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Minister touched by personal stories from Kelowna Chinese-Canadians

Multiculturalism Minister Teresa Wat addresses a forum looking for input on a planned apology by the province to Chinese-Canadians that was held in Kelowna Tuesday night. - Alistair Waters/Capital News
Multiculturalism Minister Teresa Wat addresses a forum looking for input on a planned apology by the province to Chinese-Canadians that was held in Kelowna Tuesday night.
— image credit: Alistair Waters/Capital News

Multiculturalism Minister Teresa Wat came to Kelowna Tuesday to hear directly from members of area's Chinese-Canadian community about the need for an apology from the province about the way B.C. treated their ancestors.

The stories she heard struck a chord with Wat, herself an immigrant from China who moved to Canada 25 years ago.

"I was quite touched by their stories," said Wat, noting that unlike a similar, larger forum held recently in Vancouver, presenters here had more time to speak and, as a result, told personal stories.

B.C. NDP multiculturalism critic Bruce Ralston, who was in the audience to listen, echoed Wat's feeling about the Kelowna meeting, saying he was particularly touched by the impact the past wrongs have had on subsequent generations.

Wat said the Liberal government plans to work with the Opposition NDP in drafting and presenting the apology during the upcoming Spring session of the B.C. Legislature.

In Kelowna, Wat was told historical wrongs, such as provincial legislation, rules and regulations and the hated Head Tax of the late 1800s and early 1900s—deeply affected both the Chinese men who came to work in Canada, mainly building the railroad, and their families back in China.

Legislation such as the Chinese Exclusion Act, which barred Chinese immigrants from coming to Canada between 1923 and 1947 and the preceding Head Tax, which charged as much as $500 per person for each family member a worker wanted to bring to Canada, tore families apart.

Shui Lee, a fifth generation Chinese-Canadian and president of the Chinese-Canadian Freemason's Club in Kelowna, told of how his great-great-grandfather never saw his wife and children again after coming here in 1914 in search of a better life.

He called the Kelowna forum, which was organized as a way for the public to give input into the promised apology, a "happy day and one I have been waiting for a for a long, long time."

As an audience of about 60—mainly Chinese Canadians—listened, seven speakers told Wat how important the apology will be. They spoke of how racist government laws and regulations of the past affected their ancestors and subsequent generations because, in some cases, non-Oriental people and businesses took their lead from the government and enacted their own racist and discriminatory rules aimed at all Asian people.

Several said the apology should include a reference to racism outside of only past direct government legislation.

Tun Wong, who grew up in Kelowna's Chinatown and whose family was the last family to live there, said when he was young he remembers that community being made up mostly of single, older men who had been unable to bring their wives and children over from China.

He said he can remember many of the men giving his mother money to hold for them and use to pay for what he called a "proper" funeral when they died. He said they also asked her to send word back to China of their passing.

He said they were alone here.

Like others, he said he can remember racist incidents he experienced growing up, But, he said, over time that changed.

But Wong, now 72, admitted he is still angry about how Chinese-Canadians were treated in the past in B.C.

He said in addition to the apology, he wants to see a recognition of the hard work Chinese immigrants to Canada did over the years in helping to build this country and theloyalty they showed to Canada by volunteering to serve during World War II—despite not being granted full citizenship until 1947. He said the history of the Chinese Canada and how they were treated should also be mandatory education in the B.C. schools.

During the Kelowna forum, Wat produced a thick binder with a record of all the discriminatory and racist legislation, regulations and rules past B.C. governments enacted or proposed to keep Chinese-Canadians from owning land, running for, or holding, public office, voting and long list of other rights modern-day Canadians take for granted.

She said she wants to hear from all Canadians about the apology and encouraged everyone to send their suggestions and comments to apology.consultation@gov.bc.ca. before the end of February. More information can be found at embracebc.ca

Three more public forums will be held before the end of the month—in Prince George, Richmond and Burnaby–before the government uses the collected data to come up with the wording of the apology that will likely be delivered in the B.C. Legislature.

 

 

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