THE BLOG

B.C. Chinese Head Tax Apology Not Genuine With Divide And Conquer Tactics

01/13/2014 06:07 EST | Updated 03/15/2014 05:59 EDT

Despite the exemplary example of reconciliation by the late Nelson Mandela, politicians like to offer apologies -- since those usually cost nothing, supposedly will wash over any wrongs, and if worded appropriately, can even make the ones offering them appeared righteous. So it was no surprise that offering apologies for minorities' history was high in BC Liberal's "quick-win" multicultural strategic outreach plan leaked out from the premier's office in March 2013.

As such, Premier Christy Clark's imminent apology to British Columbians of Chinese descent came about, not as a result of a popular request from the community, Chinese or non-Chinese, but as result of the above plan.

Without a mandate to apologize from the people and further embarrassed by the leak, she got cold feet on apologizing before the May election. However after election, she felt the need to execute some apology to appease Chinese voters who have been teased by her such promise for a year. To provide some semblance of a process, her minister in charge has begun a series of seven consultations with the Chinese community beginning Nov .17, 2013. Details are in this obscure website.

Since she refused to commit to a process of reconciliation even before becoming the party leader, Clark's consultations on her intended apology were not preceded by first acknowledging B.C.'s full history of discriminatory legislation targeting Chinese people, educating the public about it, and consulting the bigger public (including non-Chinese) on appropriate redemptive actions.

Instead, she approached it by stealth, first by deciding to consult only with "Chinese community associations and citizens," then by informing the Chinese media about her first Nov. 17 consultation only a day ahead, making it impossible for the general Chinese public to attend.

Amidst the secrecy, the notion of an apology to the Chinese community was revealed during a CBC Radio interview with the author. The surprised public replied to the development on a CBC online story in the hundreds.

As most respondents were non-Chinese kept in the dark about B.C.'s real history, many were naturally upset with the STEALTH apology and its implied collective responsibility.

Worse, there are indications her government has been bypassing the mainstream media when releasing news of the intended apology and preceding consultations.

While such make it easier to tailor messages for the Chinese public, they keep B.C.'s 90 per cent of non-Chinese in the dark. Moreover such undermines the freedom of the press to report, is divisive and defies the very definition of reconciliation which is a restorative process involving two parties to a conflict.

By treating Chinese people as the only stakeholder in B.C.'s reconciliation, the premier not only reveals her ignorance on the subject but is pushing B.C. towards the abyss of false reconciliation, and our democratic system towards even less responsibility for its mistakes, both past and present.

Yet it is not too late for British Columbians to realize the danger of such divide and conquer tactics. It is not too late for Clark to realize she has won the election and can benefit far more by being honest with history than by continuing with her office's "quick win" ethnic outreach strategy.

Let's hope we all will be inspired by Nelson Mandela's faith in truth and reconciliation rather than fear of one's neighbors of a different colour. Let's hope our actions will be guided by hope and peace rather than the conforming forces from B.C.'s colonial past.

Despite the temptation to remain silent, let us remember Bishop Desmond Tutu's words that we can only be human together. So let us be united as one people, with one dream to face our shared history, to recognize injustice and to seek redemption and reconciliation for this young province, even when that may appear inconvenient.

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