House of Commons Hansard #46 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was international.

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House of Commons
Government Orders

June 22nd, 2006 / 3:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

At this time I would like, on behalf of all hon. members, to bid farewell to the pages of the House of Commons for 2005-06.

The summer recess is upon us and we may not have another chance to thank you properly. Because of the last federal election, you did not serve in the House as long as some of your predecessors did, but I think you would all agree that being part of both the 38th Parliament and the 39th Parliament was an exciting experience for all of us.

House of Commons
Government Orders

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

On behalf of all my colleagues here in the House, I wish to thank and congratulate you for the work you did for us over the past year.

Your job has not always been an easy one, but you have all conducted yourselves professionally and we appreciate it.

Today I would ask you to receive our collective thanks and our best wishes for your future endeavours. Perhaps some day soon we will have the pleasure of seeing you sitting at these desks and think that perhaps it was your experience with us that gave you the desire to serve as a member of Parliament.

On behalf of all my colleagues, I thank you for your excellent work and wish you good luck in your future endeavours.

House of Commons
Government Orders

3:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Bravo!

Business of the House
Government Orders

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

Ralph Goodale Wascana, SK

Mr. Speaker, this is indeed a Thursday and time for the usual Thursday question. Before I ask that question, may I say on behalf of all of the members of the opposition that we heartily endorse your words about the pages who have served this House so well. We certainly want to join with you in thanking all of them for their hard work.

I wonder if the government House leader has any indication at this point what his leading item of business might be when the House resumes on September 18.

I wonder if he can also tell us if he has any specific plans for any summertime royal assents to any of the bills that have already been disposed of by this House.

Also, I wonder if he would take the opportunity during the long hot summer to encourage his caucus to join with him in seeing the Al Gore film called An Inconvenient Truth on the realities of global warming.

Business of the House
Government Orders

3:10 p.m.

Niagara Falls
Ontario

Conservative

Rob Nicholson Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for his kind and generous words.

I can indicate to the House that I share his comments with respect to the pages. On this side of the House, I am sure I speak for everyone in extending a few words of thanks and good wishes to everyone who works on a daily basis to assist the House of Commons and its members in the conduct of our work on behalf of Canadians. Parliament Hill is a unique workplace and the requirements of this place make extra demands on our personnel from time to time.

The spring legislative agenda was quite heavy.

Members know and the public should know that we take great pride in the precincts of Parliament. I think everyone was delighted to see the Library of Parliament open once again for all Canadians to enjoy.

I hope the pieces of legislation that have been passed by this Parliament, most recently the international bridges and tunnels act which was passed a few minutes ago, all receive royal assent as quickly as possible as they move through the other place.

We have had a wonderful legislative agenda up to this point and it will be even better in the fall for all Canadians.

Business of the House
Government Orders

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

It being 3:15 p.m., pursuant to order made on Wednesday, June 21, 2006, the House will now proceed to Statements by Ministers.

Chinese Canadians
Routine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.

Calgary Southwest
Alberta

Conservative

Stephen Harper Prime Minister

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to formally turn the page on an unfortunate period in Canada's past, a period during which a group of people, people who only sought to build a better life, were repeatedly and deliberately singled out for unjust treatment. I speak of course of the head tax that was imposed on Chinese immigrants to this country, as well as the other restrictive measures that followed.

The Canada we know today would not exist were it not for the efforts of the Chinese labourers who began to arrive in the mid-19th century.

Almost exclusively young men, these Chinese immigrants made the difficult decision to leave their families behind in order to pursue opportunities in a country halfway around the world they called Gold Mountain. Beginning in 1881, over 15,000 of these Chinese pioneers became involved in the most important nation building enterprise in Canadian history, the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway.

From the shores of the St. Lawrence across the seemingly endless expanses of shield and prairie, climbing the majestic Rockies and cutting through the rugged terrain of British Columbia, this transcontinental link was the ribbon of steel that bound our fledgling country together. It was an engineering feat that was instrumental to the settlement of the west and the subsequent development of the Canadian economy, and one for which the back-breaking toil of Chinese labourers was largely responsible.

