05/15/2014 10:46 EDT | Updated 07/15/2014 05:59 EDT

Chinese community to get apology from B.C. for historic wrongs

The Chinese community in B.C. will receive an formal apology today from the provincial government for historic policies that once targeted immigrants and residents.

The apology aims to recognize and make amends for 160 historic racist and discriminatory policies imposed in B.C., such as denying Chinese immigrants the right to vote and charging them a head tax to immigrate.

Premier Christy Clark says the B.C. government supported the head tax and even took payments, so on Thursday in the legislature, MLAs will debate and pass a motion officially apologizing for those measures.

"The Chinese community has been waiting 100 years to hear these words in our legislature, and it's about time they heard it," said Clark.

Over 100 people including community groups and descendents of those impacted by the historical policies will be at the legislature to witness the event.      

Clark says the apology has been endorsed by the governing Liberals, the Opposition New Democrats, the Green Party and the Independent members of the legislature.

"I've always thought that this needs to be a bipartisan apology, from the very, very beginning. I'm glad we've finally gotten here."

No compensation offered

Clark says the apology was formulated after nearly a year of hearings on the issue, which included debate on whether compensation should be offered.

"I think overall there wasn't as big an appetite for that, as there was for a genuine apology addressing the long list of wrongs that government over the last century have done.

"Nothing is ever perfect. I don't think you can ever do something that everyone agrees with, but I really do think there's a really broad level of support for this apology and it is about time."

Last year, the so-called ethic vote scandal revealed the Liberals' plans to win votes from ethnic communities in the provincial election with "quick wins," including apologizing for historic wrongs. The leaked documents led one cabinet minister to step down and two top aides to resign, and Clark to apologize in the legislature.

Feds apologized with compensation

In 2006, the federal government did offer compensation to surviving members of the Chinese-Canadian community who were forced to pay the head tax, saying the restitution allows Canada to move forward from the shadows of past wrongs.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper formally apologized in the House of Commons and offered the symbolic payment of $20,000 to roughly 400 survivors or their widows.

The first immigrants from China to B.C. arrived in Victoria in the 1850s to join the Fraser Valley Gold Rush. By 1872, they were prohibited from voting. The prohibition wasn't lifted until 1949 in B.C.

By the 1880s, construction of the CP Railway was employing thousands of Chinese immigrants. But after the railway was completed, to discourage further immigration, a $50 head tax was imposed in 1885, and by 1903 it was raised to $500.

It's estimated about 82,000 Chinese paid the tax until the Exclusion Act came into effect in 1923, effectively banning further immigration from China until 1947. Restrictions on Chinese immigration remained in place until 1967.