Waters: BC should do a better job apologizing than the feds

The province wants us all in on the apology it plans to make to B.C.’s Chinese community for a litany of historical wrongs imposed on it by past B.C. governments.

In crafting the wording of the apology, the provincial government is holding seven forums across B.C. to gather public input, including one here tonight, and the minister responsible for making the apology, Theresa Wat, says she wants to all British Columbians to participate.

The apology is a long time coming.

Despite the contribution Chinese people made to building this country, they were treated as less than second-class citizens by many, including many in the general public, numerous businesses and the provincial government.

More than 100 pieces of discriminatory legislation and regulation against the Chinese community were passed in the 1800s and early to mid-1900s, including restrictions on employment, voting, ability to hold public office and land ownership, as well as exorbitant taxes based on ethnicity and restrictive licensing and regulation. Chinese people were not even allowed full citizenship until 1947.

But, for many, the racism did not stop then. And for some it lives on today.

So, it’s fitting that the community should be asked to provide input into the apology the province plans to make.

What it should not do, however, is let the province off the hook in any way for what preceding B.C. governments did. Victoria needs to step up and recognize governments of the past heavily influenced how the public behaved in terms of promoting racism by leading the charge with the laws it made.

Theresa Wat is right when she says we cannot undo the past but we can move forward leaving a legacy of addressing past wrongs and apologizing for them.

By making the move to apologize, the B.C. government is following in the footsteps of the federal government, which apologized for the hated Head Tax it charged Chinese immigrants in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

But that apology seven years ago did not go far enough for many in the Chinese community. So all eyes will be on the wording of the apology B.C. offers up.

What’s needed now is to hear clearly from the Chinese community itself about what it expects in terms of an apology.

Throwing it open to the public in 2014 may generate helpful input but it should not be allowed to blunt the apology with the excuse that the sins of the father should not be put on the son.

B.C. needs to step up and address its racist past.

Alistair Waters is the assistant editor of the Capital News.



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