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Thursday, 9 September 2010

New Westminster to apologize to Chinese Canadians for historic racism (Canada)

New Westminster will be the first municipal government in Canada to offer a formal apology to Chinese Canadians for historic racism and discrimination.

The apology, which will be offered in English and Chinese on September 20, is part of an continuing reconciliation initiative undertaken by the city of New Westminster.

"Discrimination has been endemic in this province," said Bill Chu, Chair of the Canadians for Reconciliation Society.

"New West was not, by any means, the only city that had a policy that was discriminatory to the Chinese," said Chu, who calls this apology "historic and courageous."

Acknowledging the difficult history is part of developing a healthy relationship based on historical truth and a sense of justice, said Chu.

Mayor Wayne Wright said the city assigned senior staff to do historical research on Chinese history in the region.

"Historical facts came out," said Wright. "The Chinese community helped build our region, and we found out some of the things that went on that weren't so pleasant."

Wright said making a formal apology will be just one more step in the process of reconciliation and moving forward.

Chu cites the BC 150 celebrations in 2008 as a galvanizing moment for many in the Chinese community in B.C.

"We could not find anything that defines us in that celebration," said Chu.

So Chu, along with the CFRS, and aided by academics and aboriginal leaders, undertook a research project on the true history of the Chinese community in B.C.

The group discovered over a thousand sites of historical significance, only two of which are officially recognized by the province.

"It was very eye-opening," said Chu. "The Chinese did the railroad, yes. They were also mining for gold, farming, creating irrigation, restaurants."

In 1881, census data show that 20 per cent of the non-aboriginal residents in the province were Chinese. Nonetheless, there was widespread legal and institutionalized discrimination against the Chinese, including restrictions on voting, employment and wage-earnings.

Chu said Chinese Canadians must have a historical frame of reference within Canada in order to foster a sense of allegiance and national pride.

The CFRS hopes to see an accurate Chinese Canadian history included in the B.C. school curriculum.

"The big question now is whether B.C. as a province will take on the important task of acknowledging its own history."

The public is invited to attend the apology at 6:15 p.m., September 20 at the council chamber in New Westminster City Hall.

Vancover Sun