An Easter Proverb: Those Who Demand Contrition From Canada Probably Owe Contrition To Canada ((Justice Dennis Murphy’s 1910-11 Royal Commission Investigation Of Chinese Immigration Frauds)


An Easter Proverb: Those Who Demand Contrition From Canada Probably Owe Contrition To Canada (Justice Dennis Murphy’s 1910-11 Royal Commission Investigation Of Chinese Frauds)

A Conservative MP who has been researching the Komagata Maru incident has recently stated that Canada’s federal government will commemorate the Komagata Maru incident, but probably not issue a formal apology. Time will tell what actually gets done, but the news that an apology will not be made indicates a bit of progress in thinking about “apologies”. An earlier decision to apologize to the Chinese for the Head Tax on Chinese labourers was an obvious mistake and a misinterpretation of the events of that time.

An examination clearly demonstrates that the Head Tax not only tried to discourage Chinese labourers from coming but, in the case of those who did come, was intended to be an economic equalizer. Like a tariff applied to remove the price advantage of cheap foreign products, the Head Tax tried to neutralize the economic advantage that Chinese labourers, who worked at substantially lower wages, had over host population labourers. The Chinese Head Tax issue was as basic and clear as that.

A Royal Commission investigation, done by Justice Dennis Murphy in 1910-1911 of “Alleged Chinese Frauds and Opium Smuggling On The Pacific Coast”, looks at Chinese efforts to evade the Head Tax from 1904 to 1910. These schemes and the undetermined number of Chinese who entered Canada illegally through these schemes raise the question: Who should be apologizing to whom?

The findings of Justice Dennis Murphy are particularly relevant today because the incidents show that Canada was victimized. In fact, multiple examples of Chinese fraud were committed. If anyone should be demanding contrition for past wrongs, it should be Canada, not the Chinese. The same thing can be said of East Indian demands for a Komagata Maru apology.

The findings of Justice Murphy are not some erudite chapter in Canadian history. On the contrary, they are extremely relevant because the incidents of 100 years ago are constantly being used today by some ethnic groups to resist the lowering of current high immigration levels.

The following are six fraudulent methods which Chinese used to enter Canada in the years 1904-10. Beside each are some of Justice Murphy’s findings:

(1) STOWING AWAY ON SHIPS: After the Head Tax was raised to $500 at the beginning of 1904, legal Chinese labourer immigration declined precipitously. However, illegal Chinese labourer immigration increased. Justice Murphy could not say the increase was exponential, but he came close to saying that. He pointed to the case in August, 1910 of the ship called the Kumeric, in which 53 stowaways were apprehended. One of the stowaways who had been caught in an earlier March, 1910 attempt, confessed that in that March endeavour, 20 stowaways had landed successfully in Vancouver. Justice Murphy concluded: “…it is clear that the number of stowaways who have entered Canada in the past is only limited to the number who attempted that route….” (P.25) In other words, the number was probably very large.

Chinese labourer stowaways used the three major passenger shipping lines (C.P.R. Lines, the Blue Funnel Lines and the Bank Line) and tramp steamers to get to Canada. Most of these ships had Chinese crews. In fact, the crews on the Blue Funnel and Bank Lines were almost all Chinese. Justice Murphy concluded that stowing away was “an organized scheme” and that crew members, particularly on the Blue Funnel and Bank Lines, were involved. (P.22) It is probable that they profitted by aiding the stowaways in (1) getting aboard the ships, (2) obtaining provisions for the trip across the Pacific and (3) getting safely off the ships. The Chinese took great advantage of the inadequate security at west coast Canadian ports.

For example, in Vancouver, only one government watchman was employed to guard a ship. A Secret Service man who investigated found that most of these men were of poor character. They were frequently intoxicated on their 12 hour night shifts (6PM to 6AM) or took long meal breaks and left the gangplank completely unguarded. At Union Bay on Vancouver Island, where the large Blue Funnel and Bank Lines ships, as well as small tramp steamers, refuelled with coal, stowaways could leave the ships with virtual impunity. No government watchman was present.

