British Columbia

New Westminster apologizes to Chinese community

The City of New Westminster, B.C., has officially apologized to its Chinese-Canadian community for historic discrimination after unearthing evidence of racist policies spanning a 66-year period.

The City of New Westminster, B.C., has formally apologized to its Chinese-Canadian community for historic discrimination after unearthing evidence of racist policies spanning a 66-year period in the city archives.

Speaking with a Mandarin translator, Mayor Wayne Wright offered the apology during an emotional ceremony at city hall on Monday night, making the municipality the first in Canada to offer such an apology to the community.

"The City of New Westminster acknowledges, based on a review of city records covering the period from 1860 to 1926, that it acted in a discriminatory manner towards its Chinese community," said Wright.

"At this time the City of New Westminster formally apologizes to the Chinese community for its past action, and it looks forward to working together in the spirit of friendship," he told the crowd, which included many long-time Chinese-Canadian residents of the community.

Gim Wong, an 87-year-old veteran of the Second World War, said his parents' generation deserved the apology, even if they were not around to hear it.

"The generation before, they were valueless," he recalled.

The reconciliation process was triggered by a dispute in 2009 over plans to rebuild the city's high school right on top of a historic Chinese burial ground. That triggered a request from a group called Canadians for Reconciliation Society for an investigation into the historic treatment of the community.

Banned from voting in civic elections

City staff spent eight months digging through the city archives and found newspaper articles and council minutes that showed how it had discriminated against Chinese-Canadians, denying them jobs, and even demolishing the Chinatown districts. In 1908 city councillors even passed a law banning Chinese, Japanese and Indian Canadians from voting in the New Westminster municipal elections.

Bill Chu, the chair of Canadians for Reconciliation, welcomed the apology, but said the city's history is no different than most, and now he wants the province of British Columbia to follow New Westminster's lead.

"Rather than knocking at every city hall door, we should really be asking our province to do the right thing," said Chu.

In the meantime, New Westminster has pledged to continue to work to unearth its Chinese history and heritage, and to create a school curriculum that reflects the contributions of the Chinese community. There are plans to move the site of the new high school, avoiding the cemetery.

In 2006 Prime Minister Stephen Harper formally apologized for imposing a head tax on Chinese immigrants imposed by the federal government.

In 1988, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney apologized to Japanese-Canadians for their internment during the Second World War and in 2008 Harper also apologized for the 1914 Komagata Maru incident in which hundreds of Indians seeking a better life in Canada were turned away.