OTTAWA - NDP Leader Jack Layton said today that the official apology finally presented in Parliament this afternoon was a first step toward righting the historic wrongs of the Chinese Head Tax and Exclusion Act. "This is important not just for the head tax survivors, but for all Canadians, who will now see that justice has been done," said Layton.
"Our Party has been pressing for an apology and redress for over 20 years, since former MPs Margaret Mitchell of Vancouver and Dan Heap of Toronto demanded justice and reconciliation on behalf of head tax payers in their ridings and across the country. Since that time, tragically, most of the head tax payers have died. We are pleased that the government has responded to our request for timely resolution, so some of the few remaining survivors could be here today."
In the last session of Parliament, both the Liberal and Conservative parties rejected NDP MP Libby Davies' (Vancouver East) amendments to proposed legislation that called for an apology and redress for Chinese Head Tax payers and their families. These positions changed during the 2006 federal election.
Since the election, Davies, who represents the riding once held by Margaret Mitchell and newly elected NDP MP Olivia Chow (Trinity Spadina), who represents Dan Heap's former riding, have led the efforts of the NDP caucus to hold the Conservatives to account for their campaign promises of apology and redress. Davies accompanied Margaret Mitchell to the Vancouver train station as a handful of surviving head tax payers, spouses and widows boarded the train for Ottawa, and Chow was at the Ottawa train station for their arrival.
"As a Chinese Canadian who helped collect the certificates of victims in Dan Heap's office in 1983, and worked towards this day with leaders of the Chinese Canadian community for so many years, I was proud to be present as a Member of Parliament for this historic event in the House of Commons today," said Chow. " I am proud that the NDP has been steadfast in calling for justice for decades."
"The redress offered to head tax payers was not as comprehensive as we would have liked, since the children have not have been directly compensated. But it was an important symbolic move, which means we can move forward with some closure for this historic wrong," said Libby Davies. "We can teach future generations about Chinese Canadian contributions in building this country."
"Many hundreds if not thousands of head tax payers were still alive when Margaret Mitchell brought this to the House of Commons in 1984. They waited in vain for apology and redress," said Layton. "The next step - to achieve full justice, reconciliation and closure - is surely to recognize them and to provide redress to their children."