In Vancouver, no harbour patrol existed. Ships could arrive, report their arrival a day later, and, in the meantime, unload a cargo of stowaways.It was more difficult to get away with this in Victoria because ships “touched” (docked?) at an outer wharf which was shut off (from the harbour) by high gates. (P.24) At the port of Nanaimo, no watchman are employed (P.24) and entry was easy.

(2) FRAUDS BY CHINESE CREWS: Crew members (ranging from 80 to 120 on each of the large ships) who wished to enter Canada could change places with Chinese on shore who wished to return to China permanently at no cost. Justice Murphy concluded that this exchanging of places could have been done very easily and that the man employed as the government’s interpreter, the corrupt and “entirely untrustworthy” Yip On, would have been involved. He estimates that the number of people who exchanged places would not have been great.

(3) FRAUDS BY CHINESE CREWS: Members of Chinese crews went ashore, changed their attire, then went to Canadian government officials and pretended that they were residents of Canada. They asked for re-entry permits which would allow them to visit China and return within a year, as provided by the Immigration Act. Having obtained the permits, they changed their attire once more and re-boarded their ship. Once back in China, they sold the permits to people who wanted to go to Canada and who resembled the vendors sufficiently to pass the loose identification methods used in Vancouver. Justice Murphy concluded that the number of Chinese entering Canada illegally in this way was probably few.

(4) IMPERSONATION: Chinese labourers already in Canada, who had accumulated savings adequate for a permanent return to China, and who saw an opportunity to make extra money, obtained a re-entry permit to visit China. They had no intention of coming back to Canada, and sold the permit to a labourer who wanted to come to Canada.

Justice Murphy estimated that there was probably extensive abuse of this “Re-Entry” permit system. The permits did not have photographs on them. Identifying the”re-entrants consisted of matching a set of physical characteristics, recorded at the time of the labourer’s first entry into Canada, with the characteristics of the labourer holding the re-entry certificate. This was a haphazard system.

In the case of ships coming to Vancouver, Yip On, the Chinese interpreter, went to Victoria with a white officer, met the ship and boarded it. On the way back to Vancouver, Yip On had the opportunity to talk, in a language his white companion did not understand, to the re-entering labourers and to make “arrangements” with them so that they could enter Canada successfully. He had the job of calling out the physical characteristics of the re-entrant and could easily omit characteristics which did not apply. As Justice Murphy notes, Yip On was “often seen in the Government office at night copying from the books, particularly just before Oriental boats were scheduled to arrive” in Vancouver. (P.26)

(5) FRAUDS BY ENTRY AS MERCHANTS’ EXEMPT WIVES, SONS AND DAUGHTERS: Immigration law allowed a merchant to bring in his wife, sons and daughters free of head tax. The Chinese did not bring in many women—a probable indication of what they saw as their temporary status in Canada—, but they did bring in many so-called “sons”.

There were two problems with the immigration law. One was that the word “merchant” was not defined in the act. Many Chinese labourers registered themselves as merchants for the express purpose of bringing in “sons”. Many of these “merchants” were mere employees or had nothing to do with the business. In 1910, there were 528 Chinese firms with 2561 members registered in B.C. The number of exempt “sons” brought into B.C. increased from 16 in 1904 to 462 in 1910—an indication of word spreading about this way of evading the Head Tax. The total of “exempts” in B.C. alone in 1910 was 497. In the period, 1904 to 1910, a total of 1503 exempted “sons” entered Canada.

The other problem with “exempts”, particularly exempted “sons”, was that the Chinese frequently “adopted” sons, but did not reveal to immigration authorities that the “sons” were adopted. A number of motives could have been involved, one of them probably to profit financially from bringing in someone else’s children. The federal government tried to prevent cheating by interviewing the “sons” and “father” separately to detect discrepancies in stories, but the interpreter Yip On was involved in the story-translations. In Justice Murphy’s view, Yip On undoubtedly tried to disguise the cheating—in return for a fee from the people involved. The Chinese documentation that was provided about birth dates and parents was regarded as very unreliable.

