01/14/2014 10:00 EST | Updated 03/16/2014 05:59 EDT

What's in an apology?

The B.C. government wants to apologize to Chinese-Canadians for historical wrongs, including the head tax and over 100 other pieces of discriminatory legislation.

In the early 20th century, Chinese people in B.C. couldn't vote, couldn't own property, and often couldn't get work.

Now government officials are asking the public for input on exactly how to apologize for these wrongs.

The CBC's Elaine Chau spoke to three Chinese-Canadians about what an apology would mean for them.

Bill Wong, owner of Modernize Tailors 

Bill Wong has lived through his share of racism. His dad, Kung Lai Wong, paid a $500 head tax to come to Vancouver. Growing up, Wong was excluded from many activities others had access to, such as swimming at the public pool.

After he earned an engineering degree from UBC in the mid-1940s, he soon found out, he couldn't use it because no firm would consider hiring him at the time.

"I was discouraged from applying for a job interview. The recruiters would talk to my class president and say, 'Ah! See that Chinese boy at the back there? Tell him not to come in for an interview. Otherwise, we'll both be embarrassed.'"

Despite his encounters with racism, Bill questions the need for an apology. 

"Things are improving already, and I don't know whether an apology is necessary."

Brandt Louie, president H.Y Louie Group.

For the Louie family, the discrimination at the time had an impact on business. When his grandfather, H.Y Louie, first started his grocery business in 1903 his company was banned from buying sugar from the Rogers Sugar company.

Louie is supportive of an apology, but he "doesn't know what the right answer is".

"Chinese immigrants who came at that time knew there was a head tax, and the reason they still came, even not understanding the language and the culture...they still felt they had a better future coming here than staying where they were,"he says.

Brandt says the head tax along with other forms of legislated discrimination was the unfortunate price of admission to a better life.
Many immigrants families, like his own, persevered and overcame the racism at the time.

Suen Chan Seuh Chun, chair Head Tax Families Society of Canada

For Suen Chan Seuh Chun, a proper apology would have to include some form of financial redress. In her 80s now, Suen grew up with the impact of the head tax on her family. Her father paid a $500 dollar head tax to come to Canada, but returned to Hong Kong briefly to get married and start a family.

For many years, he could not afford to bring Suen, her siblings, and her mother to Canada, which meant the family was consistently separated. The burden of paying off the head tax also meant the Suen family lived in constant poverty.

Although all these individuals have different perspectives on the government's efforts to issue an apology, they all agree that more work needs to be done to ensure this dark history is not forgotten.

All are supportive of education programs that would teach future generations about the historical wrongs done to Chinese-Canadians.