The conditions under which these men worked were, at best, harsh and at times impossible. Tragically, some 1,000 Chinese labourers died during the building of the CPR, but in spite of it all, these Chinese immigrants persevered, and in doing so, helped to ensure the future of this country. But from the moment the railway was completed, Canada turned its back on these men.

Beginning with the Chinese Immigration Act of 1885, a head tax of $50 was imposed on Chinese newcomers in an attempt to deter immigration. Not content with the tax's effect, the government subsequently raised the amount to $100 in 1900 and then to $500 in 1903, the equivalent of two years' wages. This tax remained in place until 1923 when the government amended the Chinese Immigration Act and effectively banned most Chinese immigrants until 1947.

Similar legislation existed in the dominion of Newfoundland, which also imposed a head tax between 1906 and 1949, when Newfoundland joined Confederation.

The Government of Canada recognizes the stigma and exclusion experienced by the Chinese as a result. We acknowledge the high cost of the head tax meant that many family members were left behind in China, never to be reunited, or that families lived apart and in some cases in extreme poverty for years. We also recognize that our failure to truly acknowledge these historical injustices has prevented many in the community from seeing themselves as fully Canadian.

Therefore, on behalf of all Canadians and the Government of Canada, we offer a full apology to Chinese Canadians for the head tax and express our deepest sorrow for the subsequent exclusion of Chinese immigrants.

[Member spoke in Chinese]

[English]

This apology is not about liability today. It is about reconciliation with those who endured such hardship and the broader Chinese Canadian community, one that continues to make such an invaluable contribution to this great country.

While Canadian courts have ruled that the head tax and immigration prohibition were legally authorized at the time, we fully accept the moral responsibility to acknowledge these shameful policies of our past. For over six decades, these race based financial measures aimed solely at the Chinese were implemented with deliberation by the Canadian state. This was a grave injustice and one we are morally obligated to acknowledge.

To give substantive meaning to today's apology, the Government of Canada will offer symbolic payments to living head tax payers and living spouses of deceased payers. In addition, we will establish funds to help finance community projects aimed at acknowledging the impact of past wartime measures and immigration restrictions on the Chinese Canadian community and other ethnocultural communities.

No country is perfect. Like all countries, Canada has made mistakes in its past, and we realize that. Canadians, however, are a good and just people, acting when we have committed wrong.

Even though the head tax, a product of a profoundly different time lies far in our past, we feel compelled to right this historic wrong for the simple reason that it is the decent thing to do, a characteristic to be found at the core of the Canadian soul.

In closing, let me assure the House that the government will continually strive to ensure that similar unjust practices are never allowed to happen again. We have the collective responsibility to build a country based firmly on the notion of equality of opportunity, regardless of one's race or ethnic origin.

Our deep sorrow over the racist actions of our past will nurture an unwavering commitment to build a better life for all Canadians.

Chinese Canadians
Routine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

Toronto Centre
Ontario

Liberal

Bill Graham Leader of the Opposition

Mr. Speaker, I would like to join all members in recognizing the presence in the galleries of our fellow Chinese-Canadians who have come here to join us today on this solemn occasion. We welcome them.

Last fall the member for LaSalle—Émard, as the prime minister of our country at that time, apologized to the Chinese community for the head tax and the Chinese Exclusion Act, which was repealed late, but repealed nonetheless, by the then Liberal government of Prime Minister Mackenzie King in 1947.

That apology expressed, on behalf of Canadians, our regret for the hardship and difficulties inflicted on those victims and their families directly affected by the Chinese Head Tax and the Chinese Exclusion Act. Liberals want to ensure that there is an appropriate plan to educate Canadians on this chapter of our history, so we can learn from our past.

We understand that apologizing is just part of the healing process for communities that have been the victims of measures taken in the past and which today we can recognize as injustices.

Liberals want to ensure that there is an appropriate plan to educate Canadians on this chapter of our history, so we can learn from our past and ensure that similar injustices are not repeated.

