Canadian laws · Canadian Stories · Chinese Culture

Putting the “British” in British Columbia, or I get the funny feeling you’re trying to tell me something

In this post, the author attempts to make fun of 204 reasons why Vancouver owes the Chinese an apology.

What do Prime Ministers Mulroney, Harper, and Trudeau (and Premier Clark) have in common?

They’ve all apologized on Canada’s behalf for the appalling treatment of her people: the Japanese, Aboriginals, East Indians, and Chinese. The mayor of Vancouver, Gregor Robertson, is planning to join them.

We know it was wrong, but it’s ancient history. Can’t we just move forward?

Well, no. It seems it’s not quite ancient history yet. In fact, it’s barely even history.

As recently as March, 2017, discriminatory laws were on BC’s books. They were uncovered after Premier Clark promised to review all BC’s legislation, in conjunction with her apology to Chinese people.

How bad could it possibly have been?

Bad.

Hot button issue #1: Being Chinese and getting a job.

When we’re unemployed, we’re called lazy; when the whites are unemployed it’s called a depression. Jesse Jackson

I counted 89 laws about jobs, mainly of the No Chinese may be employed here variety.

Laws about jobs vs everything else
© 2017 Past Presence. All rights reserved.

Hot button issue #2: Being Chinese and having a say in anything, otherwise known as “voting.”

If voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal. – Emma Goldman

There were about 39 laws preventing the Chinese from voting. There were 7 more just in case any Chinese wanted to run for office. Doesn’t that seem like overkill to you?

Laws about voting and employment
© 2017 Past Presence. All rights reserved.

Hot button issue #3 – Being Chinese.

Laws by category
© 2017 Past Presence. All rights reserved.

In the end, BC found 204 pieces of legislation they judged as discriminatory.

If you were Chinese and living in BC, there were laws telling you where and how to live; laws barring you from hiring white women; a bunch of laws set up to kneecap your attempts at setting up a business; dozens of laws preventing you from voting; laws preventing you from getting a higher education; and a thick, sticky web of laws preventing you from making a decent living. 

Hot button issue #4 – Being Chinese and dead.

The government honoured all of its citizens after death with the accord they had been denied in life.

Sorry, kidding. As if.

If you were so unfortunate as to die in BC and not have enough money or influence to have secured a plot, your bones were not welcome in Vancouver’s cemeteries, and you were prevented by law from being shipped back to China. There was a cemetery in New Westminster that accepted all comers: prison inmates, the insane, and the Chinese.

It’s a high school now.

About that apology…

Here’s the report. BC wiped the final vestiges of discrimination off the books on March 7.

As we all know, a good apology contains the reason(s) why you’re apologizing. It’s not good enough to say you’re sorry if you’re fuzzy on what happened.  Before writing this piece, I wasn’t sure how I felt about the need for an apology.

No longer. 200 laws? Bring it, Gregor. I can stand to hear I’m sorry once more.

Notes, sources and thanks

Vote for free silver
1896 Poster. Caption: What awful poor wages they have in all those free silver countries, John! That’s so, wife, but the politicians say it will be different in America. I wouldn’t take any chances on it, John. It’s easy to lower wages and hard to raise them. Politicians will tell you anything. We know there was good wages when we had protection. We could never by clothes for the children on what they get in free silver countries, could we? Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

The BC government put together a document listing BC’s discriminatory laws. I came across it while putting together my blog on the federal laws. My guess is that it’s an early draft, prepared to support further research and the final report. In it, I count 192 pieces of legislation contemplated by BC in controlling or restricting its Chinese population from roughly 1872-1968. Of those, 25 amendments or suggested laws were either disallowed or failed to receive royal assent. That left me with 167 in total. I tell you this in case you’re wondering how I got the numbers.

After absorbing the implications and spending some time getting over the shock, I wondered if there was a more visual way to look at things.

This blog is the result.

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