Mr. Speaker, today I join my hon. colleague in marking the 65th anniversary of the repeal of Canada's discriminatory Chinese Exclusion Act when Chinese immigrants were finally granted the right to become Canadian citizens.
As the official opposition, we recognize the important struggles the Chinese community has had to confront in becoming Canadian citizens and we must say thanks to the early Chinese Canadian pioneers who helped build this nation despite the hardships they were forced to face, such as the Chinese head tax and the Chinese Exclusion Act.
The Chinese Exclusion Act prohibited Chinese immigration for more than a generation. Only a handful of Chinese were allowed to enter Canada during this period, which spanned the Great Depression and the Second World War. The sons and daughters of the head tax payers were also directly affected by this legislation and experienced poverty, racism, family separation and lost educational opportunities.
On June 22, 2006, after years of advocacy from the Chinese Canadian community, the Government of Canada finally offered a formal apology for the head tax and expressed deep regret for the injustice and discrimination it represented.
I want to take this opportunity to thank a couple of people whose tireless advocacy helped make this historic apology a reality. The first is my hon. colleague from Trinity—Spadina. In the early 1980s, as an assistant to NDP MP Dan Heap, she helped to launch the campaign to seek an apology and compensation from the federal government on the shameful anti-immigrant Chinese head tax and Chinese Exclusion Act and she continues to be a powerful advocate in the House for Chinese Canadians.
I also want to acknowledge the role our late leader, the hon. Jack Layton, played in advocating for an apology and redress for this tremendous injustice. A statement from the Chinese Canadian National Council stated:
As a City Councillor and Member of Parliament, Mr. Layton tirelessly supported numerous social justice issues. In particular, he...supported...the Chinese Canadian community in our decades long campaign for redress of the Chinese head tax and Chinese Exclusion Act at its most challenging moments.
Mr. Layton told the House on that occasion, “This is important not just for the head tax survivors, but for all Canadians, who will now see that justice has been done”.
As most members know, New Democrats had pushed for an apology and redress for over 20 years since the current member for Vancouver East and former MPs, Margaret Mitchell of Vancouver and Dan Heap, demanded justice and reconciliation on behalf of head tax payers in their ridings and across this country. Since that time, tragically, before an apology could be issued, most of the head tax payers died.
The redress offered to head tax payers was not as comprehensive as we would have liked since the children have not been directly compensated. Children were greatly harmed. In many cases, children were separated from their fathers for decades. The effects emotionally, socially, culturally, economically and personally are incalculable. New Democrats continue to call for a more comprehensive refund for victims of the head tax.
It is important that by remembering our past we commit not to repeat our mistakes. Sixty-five years ago we ended a sad chapter of discrimination. We finally acknowledged that it was wrong to exploit foreign labour and deny citizenship in this cruel way. Today, we bring in thousands of temporary foreign workers who will be allowed to make 15% less than Canadian workers. They will be denied family reunification and the right to stay in Canada.
As the official opposition, New Democrats believe that, much like the Chinese who came to build our railroads and unite our country, if one is good enough to work here one is good enough to stay.
I am thankful for the opportunity to join with members across the House to mark the end of this sad chapter in our history and to commit to fight the injustices of today.