City of Vancouver formally apologizes to Chinese community for past discrimination

"This is an important day for Council and all Vancouverites to come together and recognize historical wrongdoings committed against Chinese people and to build a better future together," said Mayor Gregor Robertson.

Chinese residents were denied right to own property, choose where to live in Vancouver

Members of the Chinese-Canadian community listen as Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson delivers an apology on behalf of the city for past discrimination against residents of Chinese descent, during a special city council meeting in Chinatown, in Vancouver, B.C., on Sunday April 22, 2018. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

The City of Vancouver formally apologized to Chinese Canadians on Sunday for past legislation, regulations and policies that discriminated against them.

"This is an important day for council and all Vancouverites to come together and recognize historical wrongdoings committed against Chinese people and to build a better future together," said Mayor Gregor Robertson in a written statement.

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson along with city councillors pose with the official apology offered to redress historical discrimination against Chinese residents. (City of Vancouver/Twitter)

An audience of 500 people witnessed the ceremony at the Chinese Cultural Centre, which was also broadcast on a screen along Keefer Street in the city's Chinatown.

Hundreds of people witnessed the City of Vancouver make a formal apology on Sunday. (City of Vancouver)

Robertson said the formal apology reaffirms Vancouver as a city "in which diverse communities can share and learn from the past, collectively address current challenges and plan for a better future for all."

The apology was read in English, Cantonese and Sze Yup dialect.

'Stigmatized and dehumanized'

"I rise today to recognize and repudiate such acts that stigmatized and dehumanized the Chinese-Canadian community of Vancouver," Robertson read from the apology, which addresses policies in the city from 1886 to 1949.

"I rise today to formally apologize to the Chinese community of Vancouver and to all Canadians of Chinese ancestry for ... discriminatory legislation."

Mayor Gregor Robertson and the City of Vancouver make a formal apology to Chinese-Canadians in the city for historical discrimination. 8:49

Vancouver Chinese community members — such as war veteran George Ing, youth Melody P. Choi and Chinese Benevolent Association president Hilbert Yiu — welcomed the apology.

"While it's the right thing to do, it is also a very courageous step," said Ing about the apology. 

Yiu said the gesture would help Vancouver overcome its past to welcome and embrace all newcomers to the city.

'It's a powerful reminder of how important this apology is for Vancouver as a city of reconciliation,' said Mayor Gregor Robertson. (City of Vancouver)

The formal apology was devised by an advisory group of Chinese and non-Chinese experts and community leaders, which included retired judges, former city councillors, community elders, historians and veterans.

B.C. Premier John Horgan said the apology was "necessary and important."

"We must recognize, remember and condemn the historic discrimination which so many members of the Chinese community endured," Horgan said in a statement.

Historical wrongs addressed by the apology include Chinese residents being denied basic human rights, the right to own property and to choose which neighbourhood they wanted to live in.

The federal government imposed a $50 head tax on Chinese immigrants in 1885 after Chinese workers were no longer needed to work on the Canadian Pacific Railway. (CBC)

They were also denied the right to vote and made to pay a head tax. From 1885 to 1923, it's estimated that 82,000 people from China were required to pay up to two years worth of wages to gain entry to Canada.

"Families were broken apart by the head tax," said Horgan.

'Make sure these wrongs are never repeated'

Chinese immigrants were also denied the right to vote and to hold public office. They were restricted to working in dangerous and undesirable jobs and they couldn't freely pursue an education, according to the provincial government.

In 2014, B.C. apologized for 160 wrong and discriminatory policies and laws that targeted the Chinese community.

This historic portrait of Chinese men and women in Vancouver is part of the UBC archives collection. (UBC)

Since then, the province has recognized the role the Chinese community has played in the history of B.C.

"Together with the City of Vancouver, we recognize the historic wrongs suffered by the Chinese community, and commit to working every day to stop racism and discrimination, so we can make sure these wrongs are never repeated," said Horgan.

The apology was made on the same day that Vancouver held a Chinatown cultural day, which showcased Chinese culture through food tasting, games, crafts, dancing, music, tours and other ceremonies.