Head tax (Canada)

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The Chinese head tax was a fixed fee charged for each Chinese person entering Canada. The head tax was first levied after the Canadian Government passed the Chinese Immigration Act of 1885. The act was replaced by the Chinese Immigration Act of 1923, where it excluded Chinese immigration altogether. It was meant to discourage Chinese from entering Canada after the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway.


[edit] History

Canada's federal Chinese Immigration Act of 1885 stipulated that all Chinese entering Canada pay a $50 fee, later referred to as a "head tax". (Prior attempts by the Colony, then, Province, of British Columbia, to introduce similar, usurious taxes had been struck down by successive court decisions as 'ultra vires' [beyond the powers of] the provincial legislature because they impinged upon federal jurisdiction over immigration.) Having this made the Chinese feel unwanted and hurt.

As a dominion of the British Empire, Canada tried to discourage, but could not, by its international obligations, completely eliminate, Chinese immigration at its borders. Following the Opium Wars, which saw China a defeated nation, the British Empire forced a series of Treaties upon China, which demanded the "free flow" of immigration to facilitate its opium trade.

Therefore, Canada's enacting legislation was named the Chinese "Immigration Act," although, clearly, it was intended to discourage, or 'exclude' all Chinese newcomers to Canada, but for its obvious, political and legal obstacles. Scholars and historians have referred to it, and, later the Chinese Immigration Act of 1923, which barred Chinese immigration, as the Chinese "Exclusion" Act, instead.

Some arrivals were presumed to return to China after "sojourning" to Canada because of their transitory occupation, or background (students, teachers, missionaries, merchants, members of the diplomatic corps) and were, therefore, exempt from paying these extortionate penalties. As a result, these racist measures caused great pain and suffering to the most vulnerable, or impoverished, class of Chinese arrivals--those who were at the bottom of the economic ladder.

The Government of Canada, under subsequent Liberal administrations, increased the "taxes" to $100 and, then, $500, under the 'Chinese Immigration Act of 1900' and the 'Chinese Immigration Act of 1903', respectively, on the pretext that the penalties did not sufficiently deter Chinese immigration amidst the racist hysteria on Canada's west coast. (Although the idea of a "poll" tax was borrowed from the white supremacy policies of Australia, it had already been quickly abolished there as "unbecoming an intelligent and civilized people," while successive administrations in Ottawa continued to see the revenue as a major windfall.)

In the early 1900s, the value of $500 was enough to purchase two homes in Montreal, or a 1/4 section of land in many provinces. These penalties, or "taxes," never actually benefitted the original payers as the funds went into a Consolidated Revenue Fund and were spent on 'public' facilities from which Chinese were generally barred--and, who, later, also had their right to vote taken away, as "dis-enfranchised" subjects (i.e., taxation, without representation). Some, therefore, point out that the use of "head tax," is a great euphemism, or misnomer, in both the literal and legal sense of the terms.

At the same time, Liberal immigration policy under Minister Clifford Sifton saw the federal government offer free land and financial incentives to white, European settlers, in an effort to purge the country of its "Yellow Peril" and populate the west with a 'superior' race of people, spurred by social Darwinism and the false ideas introduced by such authors as Magistrate Emily Murphy.

Families, sometimes, entire villages, in China were required to raise and advance funds to the payer who spent several years in indentured servitude in Canada to pay off the debt. These acts were regarded as examples of anti-Chinese legislation in Canada that were part of general institutional racism against the Chinese in Canada.

In 1909, William Lyon Mackenzie King, who was a Member of Parliament for the Canadian House of Commons before becoming Liberal Prime Minister, represented the British Empire at an anti-opium conference in Beijing. According to popular, Eurocentric scholarship, King told the Qing Dynasty that he would try to persuade the government in reducing the sum of the head tax if his Chinese counterparts could restrict Chinese migration to Canada. The relevance of this exchange remains a major source of contention, as further research (including sources in the Chinese language and dialogue in the House of Common Debates) affirms the Chinese Consul having made several, unsuccessful attempts to improve the treatment of Chinese in Canada and their status as loyal subjects, despite Canada's total disregard of its international obligations for the Chinese people.

