The Canadian government imposed the racist head tax on all Chinese immigrants to this country between 1885 and 1923. Initially $50, it was raised to $100, then $500 in 1903, the equivalent of two years pay for a laborer.
Frank Chan told the Militant, People had to work for 10 to 15 years to pay off the money they had borrowed to pay the tax. If they died, their family in China was still stuck with the burden of paying the money back.
In 1923 the Canadian government imposed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which banned all immigration from China and remained in effect until 1947. As a result, many of those who paid the head tax, almost all men, were separated from their wives and children for decades. Chinese-Canadians were also denied the right to vote and faced many other racist laws and practices.
In June of this year, after a decades-long fight for justice by Chinese-Canadians, Ottawa agreed to compensate about 400 surviving head tax payers and their spouses. The Head Tax Families Society of Canada (HTFS), which organized the November 25 meeting, noted that a bare 0.6 percent of families subjected to the head tax will be compensated.
Wayne Lee, an activist in the HTFS, said that the redress fight is important for today because it strengthens other struggles for justice.
Another activist, Ron Mah, said winning redress has been a deeply felt issue for different generations of Chinese-Canadian families. I remember how as a boy our family always talked about the need to pursue justice and how unfair the head tax was, he said.
Vancouver city councilor David Cadman, who spoke at the meeting, said, Many people say this happened a long time ago. But today in our society there are people who are still being discriminated against.
Several members of Parliament spoke, including New Democratic Party (NDP) leader Jack Layton and former Liberal cabinet minister Ujjal Donsanjh. Layton said the NDP supports the HTFS demands.
Sid Tan, a co-chair of the HTFS vowed, Were building a movement of such strength that it will outlast the [Prime Minister Stephen] Harper government and any other government until justice is achieved.
Grace Schenkeveld, English-language spokesperson for the HTFS, presented Layton with 1,600 letters from descendants of head tax payers and a petition demanding redress to be introduced in Parliament.
Dozens lined up to join the HTFS during the meeting.
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