11/17/2013 04:20 EST | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

'Formal apology' to B.C.'s Chinese community questioned

An advocate for B.C.'s Chinese community says the provincial government's strategy to develop a formal apology for historical wrongs is just another way to achieve a "quick win" within the province's most sizable ethnic population.

The province is hosting a consultation Sunday in Victoria with the Consolidated Chinese Benevolent Association to get input on wording for the apology that addresses systemic and legislated discrimination suffered by the Chinese in B.C.

But Bill Chu, spokesman of the Canadians for Reconciliation Society, says the government has not done enough to promote the event, and that it is not inclusive enough for B.C.'s non-Chinese community.

"The event is happening today and they informed the media yesterday. So that tells you how sincere they are about informing the public and inviting the Chinese public into such a forum," Chu told CBC News.

"The government appears to be only gathering a small, selective group of Chinese today to represent what they are trying to do, and I don't think that's conducive to the process that we are hoping for."

B.C. legislated discrimination

Chu said the process seems insincere and that true reconciliation must involve more than just an apology, but an effort "to inform or consult the non-Chinese population about what the provincial government did wrong and what redemptive measures are required."

The Chinese community in British Columbia suffered legislated inequality and discrimination for more than 50 years when multiple forms of discriminatory legislation were imposed, including exclusion acts that restricted Chinese individuals from entering Canada.

Chinese workers were brought into the country to help construct the Canadian Pacific Railway. But as soon as it was completed in 1885, it was B.C. that pressured the federal government to pass laws to stop Chinese immigration. At times, the province even collected half of the head-tax levies.

In B.C., employers were punished if they hired Chinese workers. The Chinese were forbidden to vote in provincial elections and while land was given away to new settlers, the Chinese had no share in it. In Victoria, the school board created a segregated school for Chinese students.

Quick wins for historic wrongs?

Chu said the province's consultation process was reminiscent of the B.C. Liberal strategy to achieve "quick wins" in order to win ethnic votes in an election.

But Teresa Wat, B.C.'s Minister of International Trade and Minister Responsible for the for Asia Pacific Strategy and Multiculturalism, said the consultations are meant to be respectful and collaborative.

"A formal apology must be done properly, with meaningful dialogue and most importantly, in a respectful and collaborative manner," Wat said in a statement.

"I look forward to facilitating this process and identifying wording that the community respects."

Wat will be visiting with a number of Chinese associations and groups over the next few months.

Input received at the consultations forums will guide the wording of a formal apology and in the next sitting of the legislature, the B.C. government plans to introduce a motion regarding the formal apology.