Debates of the Senate  
1st Session, 41st Parliament, Volume 148, Issue 140
  Wednesday, February 27, 2013
Question: Chinese Head Tax redress funds claw back
Hon. Lillian Eva Dyck:
Honourable senators, in 2006, Prime Minister Harper issued a formal government apology and offered $20,000 in compensation to those who had paid the head tax or to the spouses of those who had paid it. In addition to that, a program was initiated called the Community Historical Recognition Program to address some of the history of Chinese±Canadians.

Just to remind honourable senators, from 1885 to 1923, 97,000 Chinese immigrants to Canada had to pay a discriminatory head tax to enter this country. At the time, that tax was equivalent to about one or two years' salary, and it was a major source of revenue for the government. In addition, from 1923 to 1947, an act of Parliament almost entirely blocked Chinese entry into Canada. There were maybe only 11 or 12 Chinese who were able to get into the country.

This morning in The Globe and Mail, there was an article that surprised me and disappointed me when I read that half a million dollars aimed at educating Canadians about the head tax and the history of the Chinese immigrants was never spent and that it is being returned or clawed back to government coffers. Susan Eng, one of the Chinese-Canadians who campaigned for the government apology and who sat on the citizen advisory committee that gave out the $5 million, said the committee did not even know that 10 per cent, or half a million dollars, had not been spent.

Why was the citizen's advisory committee not provided adequate and up-to-date, audited information on the funds expended and remaining in the Community Historical Recognition Program, so that they would have known that a balance of half a million dollars was left?

Hon. Marjory LeBreton (Leader of the Government): I thank the honourable senator for the question. I well remember the historic day with the many members of the Chinese community in the galleries of the House of Commons when the Prime Minister made the official apology on the Chinese head tax issue. I am not aware of the article in The Globe and Mail this morning and all of the details surrounding it, unfortunately, so I will have to take the honourable senator's question as notice and provide a written response.

Senator Dyck: I thank the leader for doing that because it is an important issue.

Also, according to the article, a spokeswoman for Mr. Kenney said the government had intended to spend all the money but it just did not happen. In fact, they say that the Chinese Canadian National Council for Equality had been meant to be a recipient of a grant worth $400,000, but because the council did not file the necessary paperwork, they were not eligible.

Could there not be an exception made, or could the program not be extended? It sounds like it was simply an administrative issue of not filing paperwork on time in order for this group to get the money. Could that be re-investigated?

Senator LeBreton: Honourable senators, absolutely. I will add that question to the one that the honourable senator previously asked and I will seek further information from the department for her.

Senator Dyck: As a follow-up, honourable senators, I would like to quote what two people who are involved in the Chinese Canadian history have to say. Mr. Brad Lee, who is a writer, researcher and a big part of the redress campaign, says that he believes the Community Historical Recognition Program funds are seen as "blood money" by many Chinese Canadians. That money should not be taken back by the government, but should be used as part of the redress campaign. He says further:

Redress funds when they are promised must be paid out in full because they're part of an official apology...

I would hope that would add to the leader's request.

Furthermore, Professor Henry Yu from the University of British Columbia, who is a famous historian, says:

You can't make right something that happened 100 years ago, but what you can do is address the legacies of that wrong. That's where education is crucial. Apparently, this kind of program is necessary to correct the deficiencies in our history.

Why cannot Minister Kenney at least extend the deadline to fund the Chinese Canadian National Council for Equality?

Senator LeBreton: I have noted the quotations raised by the honourable senator. Let us be clear. Many governments of all political stripes left this issue unresolved. No apology was offered. It was a terrible situation. I am proud to be part of the government and I am proud of the Prime Minister who officially apologized.

With regard to all the issues the honourable senator raised, I will get the responses for her.

Senator Dyck: I agree with the leader, honourable senators. The previous government, although it was a Liberal government, did not issue an apology, so the government has done a good thing by putting forward the apology and the programs. I am asking her to extend them a little longer time.

Hon. Lillian Eva Dyck: Honourable senators, my second question is with regard to an email I received on February 1 along the same sort of lines. It came from Immigration Watch. It was addressed to a senator in the chamber, but I believe that probably all senators got it. It was not addressed to me, but to someone on the other side. It was entitled "Our School Textbooks Have Distorted Our Immigration History." A very large part of this email had to do with false information about the Chinese history in Canada.

