Chinese railway labourers camp near Kamloops, 1886. (Library and Archives Canada)

Racial discrimination cut from old B.C. laws

City of New Westminster had “white labour” restriction on 1930 incorporation

When the B.C. government incorporated the Cariboo-Omineca Chartered Company for Frank Owen and William John Stokes in 1898, the legislation specified it could not employ Chinese or Japanese workers.

Similar provisions were included for the Red Mountain Tunnel Company the same year, and the Pine Creek Flume Company in 1899.

The first racially discriminatory legislation found in a two-year search of B.C. government records dated back to 1881, when John Adair Jr. and Joseph Hunter were given the right to build a dam at the outlet of “Quesnelle Lake” and to mine the beds of the South Fork River and other lands. That legislation required that no interest in the company could be sold to Chinese people.

Racial discrimination in B.C. laws continued as late as 1930, when the City of New Westminster was incorporated. The provincial act specified that the city was to employ only “white labour.”

The government’s search of discriminatory private legislation turned up 19 statutes that are still on the books and may technically still be in effect. International Trade and Multiculturalism Minister Teresa Wat introduced a bill Tuesday that would repeal all of the offending clauses.

An event to mark the occasion filled the reception hall at the B.C. legislature Tuesday, and was attended by more than a dozen mostly Chinese-language reporters from Vancouver.

Private statutes are specific to certain people and companies. Discriminatory public statutes were repealed in 2014, and Premier Christy Clark presented a formal apology to Chinese Canadians for the “head tax” on immigrants and other historic laws that discriminated against people of Chinese origin.

The B.C. government had planned to present the apology before the May 2013 provincial election, but that was derailed when a leaked document revealed it was being planned to maximize political benefit for the BC Liberal Party. Clark’s then-deputy chief of staff resigned over what became known as the “quick wins” scandal, and the apology was postponed.

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