Making official amends to Chinese Canadians for 62 years of discriminatory immigration policy became an election issue last week when both the Conservatives and New Democrats criticized the Liberals mishandling of the so-called 'head tax' issue.
Starting in 1885, the year the Canadian Pacific Railway was completed largely due to contributions from Chinese immigrants, the Canadian government tried to curtail further Chinese immigration first by imposing $50 head taxes on new immigrants, then by banning Chinese nationals altogether. The head taxes—which eventually reached as high as $500 per person—and the subsequent halt of Chinese immigration decimated the Canadian Chinese community and broke up numerous families, with wives unable to join their husbands in Canada.
Surviving head tax payers and their relatives are seeking an apology and financial redress from Ottawa. The Liberals signed a deal for redress in November that they hoped would settle the head tax issue for good. The $2.5-million agreement-in-principle with Canadian Heritage is for setting up a Chinese Canadian Community Foundation to educate Canadians about the past ill-treatment of Chinese immigrants. It does not include individual compensation or an apology.
The rub that's galvanizing the Chinese-Canadian community is that the deal was negotiated with a single organization, the National Chinese Canadian Congress (NCCC). The NCCC does not represent any head tax payers, nor does it have a track record on rights issues. Many Chinese-Canadians also dislike its close ties with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
Although the final agreement was officially signed by four people, they hardly seem to represent diversity in the Chinese community: Ping Tan is Executive Chair of the NCCC; Man Wai Yu is Vice-chair of the NCCC's Montreal branch (although he signed as the Montreal Chinese Cultural Center); Lena Wong is Vice President of the Greater Toronto Chinese Cultural Centre whose Vice Chair is Hughes Eng, NCCC Co-chair; and Howe Lee, President, Chinese Canadian Military Museum Society.
Last week, the opposition parties entered the fray, supporting the growing number of Chinese Canadian groups in condemning the settlement.
At a Vancouver press conference held by several New Democrats on December 8, candidate Mary Woo Sims slammed the agreement as "completely unacceptable" for "exclude[ing] at least 4000 head tax payers, their families and descendants through an agreement with only one part of the community."
On the same day, Conservative leader Stephen Harper said that it was time for Parliament to "apologize" for what happened then promised that a Conservative government would work with all Chinese-Canadians reach a consensus on redress.
NCCC Credentials Questioned
Critics are challenging the NCCC's claims that it has the support of 280 organizations and 300,000 Chinese Canadians. In fact, several of the organizations the NCCC purports to represent didn't even know they were on the NCCC's list of supporters. In some cases, a director or individual member signed on behalf of the group without consulting the wider membership.
When The Epoch Times requested a copy of the membership list, NCCC Executive Secretary David Lim first reacted evasively, then didn't return phone calls and finally admitted that the NCCC's national co-chairs wouldn't release it. Tan and Eng would not talk to reporters about the issue. In a December 5 press statement, the Chinese Canadian National Council (CCNC) a human rights organization representing 4000 head tax payers or family members, called upon the Prime Minister to "verify the accuracy" of the supporters list.
"They even listed CCNC at first as a supporter but later apologized and removed our name from the list," said Colleen Hua, CCNC National President. "The Government should just withdraw this rushed deal because they clearly failed to conduct the necessary due diligence."
The Army, Navy & Air Force Veterans in Canada who also appeared as a supporter, sent a strong letter to the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage stating that the NCCC does not have their endorsement.
According to Chinese-language media, other groups that appeared erroneously on the list include Family Services of Greater Montreal, Amities Chinoises, and the Chinese neighbourhood association in Montreal.
On November 27 and 28, days after the agreement-in-principle was signed with the government, a meeting of Chinese community representatives was convened in Vancouver ostensibly to discuss creating the new Foundation.
Donald Chen, President of the Chinese Community Centre of Ontario, described the process at the conference as "undemocratic… chaotic" and without room for discussion.
According to Chen, somehow 23 people were nominated for the Foundation Preparation Committee but it wasn't clear to him by whom. Further nominations were rejected while all 23 original nominees won their posts, among them all ten NCCC co-chairs plus other NCCC officers, such as Executive Secretary Lim. NCCC's chief, Ping Tan, himself was elected Committee Chair.
Chinese Government Ties
The NCCC's executives are often criticized for their cozy relationship with the CCP. Lim publishes the overseas edition of the Chinese government-funded People's Daily, the official mouthpiece of the Communist Party. A Globe and Mail article on August 6 called Tan and Eng "the most prominent of the [Chinese] consulate's friends." Apparently, it is common for both to host banquets for visiting Chinese VIPs, including the notoriously repressive former president Jiang Zemin, and to "echo" the official CCP party line, said the article.
Tan also owns Toronto's Bond International College, a boarding school with strong connections to the CCP. Consular officials regularly come to speak at the college and many of its students are sent by the Chinese government for training.
Cathy Liu used to work at Bond, but was fired by Tan after an NCCC-organized anti-Falun Gong rally. Liu, an adherent of the meditation practice outlawed in China, had been told by Tan to stop appealing outside of the Chinese consulate in Toronto. The reason cited was that the consulate was the College's biggest customer. Liu is currently fighting her dismissal through the Ontario Human Rights Commission.
Susan Eng, Co-chair of the Ontario Coalition of Chinese Head Tax Payers and Families sees the election as a great opportunity to expose what's happened behind the scenes and get Ottawa to sign a new deal. "The Opposition Parties appear to understand the need for real redress and we will continue to press the Liberal Party and candidates for their commitment."