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Last Updated: Friday, 23 June 2006, 09:21 GMT 10:21 UK
Canada apology to China migrants
By Ian Gunn
BBC News, Vancouver

Prime Minister Stephen Harper (centre) with Chinese-Canadians holding a copy of the official apology on 22 June
Chinese immigrants were charged to enter Canada
The Canadian government has officially apologised to thousands of Chinese immigrants charged a special tax when they arrived in the early 20th century.

The government will also pay surviving immigrants and their immediate families $18,000 (8,850) in compensation.

Some surviving taxpayers say they are delighted that the country has finally admitted its errors.

The apology follows years of negotiations between Chinese-Canadians and the government.

Between the 1880s and 1920s, Chinese immigrants to Canada had to pay a special tax of up to $500 just to enter the country.

When the head tax was repealed in 1923, Chinese immigration to Canada was banned altogether for the next 25 years.

'Racist'

But now Prime Minister Stephen Harper has told parliament that the policies were racist and shameful and had lasting effects upon Chinese-Canadians.

"We acknowledge the high cost of the head tax meant that many family members were left behind in China, never to be reunited, or that families lived apart and in some cases in extreme poverty for years," he said.

Mary Mau, whose parents paid $500 for her to enter Canada in 1923, says that the admission was very important, an historic step for Canada as a country.

"Because it has taken all these years for Canada to finally address the fact the law was racist and they were discriminating ... [towards] a certain class of people," she says.

Ms Mau and other taxpayers will receive a symbolic payment of about $18,000, but amidst the celebrations, some critics say the payment should have included descendants of head taxpayers as well.

Other critics suggest the prime minister's contrition coincides with a need to increase his Conservative Party's standing in urban ethnic constituencies, where the head tax was a long-standing irritant.




SEE ALSO
China fugitive denied Canada asylum
21 Jun 02 |  Asia-Pacific
Country profile: Canada
06 May 06 |  Country profiles
Country profile: China
24 May 06 |  Country profiles

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