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70th Anniversary of the repeal of the Chinese Immigration Act

1st Session, 42nd Parliament, Volume 150, Issue 122

Hon. Lillian Eva Dyck: Honourable senators, this past Sunday, May 14, 2017, marked the 70th Anniversary of the repeal of the Chinese Immigration Act, commonly known as the Chinese Exclusion Act. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, virtually all of the Chinese in Canada were men; men who left poverty, famine and political unrest in China and who came to Canada as labourers to earn money to support their families back home in China.

The Chinese Exclusion Act was passed in 1923. It banned Chinese immigrants from entering Canada. The wives and children of the Chinese men living and working in Canada were not allowed to join their husbands. My father, Quan Leen Yok, had a wife and two children in China. As a consequence of this act, when the Japanese invaded China, they could not escape to Canada. His wife was killed and his family dispersed. In other words, honourable senators, the effect of the Chinese Exclusion Act was devastating.

My brother and I are my dad's second family — his born-in-Canada Chinese family. Because of the Chinese Exclusion Act, many of the Chinese men from that time period remarried and had second Canadian families, some of whom have been fortunate enough to reconnect with their relatives in China.

This Chinese Exclusion Act, as well as other federal and provincial laws, were aimed specifically at Chinese immigrants as a way to discourage them from emigrating to Canada. My dad came to Canada in 1912. He would have had to pay the $500 head tax applied only to Chinese immigrants. Ironically, 1912 was also the year in which Saskatchewan passed a law prohibiting Chinese men from employing white women. Despite the racist legislation, he eventually became a successful businessman in Saskatchewan — a cafe owner and operator, who employed as a waitress, Eva McNab, a Cree woman — not a white woman — from the Gordon's reserve. She became his second wife and our mother.

Honourable senators, as we celebrate Canada's one hundred and fiftieth birthday, let us remember the numerous important contributions Chinese Canadians have made to help build this country. As a country which prides itself on its progressive immigration policies and its human rights legislation, we must be vigilant to ensure that we do not backtrack and create subcategories of Canadian citizens who have fewer rights because of their country of origin, as was done in the past. As we prepare to celebrate the one hundred and fiftieth birthday of Canada, it is important to remember our past so as not to repeat past mistakes.

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