Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Mystique of the Chinese Immigration Act, 1923

The Mystique of the Chinese Immigration Act, 1923

By Dane Thomas
The Daily Magi
September 24, 2041

The Chinese Immigration Act, 1923, known in the Chinese Canadian community as the Chinese Exclusion Act, was an act passed by the Parliament of Canada, banning most forms of Chinese immigration to Canada. Immigration from most countries was controlled or restricted in some way, but only the Chinese were so completely prohibited from immigrating.

Prior to 1923, Chinese immigration was already heavily controlled by the Chinese Immigration Act of 1885, which imposed a hefty head tax on all immigrants from China. After various members of the federal and some provincial governments (especially British Columbia) put pressure on the federal government to discourage Chinese immigration, the Chinese Immigration Act was passed. It went into effect on July 1, 1923. The act banned Chinese immigrants from entering Canada except those under the following titles:

  • Diplomat
  • Foreign student
  • Under Article 9 of the act, "Special circumstance" granted by the Minister of Immigration (This is the class that former Governor General Adrienne Clarkson's family fell under).

The act did not apply only to Chinese from China: ethnic Chinese with British nationality were banned from entering Canada as well. Since Dominion Day coincided with the enforcement of the Chinese Immigration Act, Chinese-Canadians at the time referred to the anniversary of Confederation as "Humiliation Day" and refused to take any part in the celebration.

Due to a recognition of the contribution of Chinese Canadians to Canada during World War II, the Canadian Parliament repealed the act on May 14, 1947 (following the proclamation of the Canadian Citizenship Act 1946 on January 1, 1947). However, independent Chinese immigration to Canada came only after the liberalization of Canadian immigration policy in 1967.

On June 22, 2006, Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologized in the House of Commons. The first phrase of the apology was spoken in Cantonese, the most frequently spoken Chinese language among Chinese immigrants. He announced that the survivors or their spouses will be paid approximately $20,000 CAD in compensation for the head tax.

The act and its legacy have been the subject of two documentary films: Moving the Mountain (1993) and Karen Cho's In The Shadow Of Gold Mountain (2004).

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