Precise wording of an apology for historic wrongs to Chinese immigrants is not as important as education and genuine action on inclusiveness, B.C.’s minister of multiculturalism heard at a consultation in Kamloops on Thursday.
About 30 people, including representatives of cultural associations and a dozen TRU international students, attended the two-hour session with cabinet minister Teresa Wat at the Coast Kamloops Hotel.
Wat said beforehand that it was the B.C. government that put pressure on Ottawa to enact racist legislation, so there is a prevailing obligation to acknowledge those wrongs and learn from the past.
She noted that it wasn’t only the head tax levied on Chinese immigrants, but a total of 160 pieces of legislation that fostered systemic racism, including denial of voting and property rights.
“It does not end at the motion (of apology),” she said.
People have made it clear that they don’t want financial redress because it would limit the scope of the measures to a relative few.
“They want it to be a legacy to the whole community,” Wat said, citing the importance of education in illuminating the past and informing the present.
Wat spoke only briefly but listened attentively during the session.
Descended from Chinese immigrants, Nancy McGovern admitted that she knows too little of the history and feels there is a general lack of understanding.
“I think a good part of what needs to be done is to educate other Canadians about why this apology has come up as an issue,” she said.
Representing the Chinese Cultural Association and the Chinese Freemasons, Joe Leong also stressed the need for education. One means of achieving that would be a museum honouring the contributions of Chinese-Canadians, he said.
“We need to preserve the history for future generations,” Leong said.
Participants got a refresher from lawyer Bill Sundhu about the pervasive effect racist beliefs have had on Canadian society, influences still visible today.
Growing up, he was taught that Canada was a white society, which was a denial of the multicultural truth. In positions of prominence and authority, patterns of exclusion are still evident, he said. Canada has not been truthful about its past.
“I don’t think we’re going to be a complete country until we recognize the truth,” he said. “A nation has to be built on a foundation of truth.”
He said he remains skeptical of the government’s sincerity due to the Liberal’s ethnic vote scandal. Without a legacy of education and recognition, an apology would be whitewashing and trivializing the magnitude of the injustice, he said.
Wat said earlier in the evening that she is new to government and the portfolio, feels the issue is important and doesn’t believe it should be affected by what took place during the election.
She said she reached across party lines, consulting with NDP MLA Jenny Kwan and Green MLA Andrew Weaver on the consultations. Kwan advised her to increase the number of Interior forums, since current population alone doesn’t reflect the historical presence of Chinese-Canadians.