I am not sure whether the leader recalls receiving this email message as well, and I know it is putting her on the spot.

Hon. Marjory LeBreton (Leader of the Government): As honourable senators know, like most senators, I receive a lot of email and I personally try to respond or I have someone in my office respond. I do not recall receiving it, but I may have. I receive hundreds and hundreds, probably because I am the Leader of the Government in the Senate, and lately I have been receiving emails with regard to the Senate, as I am sure we all are, some of which are difficult to read.

If the honourable senator would be good enough to give me a photocopy of the email, I will certainly see if, in fact, I did receive it. I probably did. I will be happy to respond.

Senator Dyck: I thank the leader for that.

The email came from a group called Immigration Watch. They are rewriting Canadian history and complaining about the information in textbooks. They are spreading information that is not true, so I think it is important that we not allow this to be sent without some kind of recourse.

They claim that only Chinese labourers were required to pay the head tax and that, of course, is not true. A historian friend of mine has written me and said that the example they cite is incorrect. A person named, Mr. Chew Lai Keen brought his wife from China to Quesnel, British Columbia, and he had to pay a $500 head tax for his wife. Although Immigration Watch claims it was only the labourers, the spouses also had to pay.

In addition, Immigration Watch claims that the "Chinese Exclusion Act" is incorrect as it is stated in the textbooks, because Chinese businessmen, students and a small number of Chinese diplomats did not have to pay the head tax and were not allowed to enter Canada after 1923. Again, my historian friends have assured me this is incorrect. Dr. Peter Li from the University of Saskatchewan has estimated that fewer than 10 Chinese immigrants arrived in Canada between 1923 and 1947 and therefore this organization's information is false.

Would the Leader of the Government in the Senate agree that such incorrect information ought to be combatted by programs such as the Community Historical Recognition Program?

Senator LeBreton: First, honourable senators, I cannot, as Leader of the Government, answer for information that appears perhaps in textbooks or wherever it may appear.

When the Prime Minister stood and made the historic apology to our Chinese-Canadian citizens, I recall that a sum of money was allocated for various Chinese community projects to support and educate people on what happened here. If my memory serves me correctly, organizations went through a process to make application for those funds. I would have to get the details.

Organizations that send us emails often have information that perhaps we were not even aware of. I will be happy to check to see if there is any role or anything that falls within the federal government's responsibility.

Regarding the people who write the books that make it into our system somehow or other, whether history books or otherwise, unfortunately, I do not think there is any government that can completely monitor and correct every bit of misinformation that might be out there.

However, we have the proper record of the honourable senator's question, and I will be happy to try to answer, as much as possible, everything that was put on the record.

Senator Dyck: I thank the leader for that response. I agree that it is difficult for any government to keep track of this sort of thing. I am merely emphasizing the importance of that program set up in 2006 by the leader's government. This has a current context because now there are Chinese labourers coming to work in British Columbia mines, and there is a rising tide of discrimination against these workers. The email from Immigration Watch says:

... Mainland China has become the world's largest cheap Labour Contractor.

They go on to say:

... the entire world needs to target China with a new "Chinese Labourer Head Tax"....

When I read this, I thought it was terrible. The first friend that I sent it to — the historian — said that it made her blood boil because it is an example of racism.

Would the Leader of the Government in the Senate agree that anti-racism and anti-discrimination efforts, such as those taken by the leader's own program, are important and ought to be undertaken continuously to combat the spread of such misleading information about Chinese Canadians?

Senator LeBreton: First, honourable senators, workers under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program come from various countries in the world. Obviously, no government would condone discrimination against any individual who comes into this country under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.

With regard to the situation in the mine in British Columbia, I think the issue there was some people felt that a number of these positions were not offered to people already living in Canada. No one condones racial discrimination in any form, whether it is against our citizens, people who visit this country or people working here on a temporary basis. Again, one would like to educate people not to be racist or insensitive. Minister Kenney and others, through the various programs that the government embarks upon, work hard to combat problems like this.

To the degree that I can respond to the honourable senator's list of questions and where they actually fall within the purview of the federal government, I would be happy to try to answer them.