Canadian laws · Genealogical Research

Should you get a DNA test?

DNA kits are rising in popularity, so much so that they were among the top 5 items sold during Amazon’s Black Friday sale in November, 2017. They are so popular that Amazon offered 18 different types. In this post, I’ll offer what I see as the pros and cons, and my decision.

Reasons for getting a DNA test

Curiosity

I love curious people. The impulse to know more is why I started on my own genealogical journey, so a DNA kit seems to offer a lot for a little.

Genealogical Brick Walls – busted!

Google “DNA tests brick walls” and you’ll get a pageful of results from AncestryDNA, Family Tree DNA, Legacy Family Tree, etc. I reviewed an AncestryDNA video showing how the process works, from ensuring that DNA results are connected to the right person in Ancestry, to a plan for getting all the relatives tested. In this way, with a DNA grouping combined with an Ancestry tree, relatives may be found across Ancestry’s databases.

Imagine finding long lost cousins who share a common ancestor. This happened to me last week. Both of us, in our respective countries, have been engaged in genealogical research for years. According to the knowledge we have gleaned, our ancestors originate from the same race, country, counties, speak the same dialect, and carry the same Chinese character as the family name. Like detectives, we are hunting for clues to see if we are more than “village cousins,” and DNA might give us that answer.

Genetic predispositions for disease

Some genetic predispositions, such as cancer, diabetes, and obesity may be identified with a DNA test. It may be helpful to know, for example, if the family history of breast cancer affects you.

Angelina Jolie wrote in the New York Times of her decision to undergo a preventative double mastectomy as a result of learning she carries the BRCA1 gene.

www.past-presence.com
By Chakazul [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Who am I?

Many people take DNA tests to find their ethnicity. We’ve probably all seen the 23andMe or AncestryDNA commercials where people who thought they were one race turn out to be another.

I can imagine the hunger to know one’s own history in a closed / private adoption scenario. Taking a DNA test could answer the questions that nobody else can – or will – answer. Do you have siblings? How accurate is the testing? Here’s the YouTube link to the Today Show’s Dec 2017 test of the the accuracy of sibling matching.

Reasons against DNA testing

Are you ready for the results?

The joy and curse of genealogy is the gradual discovering of facts. New clues about your ancestors are like chocolates in an Advent calendar – slowly enjoyed and eagerly anticipated. My ancestors endured harsh conditions. As a sympathetic historian, processing some of these facts has taken an emotional toll on me.

Genetic counselling

Many people are underprepared, and for them there are now counsellors trained in genetic testing: genetic counsellors. DNA tests can reveal markers for genetic diseases… but the accuracy and process of acquiring that information, what tests are used, and most importantly, how they are interpreted, can vary widely. There have been false positives, and flat out wrong results.

Family secrets

On a related note, DNA tests can reveal family secrets that would tax the ethics of a professional genealogist. Human life is full of unexpected surprises, and not all of them are happy surprises. There are cases of rape and incest, of half-siblings who are the products of affairs, and babies born by means of in-vitro insemination.

Any information that makes us question our origins is information that needs very careful handling, and often, years of processing, reconciling, and adjusting. That’s a lot of pressure in one envelope, all at once.

Family dynamite

How life-changing would it be to suddenly have to reassess your roots? For that, I leave it to two talented novelists to tell their own stories of explosive discovery.

Wayne Grady discovered the clues to his own lost family ancestry in a census record in Windsor, ON. His book Emancipation Day took twenty years to write, and is a powerful creative non-fiction work inspired by the story of his father who was a black man who was light-skinned enough to pass as white.

Wayson Choy was touring Canada for his 1995 novel The Jade Peony when a stranger called to tell him a truth known to all in the Chinese community except him – he was adopted. The phone call inspired his 1999 novel Paper Shadows.

The ethnicity results may depend on the test kit

DNA test results can vary by test kit. Each company has its own processes for analyzing the data, and produces results with a margin of error. Remember statistics and the confidence interval?

