Immigration of Chinese to Canada in the 21st Century

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Pacific Mall in Markham consists of some 400 shops catering to Chinese-Canadians

With the political uncertainties as Hong Kong headed towards 1997, many residents of Hong Kong chose to immigrate to Canada. It was easy for them to enter Canada due to their Commonwealth of Nations connections. It was relatively easier for Hong Kongers to migrate to Canada than to the USA, as the USA sets fixed quotas for different nationalities, while Canada runs on a “points” system, allowing immigrants to arrive if they have desirable factors such as graduate degrees, training, funds to start new businesses and language abilities.

According to statistics compiled by the Canadian Consulate in Hong Kong, from 1991 to 1996, “about 30,000 Hong Kongers emigrated annually to Canada, comprising over half of all Hong Kong emigration and about 20 percent of the total number of immigrants to Canada.” The great majority of these people settled in the Toronto and Vancouver areas, as there are well-established Chinese communities in those cities. After the Handover, there was a sharp decline in immigration numbers, possibly indicating a smooth transition towards political stability. In the years to come, the unemployment and underemployment of many Hong Kong immigrants in Canada prompted a stream of returning migrants.

Today, mainland China has taken over from Hong Kong and Taiwan as the largest source of Chinese immigration. A great number of immigrants have been Cantonese speakers and a disproportionate representation of Cantonese over other Chinese immigrants is prevalent in many Chinese communities in Canada. The PRC has also taken over from all countries and regions as the country sending the most immigrants to Canada.

According to the 2002 statistics from the Citizenship and Immigration Canada, the PRC has supplied the biggest number of Canadian immigrants since 2000, averaging well over 30,000 immigrants per year, totaling an average of 15% of all immigrants to Canada. This trend shows no sign of slowing down, with an all-time high of more than 40,000 reached in 2005.

Also, many Chinese-Canadians are becoming more involved in politics, both provincially and federally. Those Chinese candidates, however, are running in districts where significant Chinese populations exist. However, it marked a sharp contrast from the past where Chinese was a group traditionally uninterested, if not discouraged, in getting involved in politics.

In federal politics, Raymond Chan became the first ethnic Chinese to be appointed into the cabinet in 1993, after winning the riding of Richmond in the 1993 federal election. Many Chinese-Canadians have run for office in subsequent federal elections. After two failed attempts, New Democratic Party candidate Olivia Chow (wife of NDP leader Jack Layton), was elected in the 2006 federal election, representing the riding of Trinity—Spadina, and the Bloc Québécois had an ethnic Chinese candidate, May Chiu, running in the riding of LaSalle—Émard against Liberal Party leader Paul Martin during the 2006 election. Ida Chong was a Saanich municipal councilor in the Victoria BC region, before becoming a BC provincial cabinet minister in Premier Gordon Campbell’s BC Liberal Party administration. Alan Lowe became the first Chinese-Canadian Mayor of Victoria BC.

In addition, the Chinese community also sought redress for past injustices done against them. Since the early 1980s, there has been a campaign to redress the Head Tax paid by Chinese entering Canada from 1885 to 1923, led by the CCNC. However, the movement did not gather enough support to be noticed by the government until the 1990s. However, the government has largely been resistant to the calls of apologizing and refunding the head tax to the payers or their descendants. Canadian courts also ruled that the government had no legal obligation to redress the head tax, but it had a moral obligation to do so. The Liberal governments of the 1990s have adopted the position of “no apology, no compensation” as the basis of negotiating with the Chinese groups. The Liberals have been criticized for stonewalling the Chinese community.

But as the nature of parliament headed towards a minority situation, all political parties needed votes from all sectors of the Canadian electorates. During the 2004 federal election campaign, NDP leader Jack Layton pledge to issue an apology and compensation for the head tax.

After the 2006 election, the newly elected Conservative Party indicated in its Throne Speech that it would provide a formal apology and appropriate redress to families affected by racist policies of the past. It concluded a series of National Consultations across Canada, April 21–30, 2006, in Halifax, Vancouver, Toronto, Edmonton, Montreal and Winnipeg.

Members of Canada’s Liberal Party, who lost the 2006 Election (as the outgoing government) have attempted to change their positions, and have been accused of “flip-flopping” on the issue during the election campaign as well as being questioned about their sincerity. Many Chinese, particularly the surviving head tax payers and their descendants have criticized Raymond Chan, the Chinese-Canadian cabinet minister who was left in charge of settling the matter, for compromising the Chinese community in favour of the government. Recent published articles, in fact, indicate that he deliberately misled the public regarding a number of facts and issues.

On June 22, 2006, Prime Minister Stephen Harper delivered a message of redress in the House of Commons, offering an apology in Cantonese and compensation for the head tax once paid by Chinese immigrants. Survivors or their spouses will be paid approximately $20,000 CAD in compensation. Although their children will not be offered this payment, Chinese Canadian leaders like Dr. Joseph Wong regarded it as an important and significant move in Chinese Canadian history. There are about 20 people who paid the tax still alive in 2006.

Edited from Wikipedia

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