A Brief History of Chinese Canadians

 Photo: Toronto Star

Photo: Toronto Star

On September 10, 1939, Canada entered World War II, and in an effort to aid the Second Sino-Japanese War, Chinese Canadians enlisted in the Canadian Forces. The Chinese Benevolent Association also suggested boycotting Japanese goods and purchasing Chinese and Canadian war bonds. Chinese Canadians in the Canadian Forces were specially deployed as spies to resist Japanese forces. The results of this war caused a substantial change in Canadian government policy. The Chinese Exclusion Act, which violated the United Nations Charter, was quickly repealed in 1947, and during the same year, Chinese were given the right to full citizenship.

In 1949, however, with the formation of the People’s Republic of China and their support of the communist North in the Korean War, the Chinese community’s reputation in Canada was tainted. Furthermore, some Chinese immigrants falsified immigration papers to enter Canada, which prompted an amnesty period for those who confessed. But in 1967, the Canadian government eliminated the place of origin section in its immigration policy, and this began independent Chinese immigration to Canada.

The 80s brought a new wave of changes to Canadian multiculturalism. At the turn of the decade, a W5 TV report unified Chinese communities across Canada to fight against anti-Chinese sentiments. According to the report, universities were declining acceptance into programs based on ethnicity–specifically the pharmacy program at the University of Toronto. After further investigation, the data presented on the TV program were proven false and CTV, the channel that aired the report, formally apologized for the error. This incident prompted the formation of the Chinese Canadian National Council to better represent Chinese Canadians at a national level.

In 1988, the Canadian Multiculturalism Act was passed. Based on two fundamental principles, the act ensures that, “All citizens are equal and have the freedom to preserve, enhance and share their cultural heritage,” and that, “Multiculturalism promotes the full and equitable participation of individuals and communities of all origins in all aspects of Canadian society.” The Act suggested that racism in Canada was weakening, and the Chinese population began to move away from Chinatowns, toward suburban areas of major Canadian cities. Popular thought, on the other hand, did not follow suit as many believed the Chinese population was responsible for inflating property prices and causing White Canadians to relocate to different cities.

In the late 80s and early 90s, with the Canadian recession and prosperous Chinese economy, Chinese migration was flipped. Chinese families often left their children in Canada and pursued work opportunities in China, only to visit once or twice a year. This phenomenon was coined ‘astronaut families’ and posed a growing concern for the children’s safety and well-being. In the 20th century, Hong Kong was the source of most of Canada’s Chinese immigrants, but nowadays mainland China has surpassed Hong Kong’s number of immigrants.

Since 2000, China has been responsible for an average of 15% of Canada’s immigrant population. Presently, Chinese-Canadians are becoming increasingly involved in Canadian politics, both provincially and federally. Notably, Raymond Chan led the Chinese-Canadian inauguration in Canadian politics by becoming the first ethnic Chinese to be appointed into the cabinet in 1993. Alan Lowe became the first Chinese-Canadian Mayor of Victoria, British Columbia. NDP candidate Olivia Chow was elected in 2006 to represent the riding of Trinity-Spadina.

Following the Chinese Canadian National Council’s call for an address to the unfair head-tax required from 1885 to 1923, NDP leader Jack Layton pledged to issue an apology and compensation for the tax. It was only in 2006, however, that then Prime Minister Stephen Harper delivered a message of redress in the House of Commons, offering an apology and a compensation of approximately $20,000 CAD. There were 20 people who paid the head-tax who were still alive when he made his speech.

All in all, the Chinese-Canadian journey has been incredibly difficult. Having suffered through years of discrimination and hardship, the Chinese-Canadian community has seen many changes in Canadian policy. Thankfully, the Canadian government recognizes their wrongs and is willing to make amends. China’s relationship with Canada is growing stronger every day, and there is a bright future for the Sino-Canadian relationship. The bond is likely to grow, stimulating even more Chinese immigration, and perhaps even more Canadian immigration into China thanks to its thriving economy.