Martin Apologizes for Chinese Head Tax

Petti Fong, Globe and Mail (Toronto), Jan. 5, 2006

Vancouver—Liberal Leader Paul Martin has apologized for the head tax policy that charged immigrants up to $500 to enter Canada, under pressure from B.C. MPs facing tough fights in ridings with large Chinese populations.

“Do I regret this? Yes,” Mr. Martin told Vancouver’s Fairchild Radio, a multicultural station, Tuesday night. “Do I apologize? Yes.”

Last week, Mr. Martin told Ming Pao newspaper he felt “deep sorrow” about the issue.

Hanson Lau, the former Chinese radio broadcaster who has been involved in the head tax redress movement since the early 1980s, said in a news release the Liberal Leader’s apology is not good enough. He said the government should rescind the agreement-in-principle it signed stating it would not apologize.

Just days before the Liberals lost power, the government announced $2.5-million to help fund education programs, such as museums and stamps, to make the public aware of the head-tax policy that ran from the 1880s to 1920s. But it would not apologize saying that would open the gates to litigation.

But amid a growing disenchantment in the Chinese community, Mr. Martin’s senior B.C. cabinet minister David Emerson told The Globe and Mail this week he thinks the government should reconsider and apologize.

But NDP candidate Ian Waddell who is running against Mr. Emerson in the Vancouver-Kingsway riding said the Liberals announced the policy without properly consulting all the groups.

“I’m happy that there’s an apology. I think it’s a good example of why New Democrats are needed in the House. The issue came from the community, but we’ve pushed it for 20 years,” he said Wednesday night. “Now Mr. Martin has to make the apology in the House.”

In addition to Mr. Emerson, Health Minister Ujjal Dosanjh has also said there should be an apology. He made the remarks in 1992, while a NDP Member of the Legislative Assembly in British Columbia.

Both Mr. Emerson and Mr. Dosanjh are seeking re-election in B.C. ridings where more than 40 per cent of the population is Chinese-Canadian. Mr. Dosanjh is running in Vancouver-South.

And Liberal MP Raymond Chan, who before the election as Multicultural Minister announced the agreement in principal, said he also wants to revisit the subject of the apology.

He told a radio station in Vancouver this week that he’s getting a second legal opinion on whether the government will face litigation if it makes a formal apology. Previously he had said the government would not apologize to the descendents of those who paid the head tax, because it had been told by lawyers doing so would leave it vulnerable to lawsuits.

Mr. Chan’s riding of Richmond, also has a Chinese-Canadian population of more than 40 per cent. He is seeking re-election in that B.C. riding.

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