VANCOUVER – In 1876, a motion was put forward in the British Columbia legislature that called on the government to prevent Canada from being flooded with “a Mongolian population” that would ruin B.C.’s working class.
Though the federal government disallowed the law, “An Act to Prevent the Immigration of Chinese”, discussions about opposing the “influx of Orientals” and banning employment of Chinese or Japanese workers continued in the B.C. legislature up until the 1930s.
On Wednesday, more than 100 archival records of such government-sanctioned discrimination against Canadians of Chinese, Japanese and South Asian descent were released to the public by the B.C. New Democrats.
NDP leader Adrian Dix said the move was an effort to substantiate the government’s planned formal apology to Chinese Canadians for historic wrongs. The apology is expected to be delivered during the spring sitting of the legislature.
Though the Liberal government is already conducting province-wide public consultations on how best to word and deliver the apology, Dix said the forums are meaningless and insincere if British Columbians don’t know the history around why the government is apologizing.
“Rather than just criticize, we’re making a positive contribution by making this information available, by engaging with young people, by making the situation better,” he told reporters on Wednesday.
An all-party apology over the Chinese head tax fell apart just before last May’s provincial election, when the NDP leaked documents indicating the Liberal government planned to use a controversial strategy to win votes from ethnic communities.
The plan, which suggested having government workers appeal to multicultural communities ahead of the election, resulted in the dismissal of at least one bureaucrat as well as the resignation of a cabinet minister and an aid to Premier Christy Clark. It also prompted Clark to apologize on several occasions.
Sitting behind several thick binders with New Democrat MLAs Jenny Kwan and Bruce Ralston on Wednesday, Dix said the legislative records include 89 laws, 49 motions and other records from 1872 to the late 1930s. They reflect restrictions on immigration and employment, taxes based on ethnicity, and bans on the right to vote or to hold public office.
Kwan pointed that out not all racist or discriminatory acts were documented by legislation, such as the segregation of Chinese children from other school children.
“We all know that, we’ve heard stories about it, and we need to understand … why it is that this is a significant moment in history,” she said.
“It’s to recognize all of those wrongs … and to move forward.”
Teresa Wat, the Liberal cabinet minister responsible for coming up with a formal apology, said she appreciates the NDP’s efforts, though she pointed out that the historical information is already available on a B.C. government website.
Wat has already hosted two out of seven community forums to discuss the wording and delivery, as well as legacy efforts, of a formal apology.
“I had two public consultations already and each time I brought in thick binders to show them how much discriminatory legislation there was,” she said in an interview.
“(The Liberal government and the NDP) are working on the same goal, so I am happy to see that.”
Bill Chu, with the Canadians for Reconciliation Society, said making the long-forgotten discriminatory legislation public would help British Columbians understand why a formal apology is crucial to many within the Chinese community.
“You hear all kinds of comments, like, ‘Everybody suffers in this province. How come (the government) favours the Chinese?'”
“They have no idea what really happened. Before reconciliation, we need the truth to come out,” Chu said.