Let’s take a common example of statistics: the political poll. My pet peeve is seeing a result like this: Conservatives 22%, Liberals 20%, NDP 19%, with a confidence level of 95%, with a margin of error at +/- 3%. The Cons are in the lead. What’s wrong with that?

95% sounds pretty confident, right? The trouble is, a 95% confidence level simply means 19 times out of 20, or 95 out of 100 people.

It’s the margin of error where things go completely sideways. In this example, there is only 3% separating the 3 results, meaning all results fall within the margin of error (19+3=22), which means the results are misleading, if not completely wrong. In this case, there is no party leading.

DNA kits such as 23andMe offer a 50% confidence interval. The Legal Genealogist calls such results no more than “cocktail party conversation” in her article “Those percentages, if you must.”

The law is struggling to catch up

Did you know that until Bill S-201 – the Genetic Non-Discrimination Act (the “GNDA”) was passed into law 9 months ago (on May 4, 2017), Canadians were at risk of discrimination based on the results of genetic test results?

In the USA, where the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act has been in place since 2008, some 300 cases / year arise from people suing because their genetic tests uncovered information which prevented them from being able to buy health and / or life insurance.

In my view, Canada was slow to add genetic data to the list of rights protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the real tests of how the GNDA will be interpreted  is up to the courts, on a case by case basis.

The government makes laws, but the judges decide how those laws will affect people. It’s a work in progress.

What am I giving away?

To take just one example, see Ancestry’s Terms & Conditions below (copied directly from the site on 24 Jan 2018):

That by providing a DNA sample or Additional User Information to us, you acquire no rights in any research or commercial products developed by us or our collaborators and will receive no compensation related to any such research or product development; [emphasis added]

I understand the science of genetics like a dog understands English – I think I’m getting it, but I’m really not. But what I do understand is that we have barely begun to understand the potential of genetic research, never mind put a price tag on its value. I am nervous about giving away something that is inherently mine, with that degree of potential, forever.

For example, take the 2004 case of the American Havasupai Tribe. They had originally consented to the collecting of their genetic material for the purpose of studying diabetes, but found later that the study grew to include investigating “population evolution, schizophrenia, and inbreeding.” They sued Arizona State University for a long list of items from civil rights to misrepresentation.

No DNA tests for me

I am very curious. If I let my curiosity drive this bus, I’d have done a DNA test a long time ago. I am absolutely enthralled with the idea of learning more about my origins – that’s part of the reason why I’m such an avid genealogist.

Maybe the caution comes from the decade I spent as legal assistant, dealing with rights, reparations, privacy, and risk. Also, I’m fortunate that breast – and other – cancers do not run through my family, I was not adopted, and I’m most likely 100% Chinese.

So for me, the answer is no DNA tests. Not now.

How about you? Are you considering DNA tests? Have you done them already? I’d love to hear from you.

www.past-presence.com
DNA, by Caroline Davis, 2010. under CC licence 2.0.

Sources

5 key things to know about the margin of error in election polls. (2016 Sep 8). Mercer, A. From the Pew Research Center Fact Tank.

Bill S-201 – the Genetic Non-Discrimination Act. Retrieved 2018 Jan 25 from OpenParliament.ca.

Ethical issues in developing pharmacogenetic research partnerships American Indigenous communities. (2011, Mar). Boyer, B.B. et al. From PubMed Central Canada.

My grandmother was Italian. Why aren’t my genes Italian? (2018, Jan 22). Grayson, G. From NPR’s Health Inc.

My medical choice. (2013 May 14). Jolie, A. Retrieved 25 Jan 2018 from the New York Times.

Review of Paper shadows: a Chinatown childhood. Choy, W. Retrieved 26 Jan 218 from Quill & Quire.

Those percentages, if you must. (2016 Aug 14). Russell J.G. Retrieved 25 Jan 2018 from The Legal Genealogist.

Wayne Grady: stranger than fiction. (2013, Aug 1). Retrieved 26 Jan 2018 from The National Post.

What DNA testing kits can – and can’t – tell you about history, health. (2018, Jan 11) Gunderson, E. From Chicago Tonight.

