Mr. Speaker, I had a busy weekend, working for the development of Quebec in my riding, in the interest of this future country.
I am pleased to rise to speak to Bill C-333, to right a great injustice. I would like to start by thanking my hon. colleague from Durham for introducing this bill, as well as the other parliamentarians who have taken part in this debate so far.
For more than 60 years, the Chinese Canadian community has been the victim of racism, but not just any type of racism: legislative racism. This is a dark page in Canada's history. It is like a less than glorious heritage minute that went on for 60 years. Imagine the damage. Between 1885 and 1923, the Government of Canada imposed a head tax on Chinese immigrants. This was serious discrimination, which put the members of our treasured Chinese community at a terrible disadvantage.
Chinese workers wishing to emigrate to Canada had to pay a $500 tax, starting in 1903. At that time, it equaled two years' salary. It may seem paltry now but, back then, this was a considerable amount of money. This very House adopted the Chinese Immigration Act in 1923, thereby denying thousands of Chinese Canadians the right to vote and, above all, the possibility of being reunited with their families.
The Chinese community called it the Chinese Exclusion Act. As the title implies, their exclusion was total. The day the bill passed was even known as Humiliation Day. This is evidence of how the Chinese community must have felt that day. It was not until 1967, the centennial of Canada's Confederation, that this hateful humiliation was acknowledged. In 1967, Chinese immigrants obtained the same rights as immigrants from other countries. It took all those years for Chinese Canadians to be recognized as full-fledged citizens.
It goes without saying that these discriminatory measures were tied to strong anti-Asian sentiment in existence at that time. Despite everything, tens of thousands of Chinese people immigrated to Canada during that period and took part in its development, in particular helping to build the famous trans-Canada railway.
In supporting Bill C-333, the Bloc Québécois condemns the discrimination visited on the Chinese community by the Canadian government for 60 years. The Bloc Québécois salutes the contribution of the Chinese community to our economy and to Quebec and Canadian society, and it reiterates the importance of immigration and cultural communities to Quebec's future sovereignty.
A recent Ontario court ruling found that the Canadian government owes the Sino-Canadian community an apology. It must acknowledge this legacy and demonstrate good will. This ruling was corroborated and upheld in a recent resolution by the Montreal city council, which determined that the Canadian government must adopt reasonable measures to correct the injustices visited on Chinese Canadians.
Under Brian Mulroney, the Canadian government already offered an apology to Japanese Canadians for the unfair treatment they received during the second world war.
I wonder if this government could not build on that example and apologize to the Chinese community. That would be the least it could do for having exploited members of this community for 60 years while denying them the right to be full-fledged citizens. How insulting.
The last victims of this atrocity and of these discriminatory measures are still alive, but time is of the essence because, one by one, they are dying off. It is high time for the Canadian government to present them with a decent apology, to prove beyond a doubt that they are full fledged citizens and to promise that, although wrongs were committed in the past, nothing like this will ever happen again.
In 2003, a UN Special Rapporteur conducting a study of contemporary forms of racism in Canada also condemned the fact that the Chinese community in Canada still had not received an apology for being discriminated against during all those years.
In fact, some members of the Chinese community are considering turning to the UN in order to obtain justice. I have the following question. Is this the image Canada wants to project internationally—a lack of compassion toward these people, the Chinese community,who are still central to the larger society? Does it want this image of injustice to be spread throughout the world? In any event, that may suit Canada, but it does not suit Quebec.
The Bloc Québécois supports Bill C-333 in principle, for the reasons described by my colleague, the hon. member for Durham.
Two years ago, during a visit to Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, I toured one of these tunnels or underground entries that had been recreated, bearing in mind that when the Chinese community was building the railway back then, they were literally hidden in a tunnel or an underground room. They were forbidden to step out into broad daylight. It was acceptable to use the Chinese for their labour in order to build the railway, but they had to be hidden away. It is outrageous when you consider the contribution this community has made to Canada and Quebec.
What is more, the worst part of this 60 year-long heritage minute is that there is a charge of $15 or $20 to visit the underground gallery where we are shown how the Chinese had to hide underground like rats. That is how they were treated. And if a person asked for a pamphlet on this shameful period in the history of Canada, there are none to give. The exploitation continues. I do not know whether this is a private or public operation, but I do know that there is still an opportunity to visit this underground gallery where the horrible memories of the mistreated Chinese community can be revisited.
This bill will remedy that situation. Let us go back to that time, 1923. If the Chinese were good enough to build a railway, they ought to have been good enough to deserve respect. The situation continued for years, and now the victims and the children of those victims are demanding compensation and justice.
As Bloc Québécois spokesperson for Asia-Pacific matters, I take these things very much to heart. There have been attempts made in the past to remedy this injustice toward the Chinese community in private members' bills by colleagues in the Conservative and other parties.
I am seeking the support of the members of this House for Bill C-333. We are in favour of it, although of course there is always room for improvement. We can look into ways of accommodating certain requests from Chinese community associations throughout the country. Time is of the essence, however, and this injustice must be remedied.
I will put myself in the shoes of Canadians for a few moments, even though I am proud to proclaim myself a Quebecker. I do not want people to read the history of Canada and conclude that the Chinese were mistreated and nothing was done to remedy this injustice. I feel strongly that such a thing must not be associated in people's minds with Canada.
The Chinese community has proven without any doubt whatsoever that it is capable of being a full-fledged member of this society. This black mark on its past must, however, be erased, because the Chinese community is worthy of contributing to the economy, and indeed does make a significant contribution.
Bill C-333 is about the humiliation of the Chinese community. I know this community very well, having lived in China for two years. This humiliation must be dealt with now. This is a unique opportunity as all members are aware. The injustice to Japanese Canadians has been dealt with and now it is the turn of the Chinese. Common sense and pure and simple justice demand this. Hon. members, this error must be corrected by supporting Bill C-333.