In 1960, Prime Minister John Diefenbaker introduced the Canadian Bill of Rights to prohibit any discrimination based on race, religion and gender. Finally, after many years of consultations, in 1967, Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson established a discrimination-free evaluation system, the point system effectively eliminated all discrimination in the immigration policy.
This was particularly helpful to the Chinese in Hong Kong who were suffering the 1967 Leftist riots, which were caused by a spillover effect from Mainland China’s Cultural Revolution. A mass exodus from Hong Kong to Canada subsequently took place; today, Chinese who came from Hong Kong form an important part of the Chinese Canadian community.
By the 1970s, Chinese Canadians had in principle the same rights as everyone else. However, there was no indication of a forthcoming apology or redress from the Canadian government for the Head Tax issue, which remained a painful and bitter wound in the memory of many Chinese Canadians. Furthermore, other kinds of racial discrimination still existed in Canada.
In September, 1979, CTV’s program W5 aired a segment called “Campus Giveaway.” It was a contentious special report, concluding that Chinese foreign students had been stealing white Canadians’ education opportunities. Chinese communities, outraged by CTV’s racial discrimination, protested against the TV network in 16 cities throughout Canada by forming the “Action Committee against W5.” Finally, on Sept 30th, CTV apologized for its improper and misleading conclusions.
In 1982, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s government adopted the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Using the Charter as a basis from which to seek redress and apology for the Head Tax and other historical wrongs, the Chinese community mobilized themselves to undertake the redress movement.
In 1982, the Chinese Canadian National Council (CCNC) started to collect information from 4,000 Head Tax payers and their descendants. Moreover, during the 1984 election, the Chinese Conservative Association also took up the issue. Other organizations, such as the Foundation to Commemorate the Chinese Railway Workers, and the Chinese Veterans Association, all actively pressured the government for redress, but changes came excruciatingly slowly.
In June 1989, following the Tiananmen Square massacre in Beijing, which shocked the whole world, Canada’s Prime Minister, Brian Mulroney, quickly solved the resident status issues of more than 7,000 Chinese students, scholars and their families. Negotiations with the Progressive Conservative government for an official apology and compensation to redress Canada’s past discriminatory measures towards Chinese were undertaken. In 1993, the Mulroney government tried to offer a redress by proposing a Commemorative Museum, Memorial Medals and an apology. However, the conservative party was defeated in the 1993 election. The issue was then ignored for many years by the subsequent liberal governments that followed.
Worried by “the Handover” of Hong Kong to mainland China in 1997, a large number of immigrants from Hong Kong settled in Canada, At the same time, Mainland Chinese started to immigrate to Canada in order to pursue a free, democratic and prosperous life. By 2006, the Chinese population in Canada has exceeded one million, and Chinese had become the third most spoken language in Canada.
In 1999, CCNC and a group of Head Tax payers and their descendants sued the federal government. Even though the Ontario Superior Court and the Supreme Court of Canada dismissed the case, the judge did suggest that; “Parliament should consider providing redress for Chinese Canadians.”
On Sept, 2005, With a federal election in sight, Prime Minister Paul Martin’s Multicultural Minister, Raymond Chan, reached a controversial agreement on the Head Tax question with the National Congress of Chinese Canadians: Ottawa would grant two-and-a-half million dollars to fund educational projects based on the history of Chinese immigration, but no apology or individual compensation would be granted.
The agreement caused enormous controversy and quickly caught the full glare of the national media spotlight. Not surprisingly, the Head Tax became a hot political issue in the 2006 federal election in the Chinese community. Within days of the 2005 election campaign, the leader of the Conservative Party joined in the pledge for an apology and compensation, which was first laid out by Jack Layton, then leader of the New Democrat Party. Paul Martin eventually did offer a verbal apology, but it was too late, giving the opposition leader, Stephen Harper, a golden opportunity to pledge that once his party would be in power, an apology and appropriate compensations would be guaranteed.
Prime Minister Harper formed a Conservative government in January, 2006. In February, he pledged to solve the issue once and for all. For the following six months, Bev Oda, the Heritage Minister, and Jason Kenney, who at the time was the Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister, travelled across Canada to publicly consult with Chinese communities on the Head Tax issue.