Poll tax and Chinese immigrants

I’m not sure I completely understand the issue, but I believe in the 19th and early 20th century, immigrants to Canada from China were required to pay a fee to immigrate. This went from $50 to $500. I’m not clear how much that was proportionate to today. This was apparently the equivalent of 2 houses in Montreal, or, what, more than $500k in today’s money? Suffice to say it was probably beyond the means of most immigrants from China, unless you were wealthy. This tax wasn’t applied to others, just Chinese (not Japanese, for example).

The argument is that this was discrimination based on ethnicity. Clearly, there was massive panic at the thought of Chinese immigrants in B.C. At the same time, free land was given to white settlers, e.g. Germans, Hungarians, what have you.

However, it was also economic discrimination, which I gather is ok with people. So if this fee had been asked of every immigrant, it would have been ok? That’s essentially what happens today, right? People wishing to move here have a better chance if they have been well-educated (usually requiring financial well-being) or can demonstrate financial means. I know the fee is not nearly as high, proportionately, but it’s still pretty insurmountable for the majority of the world’s peoples.

I agree the head tax was discrimination. The wealthier Chinese were unaffected by it.

So, do we apologize as a country for past mistakes? This I find harder to understand. Surely every nation, at some point, has committed crimes against others. Certainly the Chinese are no paragons of national virtue. So do we insist on apologies for all this as well? Where should it stop? Should the British apologize for their Opium dealing? They basically hooked a third of China on opium. And that’s only one of many British crimes.
Why should we pay compensation? Surely the ones who most require compensation are those Chinese who couldn’t afford the tax at the time, and remained behind. The immigrants who made it here survived and thrived, one might say. They hardly need compensation — apology, yes.

I’d rather see the amount of money the government is talking about go into refugee services, so that current immigrants — possibly the sons and daughters of those people who couldn’t make it here — are better treated. Maybe more money for a task force on people smuggling, which is essentially the head tax collected by organized crime.

Published in: on November 9, 2006 at 8:59 pm  Leave a Comment  

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