Mr. Speaker, I rise today to commemorate an important anniversary in the history of this Parliament and a central moment in the history of Canada's Chinese community.
Sixty years ago today, this Parliament repealed the Chinese Immigration Act, also known as the Chinese Exclusion Act, and, in doing so, brought to an end generations of legislated racism directed at people of Chinese origin.
The government of William Lyon Mackenzie King introduced the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1923, this after Ottawa had collected $23 million in head tax revenues from Chinese immigrants to Canada in the preceding 50 years.
This unjust law prevented anyone from China from immigrating to Canada. As a result, Chinese men already here endured two decades of stigma, solitude and discrimination, separated from their families and barred from the rights of subjects of the Crown here in Canada. Let us not forget that many of those bachelors helped to unite this country by their work on the railroad.
During the second world war, a brave generation of Chinese Canadians volunteered for the Canadian Forces in order to serve their country but, again because of discrimination, they were not put into action until, toward the end of the war, the British recruited them into Sir Winston Churchill's Special Operations Executive. They served with honour overseas in the defence of freedom and the defeat of fascism.
Douglas Jung stands out as one of those who volunteered to defend Canada overseas, training for service behind enemy lines. Thanks in part to the brave service of men like Douglas Jung, on May 14, 1947, the Dominion government could no longer maintain its unjust policies so the Chinese Immigration Act was repealed as part of the new Citizenship Act.
Today marks the 60th anniversary of that historic achievement. On June 22, 2006, in this place our government helped to bring a final end to that sad period in our history with the Prime Minister's formal apology for the injustice of the head tax and his expression of deep regret for the Chinese Exclusion Act.
As the Prime Minister said at the time:
It was an unconscionable act.
An act for which Canadians are deeply sorry.
Canada is infinitely richer because of the contributions Chinese-Canadians have made and continue to make.
Today we salute the brave Chinese Canadians whose military service led to the repeal of that act and which paved the way for the elimination of unjust laws at the provincial and municipal levels.
Since the Prime Minister made his apology, the government has issued ex gratia symbolic payments to 42 living head taxpayers. We are making ex gratia payments to the spouses of deceased head taxpayers. We will soon be announcing the details of the national historic recognition program and the community historic recognition program, which will fund projects commemorating this sad period in our history.
Fifty years ago next month, in 1957, Douglas Jung became the first Canadian member of Parliament of Asian and Chinese origin. He subsequently represented Canada at the United Nations. We pay tribute to his spirit and to the spirits of all those who rose up with dignity and overcame decades of discrimination against people of Chinese and Asian origin.
In his maiden speech in the House of Commons, Douglas Jong said:
While those of us in the Conservative party will take particular pleasure in my election, which election will refute any argument that this party has been discriminatory to certain groups in the past, I am sure that hon. members on both sides will rejoice that we in this country have a system of government that does not extol its virtues by fanfare, but by expressing our belief in our principles by deeds and not words.
On this important anniversary, let us all call to mind those who overcame adversity and injustice to help build a Canada that is a nation of freedom, democracy and equality of opportunity for all.