Tag Archives: Chinese

We should welcome the New Boat People

Let the rule of law and our Canadian compassion reign when we consider the plight of the 123 new arrivals.

Canada, as described in the preamble of our Constitution, is a country “founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law.” We are a society that espouses the social and legal values of, among others, compassion, democracy, equity, due process and fairness.

But judging from the reaction to the recent arrival of the 123 Chinese boat people off Vancouver Island, many Canadians seem to want the rule of law suspended and compassion thrown out of the window. They want these refugee claimants kicked out of Canada forthwith.

In making such demands, I wonder if these people know that in 1997 there were 22,584 refugee claimants whose cases were heard by Immigration Canada. That works out to be on average of about 62 claimants a day. In other words, these recent arrivals accounted for only about two days’ worth of refugee claimants. Each and every one of the 22,584 refugee claimants was accorded due process under the current immigration law.

So why do people want to treat so harshly and so differently these 123 poor souls who risked their lives crossing the Pacific Ocean in a dilapidated vessel to seek a better life?

A jaded community activist may argue that the outcries were simply a reflection of Canada’s racist history towards Asians. People who subscribe to this theory can point to the following historical patterns.

About 100 years ago, while Chinese immigrants had to pay a head tax to come to Canada, people from certain European countries were given land in the Prairies to settle. In 1914, while European immigrants landed by the boatload in Eastern Canada, Sikhs from India were turned back from Vancouver.

During the Second World War, while Canadians of Japanese descent were interned in prison camps, the Canadian born descendants of Axis countries that like Japan were at war with Canada were never treated as enemies of the state.

Even now, while the refugee claimants from China were subjected to a barrage of negative letters to newspaper editors, not a word of concern was raised by the public about the Cubans who defected at the Pan-American Games.

Not too many people, fortunately, subscribe to the above view. Not when you consider the people who wrote negative letters to newspapers or made angry calls to call-in shows at the Canadian-Chinese Radio station included Canadians of Chinese heritage. Not when we consider that Canadians opened our doors and wallets and welcomed tens of thousands of Vietnamese refugees in the early 1980s.

Then why are so many Canadians so upset? “They jumped the queue,” new Canadians cried. “They abused our generosity,” established Canadians shouted.

“We are too soft on bogus refugees,” a former Canadian ambassador wrote. “If the present law is not reformed, we should reconcile ourselves to an increasing flow and eventually a torrent of criminally organized illegal migrants.”

But what are the facts? According to Citizenship and Immigration Canada, between January 1995 and September 1998, only 478 out of a total of 97,640 accepted refugees came from China, a country from which “a torrent of criminally organized illegal migrants” is supposedly expected to come.

Our generous treatment of refugee claimants has been a fact since 1969, when Canada signed the United Nation’s convention and protocol relating to the status of refugees. In so doing, Canada is committed to not returning people deemed to be fleeing persecution.

Are those who land in Canada and claim refugee status jumping the queue? Are they abusing our generosity?

In 1997, the last year such sta­tistics are available, 44 per cent of refugees were landed in Canada. The rest were either privately sponsored (11 per cent), dependents abroad (13 per cent) or government assisted (32 per cent).

One might say those refugees who landed in Canada did jump the queue. But refugees, by def­inition, are desperate people and desperate people do desperate things.

Making the determination of whether inland refugee claimants meet the criteria is the responsibility of the Immigration and Refugee Board.

There seems to be broad general consensus that the current determination system takes too long and is not effective. And we are right to be upset with the criminals who profit from the trafficking of refugees.

The present government, to its credit, has recognized this and proposed changes to improve the system. Some of the changes were outlined in the discussion paper released last year and one source says a new immigration act is scheduled to be introduced in the next parliamentary session.

In the meantime, what we need are political leaders who have the courage to remind us of our proud history as a caring and compassionate country and of our international obligations. We need lawmakers who understand the due process of law and do not pander to a lynch mob mentality by calling for the immediate return of the refugee Claimants.

The strength of our nation lies in our ability to make difficult policy choices in a rational, well informed and well thought-out manner. Most importantly, we need political leaders who can take us to the moral high ground of this difficult issue and make us feel good as Canadians.

© (This article was first published in the Vancouver Sun on Saturday, August 7, 1999)

That’s What Happened

When you hear or encounter discrimination because you are Chinese, you are facing the continuity of the past of B.C.

