Debates of the Senate  
1st Session, 38th Parliament,Volume 142, Issue 97.
Tuesday, November 22, 2005  
  Citizenship and Immigration  
  Chinese Head Tax and Exclusion Act
 

Hon. Lillian Eva Dyck: Honourable senators, 120 years ago on November 7, 1885, near Revelstoke , British Columbia , the last spike was driven to complete our nation's first transcontinental railway. Chinese workers in Canada played a major role in building this railway through the Canadian Rockies. Between 1881 and 1885 some 17,000 Chinese arrived in Canada . As many as 9,000 of them worked at building the railway for the federal government. The work was especially dangerous and, unfortunately, many Chinese workers perished in completing the railway. The Chinese workers were very much unwelcome. The B.C. government of the day pandered to racist elements in the population and tried to ban Chinese workers. Such actions proved untenable because no one else could be found to do the work. Even the first prime minister of Canada , Sir John A. Macdonald, recognized this fact when he stated that without this Chinese labour there will be no railway.

Upon completion of the railway, the Government of Canada thought it no longer needed the workers. Immediately after the last spike was driven, Canada passed a law requiring Chinese immigrants to pay a $50 head tax. This tax was raised to $ 100 in 1900 and to $ 500 in 1903. At that time, $500 was equivalent to two years' wages. More than 81,000 Chinese immigrants paid approximately $23 million to the Canadian government. In 1923, the head tax was repealed but the Chinese Exclusion Act was instituted. Wives and families could not join the men and immigration was stopped until 1947 when the Chinese Exclusion Act was repealed.

Honourable senators, for 62 years, from 1885 until 1947, the Chinese in Canada were victims of legislated racism in the form of the head tax and the Chinese Immigration Act and the Chinese Exclusion Act. As a consequence of these acts, Chinese families in Canada had to endure financial hardships, deprivation and disintegration of family units, with some families never reuniting, including my own family.

While the government has recognized the need to start the reconciliation process with Chinese Canadians by including $25 million in the 2005 budget for commemorative and educational initiatives, this is not enough. It is time for the Government of Canada to acknowledge its actions and make reparations. Apology and reparations to the descendants of the Chinese who worked on the railway and the descendants of the Chinese who paid the head tax would give real meaning to the sacrifices that our ancestors made to the creation of the Dominion of Canada.

Finally, any group with which the Canadian government signs agreements should have had and continue to have substantial and meaningful input from the descendents of the Chinese railway workers or the head tax payers.
  Veterans Affairs  
  Compensation to Aboriginal Veterans for Unequal Benefits Package
 

(Response to question raised by Hon. Lillian Eva Dyck on November 3, 2005)

The Government of Canada is grateful to all Aboriginal Veterans for their wartime sacrifice and dedication and is committed to fairness and equity in providing for all Canadians who served their country in wartime.

From file reviews, research and discussions during the National Round Table on First Nations Veterans Issues in 2000, it is clear that most First Nations Veterans received the demobilization benefit for which they were eligible after the wars. However, some First Nations Veterans who chose to return to their reserve communities after the wars had to deal with an extra layer of bureaucracy in order to receive their demobilization benefits. It is unclear whether all of these Veterans received their demobilization benefit.

This is why, on June 21, 2002, the Government of Canada responded to the National Round Table Report and grievances of First Nations Veterans with the offer of ex-gratia payments of $20,000 to each living First Nations Veteran or their surviving spouse who returned to reserves after the wars.

Although there was and still is, outstanding litigation by First Nations Veterans on this issue, the offer was not based on any legal liability. The Government of Canada believes that it is a fair offer and is comparable to other ex-gratia payments offered to Merchant Navy Veterans and Hong Kong Prisoners of War.

The situation for M ét is and Non-Status Indian Veterans is different because they were not affected by the same administrative realities that applied to First Nations Veterans who settled on reserves after the wars, though there remain deeply held views by M ét is Veterans that they too were treated unfairly upon their return from the wars. Research, conducted to date, has not substantiated allegations of differential treatment in terms of the benefits provided to M ét is is and Non-Status Indian Veterans. Offers have been made by the Minister of Veterans Affairs Canada to review the individual files of M ét is Veterans who feel they did not receive any demobilization benefits after the wars.

Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) is broadening its outreach strategy for Aboriginal Veterans in order to facilitate communication and ensure veterans and their spouses benefit from the full range of VAC programs and benefits. In keeping with the outreach strategy, VAC has established a senior officer who will be the first point of contact within the department for Aboriginal Veterans, spouses and organizations.

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