Canadian laws · Canadian Stories · Chinese Culture

We’ll tell you where you can live – BC’s Land Titles Act

Whenever I’m visiting Vancouver, the topic of real estate comes up. Vancouverites can’t help talking about it. You might talk about it too if the phrase million dollar teardown was a part of your life.

I shared my trivia about how the so-called British Properties in West Vancouver were styled that way for a reason: only British people could live there. It was developed by the Guinness family, and it seems that while the Guinnesses were happy to make their fortunes selling beer to anyone, they were a lot less egalitarian when it came to their neighbours.

www.past-presence.com
Aerial view of West Vancouver, 1974. By Miranda.Kopetzky (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
And it wasn’t just the British Properties. According to Ron Usher, general counsel for the Society of Notaries Public in BC, there could be houses all over Vancouver with discriminatory restrictive covenants hiding in their document clauses.

What’s a restrictive covenant, you ask?

1850 – Who’s not allowed in?

Since the mid-19th century, property law has permitted sellers to force buyers to make enduring promises about the races of people not allowed to move into the neighbourhood. According to the Consultation Paper on Restrictive Covenants, a covenant is a legally binding promise by one person (covenantor) to another (covenantee).

No Asiatics, no Indians, no Negros…

Here’s a sample restrictive covenant where the buyer agrees:

…that the Grantee or his heirs, administrators, executor, successors or assigns will not sell to, agree to sell to, rent to, lease to, or permit or allow to occupy, the said lands and premises, or any part thereof, any person of the Chinese, Japanese or other Asiatic race or to any Indian or Negro.

…anyone else?

I heard a 1980s story from a brilliant and well-respected lawyer who, while considering a house in West Vancouver, requested that the antisemitic restrictive covenants be removed from his real estate documents. The realtor assured him the covenants no longer applied. He assured the realtor he was fully capable of understanding legal niceties… and still wanted the covenants removed. That is, unless the realtor wished to walk away from the deal?

They were removed.

1978 – BC revises the Land Titles Act

Thirty years after the Chinese got the vote, they also got the right to buy a house where they wanted to live. It took a generation, but Section 222(1) of the Land Titles Act now states:

A covenant that directly or indirectly, restricts the sale, ownership, occupation or use of land on account of the sex, race, creed, colour, nationality, ancestry or place of origin of a person, however created, whether before or after the coming into force of this section, is void and of no effect.

www.past-presence.com
This house did not have a restrictive covenant. Copyright 2018. Past Presence. All rights reserved.

2017 – How many houses are affected?

www.past-presence.com
Looking north on Cambie Street, 2016. Copyright 2018. Past Presence. All rights reserved.

Ron Usher said, “There could be thousands. They were common in Vancouver, West Vancouver, North Vancouver and Victoria, and there’s no way of knowing the exact numbers.”

Restrictive covenants are not cheap to remove, either. According to Peter Roberts of Lawson Lundell LLP, the cost can range from $2,000 to $10,000.

It’s a nightmare for realtors and owners wanting to sell. As noted from my story about the lawyer above, just because it’s no longer applicable doesn’t make it right.

Why did you write this piece?

I was reflecting on the history of Vancouver’s Chinatown, and wondering what reasons there might have been for  Chinese immigrants to live in such close proximity. There are positive social reasons for wanting to live near people like you, such as language, culture,  safety, and community. But it seems there have also been barriers to moving away from Chinatown.

Sources

Consultation paper on restrictive covenants. June, 2011. British Columbia Law Institute Real Property Reform (Phase 2) Project Committee. Available at link.

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.

Canadian laws · Canadian Stories · Chinese Culture

97 years of history in 6 minutes

Finally in one place, the federal laws regarding voting and immigration for the Chinese in Canada.

Voting and Immigration laws, Canada
The federal laws re voting and immigration for the Chinese. © 2017. Past Presence. All rights reserved.

Immigration

The Chinese Immigration Act, 1885

What is it?

This is the law that was enacted to dissuade the Chinese from coming to Canada. There are others, but this was the big one. It was revised three times: in 1900, 1903, and 1923. It’s also known as the Chinese Exclusion Act. The last revision, the Chinese Immigration Act, 1923, occurred on July 1st, and is still dubbed “Humiliation Day” by some Chinese Canadians today.

