by Evan Duggan
VANCOUVER, Nov.14 (Xinhua) -- The government of the West Coast Canadian city of Vancouver has approved a plan to officially apologize for historical discrimination against the city's Chinese residents.
In a unanimous vote early this month, Vancouver's City Council agreed to arrange an official apology event next April, using the language of Toishanese - the Chinese dialect spoken by the majority of Chinese immigrants who first arrived here in the late 18th Century.
Chinese people first came to the province of British Columbia (B.C.) in 1788, eventually comprising ten percent of the province's population by 1901. Today, one-third of Vancouver's population has an Chinese ethnic background.
Between 1886 and 1948, Chinese residents in Vancouver were forbidden to vote in civic elections.
The city also lobbied the federal government to increase the Head Tax levied on Chinese people from the original 50 Canadian dollars in 1885, to 100 dollars in 1900 and 500 dollars in 1903.
Civic laws were also used to restrict Chinese activity in certain industries, businesses, jobs and public amenities.
For instance, in 1928, Chinese children and their parents were barred from the only public swimming pool in Vancouver, except for one day of the week and this segregation remained in place until 1945.
Vancouver's apology is well past due, said Hilbert Yiu, the president of the Chinese Benevolent Association (CBA) of Vancouver, which took part in educating and lobbying the current council on the topic as part of an advisory group.
"For the whole Chinese community, of course we love to hear this, and we are so happy to hear that finally we can get it," Yiu told Xinhua in the association's Chinatown headquarters.
Chinese-Canadians have contributed for centuries to Canadian and British Columbian society, Yiu said. "Our [Chinese] veterans [fought] in World War One, in World War Two, they were sacrificing... and contributing to the country even though the country didn't want them. But they went to fight... and finally... that recognition is coming. I think it's good for everybody to know this," he said.
"It is hard to imagine in today's context what early Chinese went through," Yiu's CBA wrote in a letter to Vancouver's mayor and council. "But the impact of family separation, economic and hardship and social isolation is still deeply felt by their descendants. We cannot undo this wrong, let us make sure that we will not repeat it."
The apology follows other similar government apologies in Canada for discrimination against Chinese-Canadians. The B.C. city of New Westminster is the first and only city in the province to formally apologize for past discrimination.
In 2014, former B.C. Premier Christy Clark apologized on behalf of the province, and in 2016, former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologized for federal discrimination against Chinese.
Vancouver City Councillor Raymond Louie said the apology marks an important step forward for the city.
"It's not just looking backward at the historical wrongs that were perpetrated against the Chinese people, but rather looking at it as a model based on the historical data about what we can do differently going forward as well," he told Xinhua in local Chinatown Monday.
He said the apology shows that discrimination of any kind has no place in Vancouver's present and future.
The apology "recognizes that Vancouver played a significant role in that discrimination", Louie said. "Vancouver wasn't a silent bystander when this was happening, but rather it was a perpetrator of this historical discrimination and for many years. Sixty years in fact."
Louie showed Xinhua the title document to his own Vancouver home. Included in it was a historical and now non-binding clause from 1928, stating that a person of "oriental descent" could not own or occupy the home.
He said documents like that are common and should be used to maintain the lessons from the darker chapters of Vancouver's history.
Louie said the apology event next year will show that Vancouver is inclusive and willing to accept new ideas and people, but is also aware of the mistakes of its past.
"This is a city of reconciliation," he said.