VICTORIA — British Columbia’s premier has formally apologized for racist policies that started more than 140 years ago against Chinese immigrants, calling the regulations a stain on the province’s history.
“While the governments which passed these laws and polices acted in a manner that was lawful at the time, today this racist discrimination is seen by British Columbians — represented by all members in this legislative assembly — as unacceptable and intolerable,” Christy Clark said in the legislature.
“We believe this formal apology is required to ensure that closure can be reached on this dark period in our province’s history,” she said Thursday.
“The legislative assembly’s apology today signifies our deepest regret for the hardship and suffering our past provincial governments imposed on Chinese Canadians.”
Clark said the province acknowledges the overwhelming contribution of Chinese-Canadians to British Columbia’s culture, history and economy.
More than 100 laws, regulations and policies imposed by past B.C. governments discriminated against people of Chinese descent since the province entered confederation in 1871, she said.
Thousands of Chinese immigrants arrived in Canada starting in the 1880s to help build the country’s railway, but starting in 1885, the federal government imposed a head tax of $50, which rose to $500 by the early 1900s.
“Those first immigrants who were made to pay to come here made some of the biggest contributions,” Clark said.
“They helped build the railway that connected our vast country from coast to coast. And on that great task of nation building the Chinese labourers were given the most dangerous jobs,” she said.
“For every mile of track between Vancouver and Calgary one Chinese worker died.”
The apology, which does not include compensation, came after extensive public consultations that began last year and involved all provincial parties.
In 2006, the federal government offered an apology for the head tax and included $20,000 in compensation for families or survivors who paid the tax.