Xiaoming Guo 郭晓明
The Canadian Senate held a national commemorative event for the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Immigration Act.
On June 23, 2023, Canadian Senators Victor Oh and Yuen Pau Woo, along with the Foundation for Action on Chinese Canadians (ACCT), organized a national commemorative event in the Senate Chamber of the Canadian Senate to reflect on the 100th anniversary of the enactment of the Chinese Immigration Act in Canada.
The main purpose of the event was to review the long-standing relationship between Chinese Canadians and the indigenous people of Canada, foster pride and a sense of belonging, and take practical actions against racism.
The Chinese Immigration Act, also known as the Chinese Exclusion Act, came into effect on July 1, 1923, and imposed strict restrictions on immigrants from China. The Act limited family reunification for Chinese families and prohibited spouses and children of Chinese immigrants from coming to Canada, making it difficult for the predominantly male Chinese Canadian population to grow and prosper. During the 24 years that the Act was in effect, less than 50 Chinese individuals were allowed to immigrate to Canada.
Governor General Mary Simon attended the commemorative event along with over 200 Chinese representatives from across Canada, collectively reflecting on this dark chapter in history. Some sat in the seats of the senators, while others occupied the public galleries upstairs. Together, they contemplated the harm and division caused by racial discrimination in the Senate, where the Chinese Immigration Act was passed a century ago. The temporary location of the Senate is the old train station in Ottawa, which holds special historical significance as part of the construction of the Pacific Railway by Chinese workers.
As the first Indigenous Governor General of Canada, Simon stated in her speech, “Many people may not realize that the relationship between Indigenous peoples and the descendants of the Chinese has been strong and enduring throughout history. The Chinese workers built the railways and mines, and Indigenous peoples helped them by providing medicine and food. They helped each other, and when the law prohibited Chinese businesses or restaurants from serving white Canadians, Indigenous peoples often frequented these establishments. When no one else was willing to hire Indigenous peoples at the time, it was the Chinese who provided them with job opportunities. The kindness and support between these communities with different backgrounds and beliefs are the foundation of our modern Canada—a more inclusive Canada, a Canada that focuses on understanding and reconciliation.”
She pointed out, “We must remember that when Chinese Canadians face new discrimination and racism, history has taught us a lesson, and we should reject the sentiments and actions of racism and discrimination that we see today. Last week, the Canadian population reached 40 million. That’s 40 million stories of hope, determination, pride, strength, struggle, revival, challenge, and resilience. The stories of Chinese Canadians are part of us, a history spanning over a century. They are an important part of our nation and a part of ourselves.”
Governor General Simon, Minister Mary Ng, and guests unveiled a commemorative plaque in the Senate Chamber to memorialize the historical event of the Chinese immigration exclusion, which will be permanently displayed in the restored Parliament building.
Minister of International Trade, Export Promotion, Small Business and Economic Development, Mary Ng, stated in her speech, “The exclusion of Chinese immigrants from 1923 to 1947 was a tragic era of institutionalized racism in Canadian history. This plaque recognizes the hardships endured by Chinese Canadians under the Chinese Exclusion Act and also acknowledges their courage and resilience in challenging legislation.”
One of the initiators of the event, Senator Victor Oh, expressed: “Today, we gather together to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Immigration Act, and I am very proud to see people from all across Canada here. The Chinese community is making every effort to express our love for this country and hopes for a more tolerant, inclusive, and peaceful Canada. We have been marginalized for far too long, and I believe it is time for all of us to wake up and recognize that Chinese people are part of this country. We want to live here, and we have contributed to this great nation. We hope to share our work with people from all walks of life here. I want to tell everyone that this country should be a welcoming country, a country that loves immigrants and diversity, multiculturalism, that is what we need. Let’s look forward to building a more inclusive Canada.”
Senator Yuen Pau Woo, another initiator of the event, stated, “Today, over 200 people, including many Chinese community leaders, have gathered in the Canadian Senate to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Immigration Act. Thousands of other Canadians have watched this event online from Halifax to Toronto, from Calgary to Edmonton, and to Vancouver. Therefore, we can truly say that this is a national commemorative event. I am glad that we were able to organize this event and I am deeply moved by the support from Chinese communities across the country. However, I am also saddened by what happened 100 years ago and the suffering the Chinese community endured due to the Chinese Exclusion Act. I hope this occasion can help us find a firmer place in Canadian society, express our views, and let Canada know that we belong to this country. We want to be part of this country; we have our own voice, and we want society to hear our voice.”
(Source: Commission of Marking the 100th Anniversary of Chinese Exclusion Act)