Time is up for victims of Chinese head tax to apply for sympathy payment
The Canadian Press
March 31, 2008
VANCOUVER With the deadline looming Monday, many Chinese Canadians who were forced to pay Canada's controversial head tax in the early 1900s have not applied for a federal redress payment.
Victor Wong, executive director of the Chinese Canadian National Council, said it is unclear how many people have not applied for the payment, but said there could be eligible seniors in rural and aboriginal communities or people who may have retired outside of Canada that may not be aware of the application process for the $20,000 payment.
“We've been doing some outreach to try and get those people to apply,” Wong said.
It's taken a long time to get the word out to people, especially because most of them are seniors or living in rural Canada, he said.
Sid Chow Tan, president of the Head Tax Families Society of Canada, said he once had to physically take a woman down to get some of her documents notorized to make sure her application would get approved.
Monday marks the application deadline for people looking to collect the compensation payment promised to them by the federal government.
Wong said the council had spoken with the government to extend the deadline for a few more months, but he is unsure if they will get their wish.
In 2006, Prime Minister Stephen Harper made an official apology to the Chinese community for the injustice.
“For over six decades, these malicious measures, aimed solely at the Chinese, were implemented with deliberation by the Canadian state,” the prime minister said in his speech.
“This was a grave injustice and one we are morally obligated to acknowledge.”
Since the announcement, over 650 living Chinese head-tax payers, spouses and people who were in a relationship with a Chinese head-tax payer have come forward across the country to claim the compensation.
Wong said he suspects there are many more applications – as many as 150 – already in progress.
Although the federal government has been offering the payments to anyone who was an actual head-tax payer or a spouse, Wong said the payments do not include another 3,000 families whose relatives have passed away.
“We are still pressing the government to include those families to the redress announcement,” he said.
Tan echoed Wong.
“While 82,000 Chinese paid the head tax, the federal government's package provides no direct compensation to head-tax families without a surviving head-tax payer or a surviving spouse of a head-tax payer,” he said.
“The issue is closure with respect and dignity for Chinese head-tax families and all Canadians.
“This begins when the government recognizes the redress is incomplete and undertakes good-faith negotiations with representatives of excluded head-tax families,” Tan said.
In 1885, to restrict the immigration of Chinese people to Canada, the federal government introduced a bill requiring a $50 payment from anyone of Chinese origin entering the country.
In the early 1900s, the tax was increased to $500, the equivalent of two years worth of wages for a Chinese labourer for the Canadian Pacific Railway at the time.
Despite the head tax, over 82,000 Chinese people emigrated to Canada between 1885 and 1923.
Then, in 1923, the federal government passed the Chinese Immigration Act excluding all Chinese people from entering Canada until the act was repealed in 1947.
Len Westerberg, spokesman for Heritage Canada, the civil servant in charge of issuing the compensation, said the deadline is not going to be extended.
But “if someone was unable to apply for reasons beyond their control, the Minister of Canadian Heritage can exercise her discretion and accept an application received after the deadline,” Westerberg said.
“Monday is only the deadline for receiving applications, so anything that's in process will still be processed,” he said.
Heritage Canada requires photo identification, proof of Canadian citizenship, proof of permanent residency, a death certificate of a tax victim for those applying on behalf of their spouse and a head-tax certificate number to accompany an application form.