That is why we signed an agreement in principle with several communities to provide funding for education and commemoration initiatives. We hope that the government will honour these agreements, and deliver in full the funds that were committed and permit those communities to tell their stories in a way that will shed a new perspective on their past while educating all Canadians so that we may be better citizens and work to ensure that similar injustices are not committed in future times, as the Prime Minister said.

Our Chinese community has already achieved that in its literature and in such moving and modern expressions as the opera Iron Road, which some may have seen here in Ottawa, allowing us all to share the anguish and pain, the courage and determination that was shown when building the railway that was so essential to establish our country and to which the Prime Minister has paid tribute in his remarks.

It is critical, when we address historical injustices, that we ensure we are equal in our treatment of all communities that faced immigration restrictions or wartime measures. While in government, we initiated an ambitious program to commemorate those historical inequities. The Liberal Party is committed to supporting the Charter of Rights and promoting equality for all Canadians. We belive that only through promoting healthy multiculturalism and education programs can Canadians ensure the mistakes of our past are never repeated.

Today we rejoice with other Canadians in the extraordinary success that Canadians of Chinese origin have achieved. We recognize their talents and energy have contributed to our success as a country, whether in business, the professions, the arts or, indeed, in politics, as is represented by several members of the House on both sides of the aisle of this democratic institution which we share so proudly.

We share thus with our Chinese colleagues and citizens their pride in their individual and community successes, none better perhaps than that incarnated in our former Governor General who is a woman and an immigrant of Chinese origin who came to represent our Canadian face, both to ourselves and to the world.

[Member spoke in Chinese as follows:]

Wah Yan Bu Hui Choi Bai Ke Si

Chinese Canadians
Routine Proceedings

3:25 p.m.

Bloc

Gilles Duceppe Laurier—Sainte-Marie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I must first point out that nothing would have been possible without the hard work done by the people who for many years doggedly pleaded this cause on behalf of the victims.

Many of those people are with us today, and I salute them.

I would also like to applaud the tireless efforts of our immigration and citizenship critic, the member for Vaudreuil-Soulanges, who is also of Chinese origin, and our candidate in the most recent election in LaSalle—Émard, May Chiu, who was actively involved in this struggle.

Congratulations and thank you to everyone for their dedication.

As you are no doubt aware, the Bloc Québécois has long criticized the Government of Canada's refusal to acknowledge the past injustices to the Chinese-Canadian community. The head tax and the discriminatory immigration policy that followed were heinous acts.

It is not too strong to speak of racism, as the Prime Minister did.

This discrimination was institutionalized in Canada.

I commend the Prime Minister's decision to apologize officially on behalf of the Government of Canada and the people of Canada.

On behalf of the Bloc Québécois and the people of Quebec, I join him and apologize sincerely to all the Quebeckers of Chinese origin for past errors.

The Prime Minister says that the purpose of his statement is to turn the page on an unfortunate period in Canada's past.

And to give greater weight to the government's apology, he announced that he will offer symbolic payments to head tax payers and the spouses of deceased head tax payers. I hope with all my heart that he will extend this compensation to the direct descendants of the victims of this policy.

It was high time the government acted. Once again, I congratulate the Prime Minister for keeping his word, and I ask him to act accordingly and think about the direct descendants of these victims.

Chinese Canadians
Routine Proceedings

3:25 p.m.

NDP

Jack Layton Toronto—Danforth, ON

Mr. Speaker,

[Member spoke in Chinese]

[English]

On this historic day, the New Democratic Party and its caucus join with all members of the House in expressing Canada's apology to all of those who were forced to pay the Chinese head tax and to all of those families who suffered under the Chinese Exclusion Act. This is a momentous first step toward achieving full justice, reconciliation and closure to right the historic wrong of the head tax that has been a stain on our national conscience for a century.

We have waited many years for this day, but not as long as the few remaining head tax payers who honour the House with their presence here today, not as long as those who died waiting in vain for justice to be done, not as long as the many families that were ripped apart and kept apart, not as long as those who were forced to stay behind in China, not as long as the wives who died waiting to be reunited with their husbands, and not as long as the children who never knew their fathers and their grandfathers.

In his apology, the Prime Minister spoke of the injustice that was done to Chinese immigrants.

