Go to original source: Japanese American Citizens League - San Francisco

But UN Report Recommends It Pay Reparations

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Assistant Editor
Pacific Citizen
Since 1929-National Publication of the Japanese American Citizens League

April 2-15,2004

Monterey Park, CA - For William Dere, justice comes in a shade of green.

In 1909, Dere's grandfather arrived in Canada only to hand over $500 to the government for simply being Chinese. Now, a special United Nations rapporteur is urging the Canadian government to pay back the money owed to Dere and thousands of other Chinese immigrants and their families who were forced to pay the so-called Chinese head tax.

Doudou Diene, the UN special rapporteur on racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, recently spent 10 days in Canada and submitted a UN draft report recommending Canada consider paying reparations for the head tax once levied against Chinese immigrants. The government's response to the UN recommendations was the same as it has been for the last ten years: No.

"The government accepted the recommendations. We're coming up with an action plan against racism that works with the recommendations," said Minister of Multiculturalism Jean Augustine to the Pacific Citizen. "In terms of the section dealing with the redress, I can only repeat that Canada decided to put closure to the issue and that being no financial compensation for historical acts."

This recent response has re-ignited the long-standing battle between members of the Chinese Canadian community affected by the taxes and the Canadian government, which took the position against reparations in 1994.

"Jean Augustine's parrot of the 'official government' policy is completely unacceptable," said Kenda Gee, chair of the Edmonton Head Tax and Exclusion Act Redress Committee (HTEA). "The remarks merely underline the ignorance or willful blindness of this issue that is prevalent among our Ottawa bureaucrats and officials."

But even within the Chinese Canadian community there is disagreement on this issue.

I've been in Canada for 54 years now. With the issue of head tax, I wonder why they treat human beings like commodities," said Monty Jang, chairman of the Chinese Cultural Center of Greater Vancouver. "If the policy of the head tax was set up and the Chinese immigrants were fully aware of the details before they applied and were willing to pay, then there's nothing to complain about."

But for Dere, who calls Montreal his home, and Chinese Canadians affected like him, there is much to protest when there's still an uneasy feeling about being at home after all these years.

"True integration and true recognition of belonging is the redressing of past wrongs. I will not feel accepted 100 percent until the history is recognized," he said.

Finding Deep Racial Problems

Diene chose to visit and report on Canada this year because of "the country's interesting policies and programs to promote multiculturalism."

Canada was, in fact, the first country to introduce a multiculturalism act to promote, protect and recognize cultural and racial diversity. But after spending days meeting with members of the government and the community, Diene noticed a number of disparities.

He heard personal narratives of racial profiling by the Canadian police, seen countless tears shed by Canada's Aboriginal people and learned of African Canadians ousted from their homes then known as Africville in 1970, another incident for which Diene suggests reparations should be paid.

Despite Canada's strong legal record in combating racial discrimination, the government has failed to adapt to changing interethnic relations and to provide adequate resources to human rights organizations, said Diene.

"The pictures that the government is giving of racial harmony is different from the community's," he said. "They (the community) have expressed experiences of racism."

In fact, in a recent ethnic diversity survey it was revealed that 49 percent of Canadians have experienced racism.

"We know we have some work to do," acknowledged Augustine.

$500 Per Head

From 1885 to 1923, the Canadian government charged Chinese immigrants $50 to $500 to enter the country. According to the UN report, the accumulated profit is estimated to be $23 million Canadian dollars.

In 1988, the government signed the Japanese Canadian Redress Agreement which provided reparations and an apology for the wrongful internment policies during World War II. The bill also created the Canadian Race Relations Foundation (CRRF) with the one-time endowment of 24 million to monitor and service the country's racial climate.

In 1994, the Canadian government shut the door on financial payouts.

However, National President of the Chinese Canadian National Council (CCNC) says that reparations are needed in order to send a clear message that racism will not be tolerated, especially after last year's SARS epidemic brought out some of the same racist sentiment that existed during the time of the head tax.

"An apology without some sort of monetary commitment is hollow," said [Cynthia] Pay.

For now, Augustine is standing with the 1994 resolution and favoring a more "forward-looking" agenda, but said that perhaps as the government takes more time to review the report, they may reverse the decision.

"My mere recommendation to Canada is to recognize the reality of racism," said Diene. "The very basic principle of law says that any wrongdoing must be corrected. Once Canada does this assessment, they will realize that a very terrible wrong has been done."


Copyright 2004 Pacific Citizen

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