Apology to B.C.’s Chinese-Canadians accepted by Kelowna’s Chinese community

Last week's apology in the B.C. Legislature by Premier Christy Clark pleases locals who presented at a hearing here to craft the apology.

The apology offered by the provincial government last week for how B.C. treated it’s Chinese residents in the past has been accepted by the group of local Chinese Canadians who made presentations to a hearing on the crafting of that apology held in Kelonwa earlier this year.

“I was very impressed,” said Tun Wong, a former finance department official with the City of Kelowna who was born and raised in the city’s former Chinatown.

“I felt the apology was very sincere.”

Wong, who was invited to attend at the B.C. Legislature last week when Premier Christy Clark delivered the apology, said he talked with the other local presenters from the hearing who were also there and they all feel the same way he does.

Wong said he was happy to hear the apology cover more than just saying sorry for the myriad of historical wrongs B.C. governments of the late 19th and early 20th centuries perpetrated on Chinese immigrants and residents. It also recognized the contribution Chinese Canadians have made to this country, a willingness to recognize historical sites important to the Chinese community and a vow to educate the public about the wrongs, in an attempt to make sure they never happen again to another group of immigrants to the this country.

“I went back and looked at my presentation (from the Kelowna hearing) and (the apology) included everything I asked for,” said Wong.

He said his two regrets were that his parents were not alive to hear it—his mother was one of the thousands of Chinese immigrants forced to pay a racist head tax instituted by the federal government from 1872 to 1923 when she came to Canada—and that a close friend, a highly decorated Chinese-Canadian war veteran who never stopped working to get the very apology Clark delivered, died recently at age 94 and also did not get to hear it.

From the late 1800s to 1949, Chinese Canadians were not allowed to vote, hold public office and were discouraged from immigrating to Canada, despite having come here and helped build the railroad that united the country in ints early days. They faced numerous laws, rules and regulations stopping them from having the same rights as Caucasian Canadians, even ones who had also immigrated to this country.

And it was not just the government who acted in such a racist and discriminatory manner. Businesses also had their own rules against the Chinese, rules that the government of the day turned a blind eye to.

The apology, supported by the Opposition NDP and independent MLAs, addressed al of that.

“While the governments which passed these laws and policies acted in a manner that [was] lawful at the time, today this racist discrimination is seen by British Columbians — represented by all members of the legislative assembly — as unacceptable and intolerable,” Clark told the legislature.

Wong said the fact it was supported unanimously by B.C. legislators of all political stripes made a difference.

“I think (new NDP leader) John Horgan said it best when he said when something as important as this has to be done, the entire legislature can act as one.”

B.C.’s apology, unlike the federal apology for the head tax that was delivered by Prime Minister Stephen Harper in the House of Commons in 2006, did not offer any compensation.

It did however, include a commitment to put $1 million into a legacy fund to be used for educational initiatives.

Wong said he was okay with that.

“I understood there would be no compensation and I’ve always felt no need for it,” he said. “What is adequate? Who do you pay? Do we continue to expect future taxpayers  to keep paying?”

He said he just wanted a recognition that Chinese-Canadians were treated badly and to hear an apology.

“And we got that,” he said.