What did it do?

From 1885-1923, it narrowed, then closed the borders to Chinese immigration. There were few exceptions. This is the law that people talk about when they’re asking for redress of the head tax: $50 in 1885; $100 in 1900; $500 in 1903.

Order-in-Council 695, 1931

What is it?

The government passed Order-in-Council 695 during the Depression as a measure to control immigration to Canada.

What did it do?

This law closed Canada’s borders to all immigrants who were not American or British; farmers with money; and the children and wives of current Canadian residents.

Repeal of the Chinese Immigration Act, 1947

What is it?

Following WWII, Canada revoked the Chinese Immigration Act, 1923, aka the Chinese Exclusion Act.

What did it do?

The specific restrictions applying to all Chinese immigrants as set out in the Chinese Exclusion Act were revoked. However, the restrictions applying to all immigrants not British or American, as set out in Order-in-Council 695, 1931, remained.

Order-in-Council PC 2115, 1950

What is it?

This is an amendment to the series of Orders-in-Council regarding general immigration to Canada, of which Order-in-Council 695, 1931was a part.

What did it do?

Asians in Canada were permitted to sponsor a wife, husband, or an unmarried minor under the age of 21 years. Children who were separated from their families by the Chinese Immigration Act, 1923, were excluded by this provision, being too old by 1950. See the example below.

Order-in-Council 1616, 1967

What is it?

This is a law regarding immigration to Canada, which replaced the previous race-based system with one based on points.

What did it do?

This is the long-awaited law which allowed the Chinese in Canada to sponsor their immediate relatives without restrictions.

The Wong family, an example

To help illustrate the impact of how these immigration laws affected people, here’s an example. Let’s take a hypothetical family – the Wongs – and put them through a scenario experienced by too many Chinese Canadian families.

Mr. and Mrs. Wong are young parents of two children, aged 1 and 2 years old. Unable to find work in China to support his family, Mr. Wong borrows $500 for the head tax and travels to Canada in 1923. He promises his wife that he’ll send for her as soon as he gets established, but the borders close in July. Mr. Wong could return to China, but he owes $500 and there is no work for him at home, so he chooses to stay, and sends every spare dollar home. Mrs. Wong raises their 2 children alone. In 1950, 27 years later,  Mrs. Wong is able to apply to immigrate to Canada as a wife, but her children are too old. She opts to stay in China until her whole family may emigrate together, which happens in 1967.

Mr. and Mrs. Wong are reunited at the age of 62, having spent 44 years apart. The children, now adults of 45 and 46 years old, are reacquainted with a father who is a stranger in all but name.

The impact on a family
A timeline showing the 44 year divide on a hypothetical family. © 2017 Past Presence. All rights reserved.

Voting

The Electoral Franchise Act, 1885

What is it?

Federally, the right to vote was restricted to voters who were male, over the age of 21, and British subjects by birth or naturalization. The provinces of Nova Scotia, Quebec, Ontario, and New Brunswick also required voters to own property. Ontario and New Brunswick further required voters to earn a minimum level of income.

What did it do?

It removed the right to vote from Indians and Chinese.

Repeal of the Dominion Elections Act, 1948

What is it?

The Dominion Elections Act, which used race as a criteria for voting eligibility, was repealed.

What did it do?

Asians in Canada now had the right to vote.

Today

Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, 1982

An uncertain homecoming
By Marc Lostracci [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

What is it?

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is a part of the Canadian Constitution.

What did it do?

The Charter set out in law the specific rights and freedoms of Canadians, among them the right to protections and benefits of the law without discrimination based on race, nation, colour, and ethnic origin.

Why did you write this post?

There’s still a lot of confusion around what happened to the Chinese, particularly regarding the laws of the times. Even people who lived through it tend to conflate the two distinct topics of voting and immigration.

Notes

I’m not a lawyer, in case you’re wondering.

