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B.C. apologizes for historic anti-Chinese laws, 'head tax'

Premier Christy Clark thanks Chinese-Canadian veterans at ceremony at the B.C. legislature Thursday. - Tom Fletcher/Black Press
Premier Christy Clark thanks Chinese-Canadian veterans at ceremony at the B.C. legislature Thursday.
— image credit: Tom Fletcher/Black Press

VICTORIA – The B.C. government has presented a formal apology for its historic anti-Chinese policies that accompanied a federal "head tax" to discourage immigrants.

"Today we express our sorrow and regret for historical provincial government practices that were once considered appropriate," says the apology, presented in the B.C. legislature Thursday by Premier Christy Clark.

"We believe this formal apology is required to ensure that closure can be reached on this dark period period in our province's history.

"The entire legislative assembly acknowledges the perseverance of Chinese Canadians that was demonstrated with grace and dignity throughout our history while being oppressed by unfair and discriminatory historical laws."

The apology ends with the vow: "We will ensure that this never happens again."

Research has identified more than 100 B.C. laws and policies that explicitly discriminated against Chinese people in the early years of B.C. history. They restricted employment, banned voting and property ownership and imposed provincial taxes and fees based on Chinese origin.

The federal government apologized in 2006 and offered compensation of $20,000 to survivors or spouses of those who paid the federal "head tax" that was in place from 1885 to 1923. After raising the tax to $500, Ottawa blocked most Chinese immigrants from entering Canada from 1923 to 1947.

Premier Christy Clark said consultations with B.C.'s Chinese community led by International Trade Minister Teresa Wat confirmed the desire for a formal apology, but not additional compensation.

"The community feedback that Minister Wat got didn't generally favour compensation," Clark told reporters. "There is a group that do, but I think overall there wasn't as big an appetite for that as there was for a genuine apology addressing the long list of wrongs that governments over the last century have done to the Chinese community."

The government is allocating $1 million for legacy initiatives from the existing multiculturalism budget. Monuments or plaques commemorating the contribution of Chinese Canadians to B.C. are being considered for locations that may include Greater Vancouver, Barkerville, Nanaimo and Kamloops.

The government had planned to present the apology before the May 2013 provincial election, but that was derailed when a leaked document revealed it was being timed to maximize political benefit for the B.C. Liberals. Two staff members resigned and the apology was postponed.

Clark said the government has worked with the NDP and independent MLAs to make sure the apology is sincere and non-partisan.

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