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B.C. Chinese Head Tax Apology Fails To Prevent Future Discrimination

B.C.'s past legislated discrimination of "non-mainstream" aliens extended to far more than the Chinese, but also to Indo-Canadians and Japanese-Canadians. So why it is today the provincial government only wants to say sorry to the Chinese? Why is it focusing on advertising the apology among the Chinese, and lacking the courage to extend that effort to the entire province? By doing so, B.C. has failed to translate this apology as a political agenda for all citizens.
16/06/06-CHINESE HEAD TAX APOLOGY-James Pon, 88, photographed at his home in Toronto. He still has the original documents showing the Chinese Head Tax paid ($500), for each his mother and him, in 1922. Pon says he almost cries every time he speaks about his father, who borrowed the $1000 to bring the two to Canada, taking 17 years to repay the debt. James Pon was sent to live, and work, on his own at the age of twelve, because his family couldn't afford to keep him. On Wednesday, June 21st, James Pon and his wife, Vera Wong Pon, will be joining other Chinese immigrants on a historic train to Ottawa to attend an official statement of apology to be read by Prime Minister Stephen Harper in the House of Commons on the 22nd.(Photo by Peter Power/Toronto Star)pmp (Photo by Peter Power/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
16/06/06-CHINESE HEAD TAX APOLOGY-James Pon, 88, photographed at his home in Toronto. He still has the original documents showing the Chinese Head Tax paid ($500), for each his mother and him, in 1922. Pon says he almost cries every time he speaks about his father, who borrowed the $1000 to bring the two to Canada, taking 17 years to repay the debt. James Pon was sent to live, and work, on his own at the age of twelve, because his family couldn't afford to keep him. On Wednesday, June 21st, James Pon and his wife, Vera Wong Pon, will be joining other Chinese immigrants on a historic train to Ottawa to attend an official statement of apology to be read by Prime Minister Stephen Harper in the House of Commons on the 22nd.(Photo by Peter Power/Toronto Star)pmp (Photo by Peter Power/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

After many twists and turns, B.C. is poised to offer its formal apology to the Chinese community in the legislature on Thursday. However as a result of many unanswered questions, the government's post-apology actions will just be the beginning of the real drama.

For example, how many non-Chinese British Columbians really know why the province is apologizing to the Chinese community? Did the province have the sincerity to be pro-active rather than reactive in the pre-apology process and use this opportunity to educate the general public? So that by learning the not-so-glorious past of their forefathers, citizens will be inspired to seek a global citizen's worldview to accept, to honour and to uphold the equality of all immigrants?

B.C.'s past legislated discrimination of "non-mainstream" aliens extended to far more than the Chinese, but also to Indo-Canadians and Japanese-Canadians. So why it is today the provincial government only wants to say sorry to the Chinese? Why is it focusing on advertising the apology among the Chinese, and lacking the courage to extend that effort to the entire province? By doing so, B.C. has failed to translate this apology as a political agenda for all citizens.

The public impression is that Premier Christy Clark is simply making good her pre-election promise unfortunately tied to the embarrassing "Ethnicgate" scandal (of using apologies to get Chinese votes). So it is highly suspected that her effort is a bureaucratic show targeting the Chinese and the Chinese media.

The public has observed the resulting contradiction: while non-Chinese media often view the apology as a non-issue, Chinese media has been providing extensive coverage on it. Would such seemingly pompous focus cause more misunderstanding among non-Chinese British Columbians towards the Chinese population? Would most view Chinese people as getting so ostentatiously rich and inconsiderate that they are making excessive demands on the government?

Moreover, the province has framed the apology as an ethnic "Chinatown" issue and forget (or avoid) that this is a historic opportunity to inspire and re-educate all citizens. Since it has failed to educate the historical reasons for the apology among the non-Chinese public, there is little to prevent the re-occurrence of discrimination against minority groups in the future!

There's much less chance for a transformative reconciliation, one that will build a sense of inclusive mutuality within which all immigrants will be treated as potential positive energy for the province's progress.

With B.C.'s political will only limited to an apology, but no leadership for remorse, how can there be genuine public repentance? Without repentance, how can two parties to historical wrongs achieve the ultimate goal of reconciliation?

Today the best way forward for the Clark government is not to exploit the political dividend generated from her re-election ethnic plot, but instead invest new resources in a province-wide campaign to educate the century-long "misdeeds" committed by B.C.'s forefathers to a minority group.

I am afraid the current plan to just say sorry in the legislature will be grossly inadequate to bear the accumulated burdens from B.C.'s unjust history. In response to the "three NOs" graciously suggested by the Chinese community: no compensation; no penalizing of perpetrators; and no endless exaggeration of claims, the provincial government should not re-victimize that community by misplacing the spotlight on politicians or making partisan gains from its apology to that painful Chinese history. They should realize the greatest possible gift to our future generations arising from their response can be B.C.'s reconciliation.

On the other hand, Chinese community leaders should not equate the provincial apology to some mercy from ancient feudal lords, or express their gratitude profusely in tears. After all, for all the reasons stated, such an apology should not be what any minority group expects.

If the Clark government still has no intention to reconcile, would our Chinese community leaders be willing to pick up the task of educating the public about our history in B.C.? Would they be willing to respect each other and stand up for the community's dignity? Would they be willing to abandon the victim's mindset from Canada's discriminatory history, and engage in the reshaping of the spirit of B.C.?

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