When I was doing the research for the Chinese-Canadian History display, a friend of mine came up to me and asked me why I was doing it. He is happy with the present situation; he enjoys the freedom and security of living in Canada.

“Why the past?” he asked, “Why particularly the bitterness and discrimination of the past?”

For a moment I was standing there speechless because in the first place I did not expect such kind of a question and in the second place the answer seemed so obvious to me that I didn’t know how to put it into words. Then the answer came gradually to my mind and I would like to share it with those of you out there who might want to ask the same question.

The present is nothing but the continuity of the past. Everything that is happening now at this moment is predetermined by the sequence of the events that happened in the past. If we do not know what has happened and why it happened in the past, we will not be able to fully understand what is happening now and we will be totally unprepared to deal with events that are going to happen in the future.

Read this,

“On the whole, it is concluded not advantageous to the country that the Chinese should come and settle in Canada, producing a Mongrel race, and interfering very much with white labor in Canada…. I do not think it would be the advantage of Canada for members of the Mongolian race to become permanent inhabitants of the country. I believe it would introduce a conflict between the working class which would result in evil.”

And read this,

“(Asians) are imposing a great social burden in this country. Chinese people … who cannot be absorbed properly into the country and who cannot find jobs suitable to them are being admitted under the Immigration Act…. These people are coming in so rapidly that they are not fitting in properly to the fabric of society. They are locating in ghettos, dozens to a house… They come in planeloads, 350 at a time, and there is just no way to assimilate them.”

Do you know who made the above two speeches? Do you know when they made them and where they made them? Give it a guess.

The first speech was made by Sir John A. Macdonald in 1887. The second speech was made by MP Ron Huntington (Capilano, BC) in 1975. Both of them were speaking on Canadian immigration policy in the House of Commons.

Do the contents of the two speeches share striking resemblance to each other? Does it surprise you that after a time lag of 88 years the same kind of absurd, unfounded fallacy still persists in people’s mind? You will not be surprised if you know the past history of the hostile sentiment of British Columbians towards the early Chinese immigrants.

Anti—Chinese legislation in B.C. can be traced as far back as 1860, approximately ten years after the first Chinese gold rusher entered B.C. In that year, 1860, ten-dollar poll tax on Chinese was proposed in B.C.’s House of Assembly but was defeated. From then on, numerous head—tax bills were being proposed but were all defeated.

In 1878, a bill levying $30 license on all Chinese was finally passed. In 1855, the Dominion passed its first Chinese head tax legislation and the amount of tax was set at $50. Meanwhile the workers in B.C. were organizing anti-Chinese movements. They formed the Knights of Labor to campaign against Chinese in Vancouver.

Politicians, eager to gain popularity among laborers, started to press for tougher anti—Chinese legislations. Many anti—Chinese bills were passed in B.C. only to be disallowed later by the Dominion. However, in face of the mounting pressure put on by the MPs from B.C., the Dominion increased the Chinese head tax to $100 in 1901 and $500 in 1904.

But all these did not satisfy the irrational hostility of the British Columbians. In 1906, violence against the Chinese broke out in Penticton. In 1907, a riot against the Chinese broke out in Vancouver. Literally every window in Chinatown was smashed in the riot. In 1923, a new Dominion Immigration Act was passed excluding Chinese from immigrating into Canada.

In those days Chinese were living as second-class citizens in Canada. There were anti—Chinese clauses in government contracts. There were certain professions which Chinese were not allowed to practice, and most outrageous of all, Chinese were not allowed to vote on public elections.

In 1947, with the end of the Second World War and the Chinese victory over Japanese invasion in China, the Canadian government began to allow Chinese wives and unmarried children to enter Canada to join their husbands and fathers. In 1949, the Chinese were given back the right to vote on public elections. In 1967, Chinese immigration was finally placed on an equal basis with other nationalities.

So you see, my dear friends, we have come a long way to be able to enjoy today’s freedom and security of living in Canada. I am not advocating the memory of the past bitter experiences. I am only advocating the awareness of the historical facts, so that next time when you hear or encounter some gross or subtle discrimination because you are Chinese, you will know darn well that you are not facing something new, nor are you, facing it alone.

You are facing, like I said, nothing but the continuity of the past.

© (This article was first published in 1976 in an UBC Chinese Students’ Association publication)