TORONTO - The federal government worked to redress an era of legislated racism Thursday with the announcement of a $5-million grant to create educational programs commemorating the Chinese head tax and other prejudicial immigration policies.
"Whatever redress we deliver is ultimately symbolic," said Jason Kenney, secretary of state for multiculturalism and Canadian identity.
"Our government believes it is important to ensure that Canadians have opportunities to learn about our history, including - and especially - the difficult periods."
The funds flow from the Community Historical Recognition Program, which was created nearly two years ago by Prime Minister Stephen Harper to provide educational and commemorative funding for groups who have been subjected to racist government polices.
The funding announcement also follows $12 million in ex-gratia payments that the government has paid to living head-tax victims or their spouses.
Kenney made the comments at a monument in downtown Toronto commemorating the deaths of about 4,000 Chinese immigrants who helped build the country's railway.
Kenney added that other community groups who were subjected to state-sponsored racism, like Japanese-Canadians who were sent to internment camps in the Second World War, will be able to make grant applications to the recognition program for educational and commemorative projects.
When asked why it has taken nearly two years to see any funding from the program, Kenney said the government wanted to consult with other ethnic groups, not just Chinese-Canadians, before making an official announcement.
"We've been dealing with a whole range of other communities," Kenney said, adding further announcements will be made this weekend about First and Second World War internment victims.
NDP MP Olivia Chow, who is Chinese, welcomed the announcement but said the government has yet to fully make amends for the head tax.
"Most of the fathers and mothers have died waiting," Chow said.
While the $20,000 redress payments have been made to 46 living victims and 619 spouses of victims, Chow said more needs to be done.
"There are also over 3,000 descendants, and they really need symbolic compensation," she said. "It's not the dollar amount - they need to have something that they can feel is their own."
Victor Wong, whose grandfather paid the head tax, said his family isn't eligible for the payment because both of his grandparents have died.
"We are calling on the government to provide meaningful redress to all of our families," said Wong, who is executive director of the Chinese Canadian National Council.
Between 1885 and 1923, the Canadian government collected $23 million in taxes from Chinese immigrants. About 81,000 Chinese paid the tax, which was discontinued in 1923 when the government banned Chinese immigration outright, except for a few exceptions.
The Chinese Exclusion Act was repealed in 1947.