Liberals ready to apologize for head tax, multiculturalism minister says

The Liberals are prepared to formally apologize for the head tax charged to Chinese immigrants between 1885 and 1923, Multiculturalism Minister Raymond Chan says.

The Liberals are prepared to formally apologize for the head tax charged to Chinese immigrants between 1885 and 1923, Multiculturalism Minister Raymond Chan says.

Chan's comment marks a Liberal retreat on an issue that continues to anger many in the Chinese-Canadian community, whose vote is key in many Toronto and Vancouver ridings.

"We [will] do whatever we can to apologize and make sure the taxpayers would not be exposed to unlimited financial liability," Chan told the Canadian Press in an interview on Sunday.

The Liberal government promised $2.5 million to fund education programs as redress before the election campaign began.

But officials had repeatedly said the government could not issue an apology because it feared the move would make it legally liable and open the door to financial compensation claims.

Then Industry Minister David Emerson, who is running in a Vancouver riding with a large Chinese-Canadian population, opened the door to an apology.

He said last week that he had new legal advice that "an apology does not necessarily imply liability."

Liberal Leader Paul Martin weighed in on Tuesday, issuing a personal apology on a Chinese-language radio program.

Chinese Canadian group demands full government apology

But Sid Tan, national director of the Chinese Canadian National Council, said an individual apology is not good enough.

"Prime Minister Martin needs to commit to make a full apology in the House of Commons to begin the process of reconciliation," he said.

A group representing head-tax payers and their families has warned that the issue could swing the vote in the 20 ridings and force out sitting Liberals in the Jan. 23 election.

The head tax was intended to limit Chinese immigration by charging $50 per person.

By 1903, it had risen to $500, about two years-worth of wages, and so much that many Chinese workers in Canada could not afford to bring their wives and children into the country.

They died as "married bachelors," while their fatherless families often suffered harsh conditions in China.

In 1923, the head tax was replaced by the Chinese Exclusion Act, which barred immigration from China. It was revoked in 1947.