The Chinese were the only ethnic group that had to pay a Head Tax to enter Canada. Other Asians, such as the East Indians and the Japanese, were not subject to a Head Tax.

Before the Statute of Westminster 1931, the Government of the United Kingdom controlled Canada's international affairs. Canada could not deter citizens from India, which was still a British crown colony, or Japan, which agreed to the Anglo-Japanese Alliance in 1902. Yet, the Government of Canada made efforts to require citizens of Japan and other British Far Eastern colonies to have to travel by direct voyage, only.

[edit] Impact of the head tax

The Government of Canada collected well over $24 million in face value from about 81,000 head tax payers, some of the money being used to support Canada's war effort in World War I. The total head tax collected by 1923 has been estimated as equivalent to over $1.2 billion in 1988 dollars.

In terms of social impact, due to the tax, Chinese Canadian communities in Canada became a "bachelor society," since many families in China could not afford to pay the tax to send for their families to Canada. Significantly, families were separated for several decades, and the growth of Canada's Chinese community remained stunted for several generations, despite having a history in the country that spans almost two centuries.

[edit] Movement for redress

In the 1980s, many Chinese and groups lobbied for a refund of the head tax, and an apology, or formal acknowledgement, from the Government of Canada.

Of these groups, the Chinese Canadian National Council (CCNC) began the movement for the government to act, even taking legal action against the federal government. It argued that the federal government has a moral responsibility for its racist past and should not be profiting from racism, that the apology and compensation for the internment of Japanese Canadians during World War II set a precedent for redressing racially motivated policies. For many years, the Canadian government refused to apologize, citing the possibility of legal liabilities.

An Ontario provincial court declared in 2003, however, that the Government of Canada had no obligation to redress the head tax levied on Chinese immigrants under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as it has no retroactive application, and that the case of internment of Japanese Canadians was not a legal precedent for compensating past racist policies.

Conversely, in response to a submission by the Chinese Canadian Redress Alliance in Montreal, a timely Report in 2004 by Doudou Diene, United Nations Rapporteur on Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, concluded that Canada should redress the head tax to Chinese Canadians, but Heritage Canada refused for several years to address the issue financially.

Understandably, to the surprise of many, on November 17, 2005, a group calling itself the National Congress of Chinese Canadians announced an "agreement" with the out-going Liberal administration to pay $12.5 million for the creation of a new non-profit foundation to educate Canadians about anti-Chinese discrimination. The payments (of the, now, failed, agreement) would have gone to a foundation, not to individuals who had paid the tax, with a specific, pre-condition of "no apology" by the government.

This proposal was instantly met by controversy.

Among other things, the deal had been negotiated without the participation of a number of the most active groups across Canada, including the CCNC.

Accordingly, when the Department of Heritage announced its preliminary agreement on November 24, 2005, funding was suddenly reduced to $2.5 million--most likely the result of fierce and obvious opposition in the broader community. It was also later, revealed that Raymond Chan, the government official claiming to have negotiated with community groups who held no family ties to the issue, purposely misled the government and public that the Chinese Chinese community was willing to accept "no apology, [and] no [individual or collective] compensation."

The authors of the unpopular proposal also claimed support of 11 Chinese-Canadian groups. Yet, upon further examination, some of the named groups stated publicly that their names had been used without permission; several other groups listed, did not even exist. The out-going Liberal Government tabled bill C-333 (as a private member's bill) to implement the deal in November 2004, but this bill died when the Government fell on November 28, 2005.

Opposition grew louder in the Chinese Canadian community and, in response, major redress-seeking alliances and coalitions were formed. This marked a major turning point for the Head Tax Campaign across Canada. The public lobby took prominence during and after, the 2006 federal election. In addition, significant, individual efforts in private, would lead to future negotiations with the Conservative Party.

