Redress Remix: Canada’s Apology for the Chinese Head Tax

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article reflect only those of the author and not necessarily of SFU Volunteer Services.

Redress Remix is an interactive, living documentary on the Canadian government’s official apology to the Chinese Canadian community for the Head Tax and Exclusion Act of 1923. The film was screened at Tinseltown on November 7, the last day of the 14th Annual Vancouver Asian Film Festival. Before the film was screened, a dialogue was held at the Fortune Sound Club. The film’s director Leslie Loksi Chan, Chinese Canadian Historical Society’s Larry Wong and some audience members who care about the apology for Chinese Head Tax attended the dialogue and explored the government’s apology, the pursuits of justice and closure, and the continuance of the redress.

The Chinese Head Tax was a fixed fee charged for each Chinese person entering Canada from 1880s to 1923. In 1880s, a large amount of Chinese laborers were brought to Canada to do the construction work on the Canadian Pacific Railway. To prevent these Chinese laborers from immigrating, the Canadian government passed the Chinese Immigration Act of 1885 involving the Head Tax. The incredible high fee caused a catastrophic effect on the lives of Chinese Canadians. Although the head tax came to an end in 1923, it was just replaced by a stricter law on Chinese Exclusion.

In 2006, Prime Minister Stephen Harper made an apology and redress to the Chinese Canadian Community. But the compensation only applied to the survivors and the spouses of the dead. Many Chinese Canadians are still awaiting for justice.

Director Chan pointed out that there are still discrimination that can be seen everywhere in this society. The apology does not mean that the issue is over. It has been over 80 years since the head tax was canceled. Many victims, the evidence of the head tax, were not alive. This film was made to reveal  and arouse concerns from the younger generation. Also, discrimination can be seen not only on Chinese, but also on other races. Completely eliminating discrimination in our society still has a long way to go.

In addition to the documentary, an interactive web project also reveal the concerns of the redress from different aspects. Audiences can share their opinions as well as video clips in response to each concern.

For more information about this issue, please visit the Chinese Canadian National Council website.

By Ada Li