Vancouver will apologize to Chinese

Vancouver's government has approved a plan to officially apologize for historical discrimination against the Canadian city's Chinese residents.

Vancouver’s government has approved a plan to officially apologize for historical discrimination against the Canadian city’s Chinese residents.

In a unanimous vote early this month, the city council agreed to arrange an official apology event next April using Toishanese — the Chinese dialect spoken by the majority of Chinese immigrants who arrived in Vancouver in the late 18th century.

Chinese people first came to the province of British Columbia in 1788, eventually comprising 10 percent of the province’s population by 1901. Today, a third of Vancouver’s population has an Chinese ethnic background.

Between 1886 and 1948, Chinese residents in Vancouver were forbidden to vote in civic elections. 

The city also lobbied the federal government to raise the Head Tax levied on Chinese people from C$50 (US$39) in 1885 to C$100 in 1900 and C$500 in 1903.

Civic laws were also used to restrict Chinese activity in certain industries, businesses, jobs and public amenities.

For example, in 1928, Chinese children and their parents were barred from the city’s only public swimming pool, except for one day of the week, and this segregation remained in place until 1945.

Vancouver’s apology is well past due, said Hilbert Yiu, president of the Chinese Benevolent Association of Vancouver, which took part in educating and lobbying the current council on the topic as part of an advisory group. 

“For the whole Chinese community, of course we love to hear this, and we are so happy to hear that finally we can get it,” Yiu said. 

For centuries, Chinese-Canadians have contributed to Canadian and British Columbian society, Yiu said.

“Our veterans in World War I, in World War II, they were sacrificing ... and contributing to the country even though the country didn’t want them. But they went to fight ... and finally ... that recognition is coming. I think it’s good for everybody to know this,” he said.

“It is hard to imagine in today’s context what early Chinese went through,” Yiu’s association wrote to Vancouver’s mayor and council. “But the impact of family separation, economic and hardship and social isolation is still deeply felt by their descendants. We cannot undo this wrong, let us make sure that we will not repeat it.”

The apology follows other similar government apologies in Canada for discrimination against Chinese-Canadians. The city of New Westminster was the first and only city in the province to formally apologize for past discrimination. 

In 2014, former British Columbia Premier Christy Clark apologized on behalf of the province. In 2016, former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologized for federal discrimination.

Raymond Louie, a Vancouver councilor, said the apology was an important step forward.

“It’s not just looking backward at the historical wrongs that were perpetrated against the Chinese people, but rather looking at it as a model based on the historical data about what we can do differently going forward as well,” he told reporters.

He said the apology would show that discrimination of any kind has no place in Vancouver. 

The apology “recognizes that Vancouver played a significant role in that discrimination,” Louie said. “Vancouver wasn’t a silent bystander when this was happening, but rather it was a perpetrator of this historical discrimination and for many years. Sixty years in fact.” 

Louie showed reporters the title document to his Vancouver home. Included was a clause from 1928, stating that a person of “oriental descent” could not own or occupy the home.

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