In prior election campaigns in 2004 and 2006, opposition parties, including the New Democratic Party and Bloc Quebecois had already stated their support for an apology and redress for the head tax.

On December 8, 2005, Conservative Party leader Stephen Harper released a press statement expressing his support for an apology for the head tax. As a part of his 2006 election platform, Mr. Harper promised to work with the Chinese community on redress should the Conservatives form the next government.[1]

Before ultimately losing the federal election, the out-going Prime Minister and Liberal Party leader Paul Martin issued a half-hearted personal apology on a Chinese language radio program. However, he was quickly criticized by the Chinese Canadian community for not issuing the apology in Parliament and, then, trying to dismiss it completely in the English-speaking media on the very same day. Several Liberal candidates with significant Chinese-Canadian populations in their ridings, including Vancouver-Kingsway MP David Emerson, and the Minister of State (Multiculturalism) and Richmond MP Raymond Chan, also made futile attempts to change their positions in the midst of the 2006 election campaign.

The Conservative Party won the election with a minority government, with (newly elected) Prime Minister Stephen Harper reiterating his position on the Head Tax issue in a news conference on January 26, 2006:

"Chinese Canadians are making an extraordinary impact on the building of our country. They've also made a significant historical contribution despite many obstacles. That's why, as I said during the election campaign, the Chinese Canadian community deserves an apology for the head tax and appropriate acknowledgement and redress."[2]

Formal discussions on the form of apology and redress began on March 24, 2006 with a preliminary meeting with Chinese Canadians representing various groups (including some head tax payers), Heritage Minister Bev Oda, and Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister Jason Kenney, resulting in the "distinct possibility" of a formal government apology before July 1, 2006 to commemorate the anniversary of the enacting of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1923.[3]

The meeting was followed by the Conservative government's acknowledgement on April 4, 2006 in its Speech from the Throne that an apology would be given along with proper redress.[4]

From April 21-30, 2006, the Conservative government hosted public, national consultations across Canada in cities most actively involved in the campaign, since it first began: Halifax, Vancouver, Toronto, Edmonton, Montreal, and Winnipeg. They included the personal testimony of elders and representatives from a number of groups, among them, the Halifax Redress Committee; the BC Coalition of Head Tax Payers, Spouses & Descendants; ACCESS; the Ontario Coalition of Head Payers & Families; the CCNC; the Edmonton Redress Committee of the Chinese Canadian Historical Association of Alberta; and, the National Redress Alliance headquartered in Montreal.

Currently, the major issues revolve around the content of any future settlement, with the leading groups demanding meaningful redress, not only for the handful of surviving "head tax" payers and widows/spouses, but first-generation sons/daughters who were direct victims.

Some have proposed that the redress be based on the number of "Head Tax" Certificates (or estates) brought forward by surviving sons/daughters who are still able to register their claims, with proposals for individual redress, ranging from $10,000 to 30,000 for an estimated 4,000 registrants.

On June 22 2006, Prime Minister Stephen Harper offered an apology and compensation only for the head tax once paid by Chinese immigrants<ref name="Address by the Prime Minister">Template:Cite web</ref>. Survivors or their spouses will be paid approximately $20,000 CAD in compensation. There are only an estimated 20 Chinese Canadians who paid the tax still alive in 2006. [5]

As no mention of redress for the 4,000 immediated families who were directly affected was made, the Chinese Canadian community continues to fight for redress from the Canadian government. A national day of protest was held on July 1, 2006 in major cities across Canada, with several hundred Chinese Canadians joining in local marches.

In an ironic turn of events, the new Conservative government announced a few weeks after its apology to the Chinese Canadian community that it would begin to offer proper redress to the approximately 5,000 victims of the tainted blood (Red Cross) campaign who were excluded by the earlier settlement of the previous Liberal government.

[edit] See also

[edit] References

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[edit] External links

Head tax (Canada)

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