Friday, February 8, 2002

Edmonton & Montreal
-- In anticipation of a formal apology by New Zealand's Government to its own Chinese on February 12th, members of Canada's Chinese Head Tax & Redress (HTEA) Committee in Edmonton and organizers in Montreal called upon Ottawa to negotiate directly with families who paid extortionate Chinese "head taxes" from 1885-1923 and faced exclusionary laws until the late 1960s. The New Zealand Government is expected to apologize for imposing "poll taxes" and other discriminatory laws against its Chinese on the Lunar New Year.

Kenda Gee, the Chair of the Chinese HTEA Redress Committee in Canada, suggested that "Ottawa will now have a difficult time escaping international example and embarrassment," but emphasized that "the issue of compensation remains a 'cornerstone of reconciliation' in redressing Canada's Chinese and it is immutable."

Both New Zealand and Canada borrowed the racist "taxes" from Australia, though the measures violated treaty arrangements between China and the British Empire. While Australia abolished its "poll taxes," the Canadian government continued to profit from the punitive payments over decades, despite protest. The "poll taxes" in New Zealand are valued at $20 million in today's terms, but the amount collected from Chinese Canadians exceeds $1.2 billion.

"If Canada can borrow the white supremacist policies from another in history, surely, it can make the same effort to reconcile its mistakes from the action of another nation," said Gee, whose group has been corresponding with New Zealand experts on the subject, since the early 1990s.

One of those experts, Nigel Murphy, whose commissioned research has been used by organizers in New Zealand and Canada, expressed hope that "our effort in New Zealand will encourage the Chinese HTEA Redress Committee to continue with their own efforts in Canada."

Gee acknowledged his group and organizers in Montreal support the lawsuit recently launched by the Chinese Canadian National Council in Toronto, but maintained that it would merely be the beginning of other legal challenges from affiliated groups across Canada, including Edmonton and Montreal, if Ottawa continues to drag its heels in settling the long-standing issue. Gee declined to elaborate on the legal arguments his group might present in court, saying only that the challenges have existed for a while, but have never been introduced because of historical circumstance.

"Ottawa can save Canadian taxpayers a great deal of money by settling the collective and specific compensation with families in Canada's Chinese community, rather than dragging out the process in court."

Libby Davies, M.P. for Vancouver-East, will introduce a Petition in Ottawa calling upon Parliament to negotiate with families who paid the Chinese "Head Taxes" on behalf of the Committee. Over 1,000 names were collected by organizers in Edmonton, Montreal, Windsor and Oakville. The names include prominent Canadians, including Asian Canadian artists, a former mayor of Edmonton, and members of the Alberta Liberal caucus prior to the last provincial election.


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