For a country so proud of its diversity and multiculturalism, the Head Tax and Chinese Exclusion Act in the late 1880’s and early 1900’s are shameful, black marks on Canadian history. Finally, 120 years after instituting the fees designed to deter Chinese from coming to Canada--the taxes were as high as a year's salary--Ottawa is prepared to offer some of the $23 million it collected back.
However, the funds will not flow to the surviving victims and their families. Instead the National Chinese Canadian Congress (NCCC) has been designated as the only body Ottawa will deal with to negotiate any redress.
This has the Chinese Canadian National Council (CCNC) furious. Since 1984, the CCNC has been dedicated to seeking a formal apology and financial redress from Ottawa for those “who have suffered from decades of discrimination as a result of these racist laws.” Bill C-333 was their hope for seeing the record put straight.
Bill C-333, the Chinese Canadian Recognition and Redress Act, was put forward as a private member’s bill by Inky Mark, Conservative MP from Manitoba. Mark says, the bill was “written after many years of consulting with the Chinese community,” including with the CCNC and the NCCC. The MP, who’s father and grandfather both paid Head Tax, previously advocated for the CCNC, but says he found their stipulations of compensation and an apology a difficult sell and so dropped them from his bill.
It became clear that there were “two things the government would not do, to apologize, and to provide individual compensation… Either you get something, or you get nothing,” said Mark, who is shocked that the bill has made it this far. “The probability was very low, maybe one-tenth of one percent.”
Who Speaks for Chinese Canadians?
Not only is the CCNC upset that the bill ignores the demands of the over 4,000 Head Tax payers, widows and descendants, but the CCNC questions the government’s choice of the NCCC as the sole Chinese organization to handle the redress.
“It is particularly offensive” that all negotiating rights with the Government are “in the hands of the NCCC, which has no track record on human rights issues and policy,” said a CCNC press release.
“Is the government saying that they will only negotiate with groups that agree with it?" asked Victor Wong, Executive Director of the CCNC.
The central question in all of this is who really speaks for Chinese Canadians and the victims of past government wrongs. The NCCC says it represents over 200 organizations and 300,000 people. Dr. Joseph Wang, CCNC founder, says this is “impossible.”
NCCC Executive Chair, Ping Tan, refused to be interviewed for this story.
However, George Lau, an active member of the Taishan Association, which is a member organization of the NCCC, says that he was not consulted by the NCCC about the head tax issue. He finds this doubly odd because most head tax payers came from Taishan, China.
This raises the question of who, and how many, are really being represented by the NCCC.
Eugene Yao, a past president of the Toronto CCNC, says that NCCC has been “shrinking and shrinking.” A quick visit to the NCCC website seems to support this. The Chinese language site (http://www.n-c-c-c.ca/) is beset with dead links, including to the English and French language versions of the site. The membership page works, but it is devoid of listings. All this seems a little sub par for an organization claiming to represent 300,000 members.
Cozy with Communist China
However, the NCCC has been flexing its muscle as the supposed representative of Chinese Canadians.
In February, the Chinese-language New Tang Dynasty (NTD) TV filed an application with the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) for a license to broadcast on the Canadian cable network. The New York-based NTDTV has raised the ire of the Chinese government by reporting unabashedly about human rights atrocities and social and economic crises that Beijing has worked hard to keep out of the press.
During the time CRTC allotted for public comment on the application, over 2,000 letters and 44,000 petition signatures were received in support of NTDTV. Twenty MPs and many provincial and municipal legislators voiced their support as did 50 community organizations. The CRTC received only 15 letters against the application, one of which was by NCCC chief, Ping Tan. With a single letter, Tan claimed to represent 280 organizations and 300,000 Chinese Canadians—approximately 30 percent of Chinese in Canada—denouncing NTDTV and calling to quash its license bid.
A telephone survey of 1,004 Chinese Canadians across Canada was conducted over the summer to test Tan’s assertion. When asked if they knew that the NCCC had opposed NTDTV’s application, 95.5 percent of respondents said no. When asked if the NCCC represented them, virtually everyone, or 97.5 percent, said no.
Critics cite cases like this one as examples of how the NCCC is more an advocate for the policies of the Chinese government than for the broader Chinese community.
An August 6 article in the Globe and Mail entitled “Feeling the long arm of China” made this more clear. The report described Tan and Hughes Eng, chairman of the Toronto branch of the national NCCC, as “the most prominent of the [Chinese] consulate’s friends.” The article goes on to list their close ties with Beijing’s government including hosting banquets for mainland VIPs including the notoriously repressive former president Jiang Zemin. “The two men routinely echo official government news. In 1989, when the Chinese shot their way into Tiananmen Square, they backed the government,” reported the Globe.
Behind the NCCC's advocacy for China's Communist rulers are also close ties among the organization's leaders and the Chinese Consulate and Embassy. Tan runs a university prep boarding school called Bond International College. Both of its campuses are filled mainly with young Chinese students from the Mainland, making the Chinese consulate an important client.
While Bill C-333 had yet to complete a second reading in the House on Wednesday, Chinese-language media reports say the NCCC is already preparing a conference in Vancouver for later this month where it will discuss how the $12.5 million it's expecting from Ottawa will be spent. The money comes from a 2005 budget allocation of $25 million over three years “for commemorative and educational initiatives” to rectify past unfair treatment of groups including Chinese, German, Ukrainian, Jewish, etc. Thus the NCCC expects to receive half of the total sum available for all of the wronged groups.
According to Chinese-language reports, the NCCC has said it will establish a foundation with the money and will dole out cash to applicants that it approves. The NCCC is against individual compensation. Tan says that he would use $2.5 million of the $12.5 million just to set up the Foundation, according to the reports.
If Bill C-333 passes as it currently stands, expressly stipulating that the Canadian government will only deal with the NCCC, the organization will effectively become the gatekeeper for any requests for the redress finances. This may leave a number of groups representing the Chinese Canadian population out in the cold.