Now, with that out of the way, I should also say that I think a more comprehensive picture of voting and immigration would include the provincial laws, but I chose simplicity over completeness. I might tackle provincial and federal laws in a future blog post. Fun fact: BC enacted over 100 laws and regulations concerning the Chinese population. Check out my blog post about it here.

Sources

A history of the vote in Canada. Retrieved 28 October 2017 from Elections Canada.

Anti-Chinese immigration laws in Canada. Retrieved 28 October 2017, from Citizen and Immigration Canada.

Order-in-Council PC 1931-695, 1931. Retrieved 28 October from the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21.

Order-in-Council PC 1967-1616, 1967. Retrieved 28 October from the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21.

Your guide to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Retrieved 28 October 2017 from the Government of Canada Human Rights. 

Canadian laws · Canadian Stories · Chinese Culture · Genealogical Research

The right to be a Canadian: Irving Himel, K. Dock Yip, and The Committee for the Repeal of the Chinese Immigration Act

Voting. It’s complicated. Canada has been reluctant to share her treasures, at least to its non-male, non-white peoples.

Nearly 70 years ago, Canada’s Chinese, Japanese, and South Asian people won the right to vote in Canada. It had been a long time coming. You may know the story of the Famous Five*, who fought for and won women’s voting rights in 1921, but did you know that it took 27 more years for Asians to gain the right vote?

This is the story of Kew (K.) Dock Yip and Irving Himel, and their work to repeal the Chinese Exclusion Act, which is more formally known as the Chinese Immigration Act, 1923. There could be no consideration of voting for Chinese while this piece of legislation was on the books, banning Chinese from entering the country on the sole basis of race.

To understand Yip and Himel’s achievement, it’s important to set the stage and go back to the Dominion of Canada, circa 1800s.


Prior to 1885, Chinese workers had been actively sought. Andrew Onderdonk hired 6000 Chinese labourers from 1800-1885 to build the most dangerous sections of the Canadian Pacific Railway in BC. Chinese workers staffed the CPR Steamships and worked in the gold mines. Before 1885, Chinese people were free to travel to and from China, and many men took advantage of the opportunity to work in Canada to support their families in China. For many, this self-imposed exile was the only way to support a family in a country severed by political upheaval, war, crime, and drought. Working in Canada was no dream: wages were poor, and conditions were harsh. In response, British Columbia enacted successive waves of anti-Chinese legislation, all designed to contain and deter its unwanted Chinese population.

Chinese Immigration Act certificate VPL 30625
$500 Head Tax Certificate, 1918

On July 20, 1885, the railway having been completed, the rising anti-Chinese sentiment and fears of the “yellow peril” caused Canada to implement the Chinese Immigration Act, 1885. A CAD$50 head tax was levied on all incoming Chinese immigrants. This tax would be doubled to $100 in 1900, and then raised to its height of $500 in 1903. As Arlene Chan wrote in her book The Chinese Head Tax:

James Don’s father paid $500 each for his wife and 5 year old son. It took 17 years for his father to repay the loan.

No other immigrants to Canada were subjected to a head tax.

It was a hard year to be Chinese. The Electoral Franchise Act, 1885, explicitly removed voting rights for the Chinese (and Indians) two weeks earlier. Said Canada’s first Prime Minister, Sir John A. MacDonald:

Persons of Chinese origin ought not to have a vote because they had no British instincts or British feelings or aspirations.

The Prime Minister was not alone in his anti-Chinese fears. In 1922, Judge Emily Murphy wrote in her book The Black Candle:

Anyone who has lived in British Columbia knows that where the Chinese have their own districts, much [opium] smoking is indulged in.

Native Sons of BC – In opposition to granting of Oriental franchise

And lastly, the Native Sons of British Columbia, who wrote:

Native Sons of British Columbia are unequivocally opposed to extending the franchise to the Asiatic races.

The Chinese Immigration Act, 1923, built on, and expanded, the Chinese Immigration Act, 1885effectively closing the borders to all Chinese. Those men that had families in China were thus prevented from seeing them for decades, or ever. The beleaguered Chinese community endeavoured to take care of its large population of rootless men. Depression, drug abuse, and suicide took their grim tolls on the community.