He spoke well of the contribution of Chinese Canadians to building our railway and, in fact, building our country.

He used the words exclusion and suffering.

We agree with these words. They needed to be said and now they have been said on the record in the House for future generations to see and to better understand this stain on our past. We agree with these words. The apology is an all important first step.

The next step should be the action that would give full meaning to these words: full justice, full reconciliation, and full closure to all of those who suffered from this racist and unjust policy. That step would entail redress that is more than symbolic, redress to the descendants of the head tax payers who died waiting for this day.

In calling for full redress, I remind everyone present that the quest for justice began in the House of Commons 20 years ago, after having been brought forward by members of the community, some of whom are also with us today.

In 1984, a New Democratic member of Parliament, Margaret Mitchell of Vancouver stood in this very place and spoke of the hurtful legacy of racial discrimination that divides Canada. On that day over 20 years ago she asked the government to issue an apology and to offer redress to those who suffered. She told the stories of loneliness, heartbreak and isolation faced by so many Chinese immigrants.

She spoke of one constituent, one of the thousands of young Chinese men who Canada encouraged to come to Canada to help us build our country. He came at the age of 15 and was forced to pay the $500 head tax. He did so to try to help his family to survive back in China. However, as with so many families torn apart by those policies, his wife was later refused entry to Canada because of the Chinese Head Tax and Exclusion Act.

Margaret Mitchell dared to ask that the Prime Minister, on behalf of Canada, formally acknowledge these injustices to Canadians of Chinese origin. She did so in her own words, and I quote:

In order to make amends for this shameful period in our history, and to recognize our new Charter of Rights which should prevent such future discrimination against ethnic minorities--

Margaret Mitchell was the first to bring this need for an apology and redress to the House. She was joined by Dan Heap, an NDP member of Parliament for Trinity—Spadina at the time, and together they led the NDP effort in this regard. I am so pleased that all parties have come together.

Both at the time worked with the leaders of the very large Chinese Canadian populations, particularly in Vancouver's Chinatown and Toronto's Chinatown. Dan Heap at the time was assisted by a young Chinese woman immigrant who now sits with pride with us as the hon. member for Trinity—Spadina. She helped collect the head tax certificates from the family members and listened to their sad stories.

Margaret Mitchell's seat is now held by the hon. member for Vancouver East, who has been resolute in pursuit of justice on behalf of her constituents.

It is those constituents who we must honour today, the few living but the very many that are dead. We must also consider this as an apology to the many thousands who never made it to Canada, who died before the Chinese Head Tax and Exclusion Act was lifted or who were unable to raise the exorbitant amount of funds required. Families were ripped apart and kept apart for decades. Some wives left in China were in despair and committed suicide. A generation of children never knew their fathers or grandfathers.

This apology must be for them as well. I hope that it allows all Canadians to reflect on the suffering, the injustice, and the absolute importance of this apology. I thank the Prime Minister most profoundly for having risen in the House and made the apology on behalf of all Canadians.

Today I commend this Prime Minister and Minister of Canadian Heritage for finally taking the first step to right this historic wrong—but we also ask for full justice— the next step.

The next step—to finally achieve reconciliation and closure—is surely to recognize those thousands of head tax payers who died waiting for this day and to provide redress to their descendants.

Now is the time to heal the wounds of exclusion and discrimination. Canadians have at long last heard the overdue apology. In dealing with the failures of the past, we can now move forward.

It is a great day for Canada. We join in the apology and we applaud the first step. This redress is not about liability; it is about justice. Let us show the world that Canada is indeed a fair, generous and just nation.

[Member spoke in Chinese as follows:]

Kan nah dah gong doh jeh doh jeh

[English]

Chinese Canadians
Routine Proceedings

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Order, please. I believe that concludes the business of the House for today.

I would like to pass on to all hon. members my very best wishes for a relaxing summer break. There is of course the usual refreshment offer in Room 216 for those who wish to drop by to wish others the same.

It being 3:37 p.m., pursuant to order made Wednesday, June 21, 2006, the House stands adjourned until 11 a.m., September 18, 2006, pursuant to Standing Orders 28(2) and 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 3:37 p.m.)