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Clark: Head tax apology overdue

Premier Christy Clark says an apology to Chinese-Canadians that is more than 140 years overdue will be offered Thursday in British Columbia's legislature.

The apology has been endorsed by Clark's Liberals, the Opposition New Democrats and the Green party, as well as Independent members of the legislature.

It dates back to BC and Canadian government policies, including a Chinese head tax, that targeted immigrants from 1872 to 1947, Clark said Wednesday.

Canada started charging a head tax in the late 1800s to discourage Chinese immigration. The BC government supported the head tax and accepted federal head-tax payments.

"I'm glad we finally got here," said Clark. "The Chinese community hasn't been waiting just since I became premier; the Chinese community has been waiting 100 years to hear these words in the legislature, and it's about time they heard it."

The apology was set to be introduced last year, but the Liberals delayed the ceremony due to a political scandal involving misuse of government resources and plans to manipulate ethnic votes through public apologies for long-standing historic wrongs.

The Liberal ethnic-outreach strategy became known as the quick-wins scandal due to its documented suggestions that formal apologies to ethnic communities for historic wrongs could result in quick wins at the ballot box.

It resulted in a full-public uproar in March 2013, when the formal apology was set to be introduced.

A review by the premier's deputy minister, John Dyble, found serious misuse of government resources and staff in connection with the leaked outreach plan.

Dyble's report concluded the work lines between the BC government and the BC Liberal Party were crossed in an effort to win ethnic votes.

A draft copy of last year's apology listed more than four dozen government acts used to discriminate against the Chinese and apologized for "racist and discriminatory resolutions and acts."

The draft also recognized the social and economic contributions Chinese immigrants made to BC.

"Nothing is ever perfect," said Clark. "I don't think you can ever do anything that everybody agrees with, but I do think there's a really broad level of support for this apology and it is about time."

Clark said International Trade Minister Teresa Wat has been consulting with members of the Chinese community for the past year about the apology.

Clark suggested that compensation for Chinese immigrants and their families is not part of the apology.

"The community, in terms of the feedback that minister Wat got, didn't generally favour compensation," she said.

The Chinese Canadian National Council, which monitors racism against Chinese-Canadians, supports some form of compensation as part of any apology. The council says B.C. cannot be seen to be profiting from racism.

The council said the federal government collected a total of $23 million from the head tax levies, of which about $8.5 million was transferred back to BC, which converts to about $1 billion today.

Burnaby Liberal MLA Richard Lee said the apology includes promises of legacy projects for the Chinese-Canadian community.

Lee says the final wording of the apology has been approved by all political parties and Independent members in the legislature. He said he expects support from the Chinese-Canada community for the apology.

In 2006, Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government apologized and made payments of $20,000 each to Chinese-Canadians who paid the head tax or their surviving spouses.

The Canadian Press

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