Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson (C) issues an apology at a special City Council session in Vancouver, Canada, on April 22, 2018. Hundreds of Vancouverites crammed into the city's Chinese Cultural Center on Sunday to witness the city government's apology for decades of history of racism against Canadian citizens of Chinese descent. (Xinhua/Liang Sen)
by Evan Duggan
VANCOUVER, April 22 (Xinhua) -- Hundreds of Vancouverites crammed into the city's Chinese Cultural Center on Sunday to witness the city government's apology for decades of history of racism against Canadian citizens of Chinese descent.
The audience was so large that it overflowed the building and a live-feed had to be screened outside the center to accommodate those who couldn't squeeze in.
Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson issued the apology at a special City Council session held before the public audience at the cultural center in the Chinatown.
He acknowledged the discrimination by the City of Vancouver that inflicted harm against Chinese residents for decades and asked for forgiveness.
In the ensuing 60 years or so from 1886, various policies blocked Chinese residents from voting, holding certain jobs and living in particular parts of the city.
City bylaws enforced segregation and restricted business opportunities. Vancouver's government successfully lobbied the Canadian government to wage a head tax against Chinese immigrants that lasted from 1885 to 1923.
It wasn't until World War II when young Chinese-Canadians, many born in Vancouver, earned their right to vote and to receive better treatment by volunteering to fight for Canada -- a country that didn' t seem to want them.
"On this day, on behalf of City Council and the City of Vancouver, I sincerely apologize for these past injustices and their cruel effects on individuals and their families, and commit to ensuring that similar unjust practices are never again allowed to fall on any group or community," Robertson said.
A steady stream of applause transformed into a standing ovation from the audience as Roberston said those words.
"To make an apology today I think it is very significant," said Jenny Kwan, a member of the Canadian parliament. She said it shows that the city acknowledges that what it did was wrong and it will lay the foundation for mutual respect and equality.
"We must remember this history (not only) to see how far we have come, but also to say that we must never repeat this kind of discrimination; this kind of racist attitude towards any community as we move forward," she told Xinhua.
"Everybody knows about the head tax, but Chinese people couldn't become lawyers, they couldn't shop in certain places, they couldn't enter certain establishments," said Canadian Senator Yuen Pau Woo.
"There is a very long list of really shameful rules and regulations that were ... put in place by the city that made life unfair for Chinese people," he told Xinhua.
He added that the past history shouldn't be forgiven and urged no more discrimination against others because of their ethnic origin or home country.
Also at the session, Vancouver city councillor Raymond Louie, in his remarks, emotionally reflected on racism his own ancestors experienced after relocating to Vancouver decades ago.
"Today is a celebration," he said. "It's a turning of the page for us to move forward, and I think there is some positive road ahead of us to make that happen."
Melody Choi, a fifth-generation Chinese Canadian, was among those who joined the ceremony to officially accept the apology from the city.
The 17-year-old said her relatives faced various types of discrimination in life and business, and that she's thankful that she now lives in a city free from unfair treatment.
"Knowing now that I can grow up ... in a society where diversity and acceptance is just first nature is an incredible thing," she said.
"When I go to school or with my community, I feel completely safe and I feel completely accepted to be who I want to be, no matter what culture I come from," said Choi.
Vancouver's apology follows similar apologies issued earlier to Chinese residents and citizens by the Canadian government and the provincial government of British Columbia.
Robertson said more work is needed, though, to turn the apology into a lasting legacy through education and heritage programs.
"I think this is long overdue and the city's actions now are very focused on making sure we're more inclusive and that we're honoring the history of Chinese-Canadians in Vancouver," he said.
City Council says attention will now turn toward seeking a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage designation for Vancouver's Chinatown.