tax remained in place until 1923, when the Government amended the Chinese Immigration Act and effectively banned most Chinese immigrants to Canada until 1947. Newfoundland also imposed a Head Tax on Chinese immigrants from 1906 to 1949, the year Newfoundland joined Confederation.
The Head Tax was legal at the time, as acknowledged by Canadian Courts. However, the Government of Canada accepts that the Head Tax was race-based and inconsistent with the values that Canadians hold today.
On June 22, on behalf of the Government of Canada, the Prime Minister apologized in the House of Commons for the implementation of the Head Tax.
The Government also announced its intention to offer symbolic individual payments of $20,000 to living Chinese Head Tax payers and living spouses of deceased payers.
The Government will also be establishing a $24-million community historical recognition program to provide grant and contribution funding for community projects linked to wartime measures and immigration restrictions and a $10-million national historical recognition program to fund federal initiatives, developed in partnership with other stakeholders.
The specifics of each initiative (symbolic payments, community programs and national recognition programs) are being finalized, and implementation is anticipated to begin in Fall of 2006.
Information on eligibility, verification and the application process will be made available once finalized.