Fast forward to 1942, to the Queen’s Own Rifles Reserves, where two lawyers happened to share a tent: K. Dock Yip and Irving Himel.

The two lawyers are hanging around base camp, recovering, when they hatch a plan to fight injustice.

Himel, I want to do the Immigration Act. I want to do immigration work. They won’t let the Chinese in. – K. Dock Yip

We have to repeal that law. – Irving Himel

To help them achieve this goal, Yip and Himel eventually formed The Committee for the Repeal of the Chinese Immigration Act in November, 1946.

On that Committee were:

  • Dr. Armstrong, United Church
  • Cardinal McQuigan, Catholic Church
  • Judge Arthur Martins
  • Colonel David Croll, Liberal MP
  • Dr. Neyes, Chinese Church
  • Dr. Ngai, Chinese medical doctor
  • Irving Himel, lawyer
  • K. Dock Yip, Canada’s first Chinese lawyer

Eventually, the Committee grew to be 79 members. The Toronto Globe and Mail, the Toronto Star, and the Vancouver News-Herald began supporting the movement. Womens’ groups and political groups, labour and trade councils, and religious groups joined the call for change. It took five years from that day in the tent when two reservists decided to tackle Canada’s racist immigration policies, but Canada repealed the Chinese Immigration Act on May 14, 1947.

Asked about the delegation to Ottawa, Yip said:

He ran all the manoeuvres, Himel. Me, Kew Dock Yip, I’m the secretary… Irving Himel asked me to lead this movement, but I thought Dr. Ngai would do it better… so I deferred the position to him and he did a very good job. The [immigration] law was finally repealed in 1947.

In 1948, the Dominion Elections Act was also repealed, allowing Chinese, Japanese, and South Asians the right to vote in federal elections.

The Chinese in Canada finally had the right to call themselves Canadians. The fight for civil rights would be next.

K. Dock Yip and Irving Himel, 1991
K. Dock Yip and Irving Himel, 1991

Irving Himel continued his legal work on civil liberties, later becoming a founding member of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. His work against restrictive covenants (clauses in real estate contracts preventing property sales “to Jews and other perceived undesirables”) resulted in them being declared unlawful.

K. Dock Yip continued his work as an attorney for 47 years, served as a two-time trustee of the Toronto School Board, was a leader in his community, and found time to be a movie actor on the side. In 1998, Yip was awarded the Law Society Medal for outstanding service to the legal profession.

*Observant readers will note that Emily Murphy is both lauded and criticized in this piece.

Afterword

I have known bits of this story my whole life, but the online resources to flesh out the facts have only appeared in the past few years, thanks to the work of dedicated Canadian scholars and trusts, teachers, citizens, and politicians. Canada no longer ignores its racist past in our collective bid to work for a better future. In a small way, this is my story, too. K. Dock Yip was my great-uncle.

Sources:

Chan, A. (2014). The Chinese head tax and anti-Chinese immigration policies in the 20th century. Toronto, ON:James Lorimer & Company Ltd.

Chan, A. (2017, July 3). Chinese Immigration Act. Retrieved from the Canadian Encyclopedia.

Historical reference to discriminatory legislations towards Chinese-Canadians. Retrieved from CBC.

(A) history of the vote in Canada: Chapter 2: From a privilege to a right 1867-1919. (2016, Oct 5). Retrieved from Elections Canada.

Huang, E. (1992). Chinese Canadians: voices from a community. Vancouver, BC: Douglas & McIntyre.

Irving Himel (2017). Retrieved from Canada’s Human Rights History.

K. Dock Yip. (2017, Feb 15). Retrieved from Wikipedia.

Kew Dock Yip (2011). Retrieved from Road to Justice.

Lesson 3: Historical perspectives of Chinese Canadians in BC: Archive package: Loss of the franchise. Bamboo Shoots. Retrieved from Open School of BC.

Murphy, E. (1922). The Black Candle. 

Raphael, B. “Irving Himel never recognized.” Toronto Star (2005 Nov 18).