Chinese Exclusion Act
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today on behalf of the New Democratic Party to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the repeal of the 1923 Chinese immigration act, the Chinese Exclusion Act.
On Saturday night, the member for Vancouver East and I were guests at a very important banquet in Richmond, British Columbia. Sponsored by the Chinese Canadian Military Museum Society and SUCCESS, this event celebrated 60 years of citizenship for Chinese Canadians. Special guests at the dinner were the members of Army, Navy and Air Force Veterans in Canada Association, Pacific Unit 280, the only Chinese Canadian veterans organization, who are also celebrating their 60th anniversary.
Part of the evening was a reaffirmation of Canadian citizenship, which was particularly meaningful given that we did it standing with men and women who served Canada in our armed forces, despite the fact that they were not allowed to be citizens of this country.
They knew the racism of the day. They and their families were making significant contributions to our economy and our communities, but at the time they enlisted they could not become citizens because of the Chinese Exclusion Act.
It was not lost on anyone present that despite the situation they faced as young people in Canada, despite the discrimination they knew, these men and women had made a hopeful choice to defend Canada, and even today they chose to celebrate 60 years of full citizenship rather than draw attention to a dark time in Canadian history.
There is good reason to celebrate. Chinese immigrants to Canada have made huge contributions and continue to do so. Canada has changed because of their contributions, changed for the better, and they too have become different people, but we must not forget the experience of the Chinese immigration act and of the head tax. Racism must have no place in the official policies or legislation of Canada. We must be vigilant, remember and learn from our history.
We know that Chinese labourers were exploited in order to build the national railway. We must never allow foreign workers to be exploited and must ensure safe workplaces, Canadian wage rates and full rights. We must not establish false barriers to immigration and citizenship, fee structures that have other motives or other outcomes.
Canada still needs immigrants for nation building, for the needs of our families, and for the strength of our economy. Lessons learned from the Chinese immigration act and the head tax must guide us still.
We have made progress and an official apology has been made. Head tax payers have received symbolic payments. Other commemorations are planned, but we must also recognize that the work of recognizing this injustice and the hurt this legislation caused to families over many decades is not done. We must make the settlement inclusive of their suffering.
The success of Chinese Canadians, of these Canadian citizens in the last 60 years, has demonstrated conclusively how wrong the Chinese Exclusion Act was. The veterans of Army, Navy and Air Force Pacific Unit 280 were right. We do have reason to celebrate.