DEC 25, 2000


      The Straits Times, Singapore
Chinese Canadians' $1.15b 'racist' suit

They are suing Ottawa for past racist acts, including the infamous 'head-tax', which was levied on migrants in 19th and 20th centuries

By R. Senthilnathan

THEY waged their battle for justice behind closed doors for decades, but now the Chinese Canadians feel the time has come to go public.

They have filed a case against the Canadian government, demanding more than a billion dollars for past racist practices, including the infamous 'head-tax' that was levied on Chinese immigrants in the 19th and 20th centuries as a strategy to keep them out of the country.

In a case filed in an Ontario court, three elderly Chinese, who had to pay the head-tax to enter the country, are suing the Canadian government on behalf of an estimated 81,000 Chinese.

They all were forced to pay the head-tax and their families were torn apart by the former Canadian governments who were keen on allowing white, but keeping out Chinese, immigrants.

Together, these 81,000 people paid C$23 million (S$26.5 million) between 1885 and 1923, when the head-tax Act was annulled and replaced by another law stopping Chinese immigration totally.

The Chinese Canadian National Council (CCNC), a Toronto-based NGO, which filed the suit on behalf of the three plaintiffs, says that the C$23 million paid during those years is now worth more than a billion dollars including interest.

The Ottawa government should not be surprised about the court action.

For years, the Chinese Canadians, and the CCNC in particular, have been complaining that they were frustrated by the failure of Ottawa to listen to their political lobbying for an apology and compensation to the victims, their spouses and their descendents.

'The head-tax payers cannot wait any longer,' executive director of CCNC Yuen Hing Tse told journalists last week.

With only about 1,000 of the estimated 81,000 who paid the head-tax between 1885 and 1923 still living, time is also running out for action.

If the head-tax managed to reduce Chinese immigration, the worse was yet to come.

In 1923, the government enacted the Chinese Immigration Act, barring the Chinese from entering the country almost totally.

The Act was in response to pressure from the province of British Columbia, which today is known for its Chinese and Indian (Sikh) communities and whose Premier is an Indian-born Canadian.

Between then and 1947, when the Chinese Immigration Act was repealed, only 50 Chinese were allowed to enter the country, and most of them were diplomats and wealthy businessmen.

Both laws not only kept new Chinese immigrants away from Canada, but also tore families apart.

Mr Shack Jang Mak, a 93-year-old claimant, for example, was separated from his wife for 22 years.

The discrimination stopped only after the end of World War II when both Canada and the US - which also discriminated against the Chinese - recognised the community, along with other Asian communities, and their contribution to the respective countries.

Today, Canada's Governor-General is a refugee from Hongkong.

However, public apology for the discriminatory acts and compensation for the victims has not been forthcoming, even though Ottawa has issued them for the wrongs committed on the country's native population and Japanese migrants.

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