(6) FRAUDS BY ENTRY AS MERCHANTS: Chinese merchants could enter Canada exempt from the Head Tax. Around 400 did so from 1904 to 1910. The problem, in Justice Murphy’s words, was that “Chinese could…enter Canada as merchants without being at all merchants in the sense intended by Parliament”. (P.30) All they had to do was put some money into a business in China to familiarize themselves with the business. They did not have to bring a minimum amount of money to invest in Canada and they did not have to engage in business in Canada.

The interpreter Yip On and the former interpreter (Yip On’s brother Charley Yip Yen, who had returned to China) were deeply involved in schemes to bring into Canada some of these so-called merchants. Chinese “Passport” documentation, attesting that the people holding the passports were merchants, could be obtained for a fee that was a fraction of the $500 Head Tax and thus of great interest to Chinese labourers. The document used ambiguous Chinese language for the word “merchant” and was issued by the Viceroy of the “merchant’s” province. A photograph was provided, but it could easily be replaced with another.

A lengthy investigation revealed that this passport scheme was fraudulent. It resulted in Yip On’s suspension from his position on September 16, 1910 and deportation of the “Passport Men Merchants” he was responsible for bringing in. It later resulted in his disappearance from Canada—probably because he feared criminal prosecution for what he had done.

The great irony in Justice Murphy’s investigation is that Yip On was replaced as Interpreter in Vancouver by Poon Shung Lung, a late (and therefore suspicious) registrant among 20 “merchant” partners in a Toronto business. It was common knowledge that these businesses were really owned and operated by one or two people. In this case, the other 18 partners were probably using the business solely for immigration purposes. Strangely enough, one of these partners was Yip On, the disgraced Vancouver interpreter.

Poon Shung Lung alleged that the Toronto business ended in May or June, 1910, but the Toronto police stated that the business was still operating at the address in question and although supposedly a grocery, was dealing chiefly in opium. Adding to the irony, Poon Shung Lung went to China and brought back as “exempts” a wife and two sons “on the strength of his being a merchant”. (P.46) Justice Murphy suspected that these “sons” were not really Poon’s and had been brought to Canada fraudulently.

The total number of Chinese who defrauded Canada cannot be accurately determined, but it was probably well into the thousands, a significant percentage of the total number of Chinese in Canada at the time.

Justice Murphy made a number of recommendations. The most important was that an agreement be negotiated with the Government of China to restrict Chinese immigration to Canada to a limited number per year. This agreement would have been similar to the agreement Canada negotiated with Japan. He also recommended that watchman security be significantly tightened to prevent the landing of stowaways, particularly at the refueling terminal of Union Bay which Justice Murphy described as “practically a free port for the entrance of Chinese and for smuggling opium into Canada”. (P.49)

He stated that the “Exempt” classifications for Merchants and for Merchants’ families, particularly sons, were being abused. The Merchants’ category had to be strictly controlled and the Merchants’ Sons’ category should be either abolished or that the sons’ age should be lowered to 12. He also recommended that because the Chinese were virtually “An Empire Within An Empire” on Canada’s west coast, that the position of Chinese Interpreter would be better served by a white person who had lived in China (P.53) (and, it is assumed, knew the relevant Chinese dialects). Penalties for disobeying immigration laws had to be more severe, and power should be taken to deport anyone who had entered Canada by fraud.

The Komagata Maru incident, which occurred three years after Justice Murphy’s report and which is being made much of today, was a deliberate attempt to challenge the Canadian laws which had been enacted to stop the Chinese and Japanese frauds and the frauds’ consequences in prior years. It is preposterous to look at it as an incident separate from (1) the Chinese frauds that Justice Murphy uncovered and (2) the chaos that Mackenzie King discovered in his 1907 report about Oriental (particularly Japanese) immigration.

So once again, when Canada’s federal government hears demands for apologies (which are veiled demands for continued high immigration and a host of economic, cultural and environmental consequences), it should ask the following questions: Who should be apologizing to whom? Whose interests should the government of Canada be serving: those of the majority host population or those of “Empires within the Canadian Empire” (that is self-interested ethnic groups)?