Excerpt from the Official Report of
DEBATES OF THE LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY

(Hansard)


March 13, 2017

Bill 3- Discriminatory Provisions (Historical Wrongs) Repeal Act

S. Simpson: I’m pleased to join the debate on Bill 3, the Discriminatory Provisions (Historical Wrongs) Repeal Act. It’s a pleasure to have the opportunity to speak to this piece of legislation, a piece of legislation that I fully expect will receive unanimous consent from this House when it comes to a vote in the next day or so.

What this piece of legislation does is take us another step down the path, following the apology to the Chinese community. The bill fulfils a recommendation from the Chinese Historical Wrongs Consultation Final Report and Recommendations, a report to ensure a full repeal of discriminatory legislation by the provincial Legislature after B.C. joined Confederation.

What the report said is that while it’s understood that over 160 pieces of discriminatory legislation have been repealed, a thorough review of the legislation, described in the consultations, should be undertaken to ensure that nothing has been overlooked. A further objective of this legacy initiative would be to ensure that new legislation does not contain racism.

The specific recommendation was: “It is recommended that the government undertake a review of legislation identified in the consultation to ensure it has been repealed, and to review legislation procedures to demonstrate that British Columbia does not have, nor will it ever produce, racist legislation again.”

This has been a process since the apology, and it has been quite a comprehensive process. I thank the minister for the introduction of this legislation. We know that this — and this doesn’t always happen in this place — has been a collaborative effort. It has been a collaborative effort with the government doing what it’s done and with my colleagues on this side — the member for Vancouver-Kingsway, the member for Surrey-Whalley and the previous member for Mount Pleasant, Jenny Kwan — having done extensive work. They presented, on behalf of the official opposition, a compendium of discriminatory legislation that was identified by that committee, and that became part of the consultation and the discussion as well.

As I said, we don’t always collaborate in this House on things, but this is something where we have. I think everybody has willingly and thankfully collaborated on it. This legislation will pass, and it’s a good thing.

It was a pleasure the other day, when the minister introduced this legislation, to have a number of representatives of the Chinese community here to witness the introduction of Bill 3 and to be able to know, with confidence, that there is full attention to this by all members of this Legislature and that we will proceed, and proceed with diligence, to make sure that this bill passes. More importantly, to that extent, we, as the people here — and, hopefully, the people who will come after us — will ensure that we never put racist legislation on the books of this province again.

I want to talk a little bit about that. I’m very, very pleased that this is going to correct a historical wrong. We in this province, at times, I think, have got smug. We get smug when we look at other places in the world, when we look at other places where issues of race and discrimination occur. We don’t have a lot to be smug about in this province when we look back at our history.

There are numerous incidents that stand out, but there are four that I’d like to just comment about a little bit, as I talk about where we go from here. As has been said by other members, unless we learn from our past, the likelihood of repeating it is significant.

These are all matters that we have apologized for in some way, shape or form. There has been redress and, in some cases, compensation for the conduct of our government here in British Columbia and the national government, at different times.

In 1914, the Komagata Maru. We will know that this was a Japanese vessel that had 376 passengers — primarily Sikhs, some Muslims, some Hindus. It came into the port of Vancouver on May 23, 1914, and wasn’t allowed to dock. The Premier of the day, Premier McBride, was clear that he was not going to allow this vessel to dock. We saw demonstrations about not allowing this vessel to dock.

We also, it should be said, saw demonstrations of people in support of the folks who were on that vessel, who were looking to come and create a new life for themselves here in Canada.

That was race-based. It was about nothing but race. We know that it was a very, very difficult time. Of those 376 passengers, 352 were turned away because of race. After sitting in the port, in Burrard Inlet, for two months, that vessel was turned away, largely forced by the navy to leave.

It is a shameful time in our history and a time that we in British Columbia and the national government should do more than regret. And I know that we have. I know there has been recognition about the terrible injustices of the Komagata Maru.

From 1941 to 1949, we interned Japanese Canadians in British Columbia during the war — not folks of Japanese descent but Japanese Canadians. Twenty-one thousand Japanese Canadians were interned in this country.

Families were separated. They were broken apart. I know that in my constituency, the Pacific National Exhibition, Hastings Park, was an internment facility, mostly a processing facility. People were obliged to live in the barns and the stables there. Their property was taken away from them. Their homes were taken away from them, and in many cases, they never, ever saw any of that again.

This, again, was a case of people being identified simply by their race. The argument was that somehow these good Canadians, who happened to be of Japanese descent, were a threat to our country because of their race. No other reason.

Their lives were ripped apart. Their families were ripped apart. They were forced out of their homes. They were taken to different places in British Columbia, in Saskatchewan. Many of them, thankfully, were able to come back.

I had the good pleasure, with the Japanese-Canadian association of British Columbia, to be able to participate in the erection of some memorials and some tributes at the Pacific National Exhibition, in a hope that people will not forget what we did when we interned people and ripped them apart from their homes. That was racism. It was nothing else.

The Chinese head tax. We’ve heard a lot, and the member previous spoke eloquently and gave a lot of history about the sense of how we came about that. I thank him for that. We know that that started when, in 1878, the government of British Columbia attempted to ban Chinese people from British Columbia. The courts overturned that because it was ultra vires; it was outside the authority of the province to do that.

But it didn’t take long. Just a few years — six, seven years — later, 1885, the Chinese Immigration Act was passed, and a head tax was introduced. As the member previous said, it started at $50 a head. Very quickly, by 1904, it was $500 a head. It essentially said that Chinese men could come here to work if they paid a price, but of course, wives and children were seriously discouraged from coming and didn’t have the opportunity to come.

So 81,000 people in our country were impacted by that — about 81,000 people. That tax stayed in place for a while. In 1923, the tax ended, but it ended by essentially banning Chinese people entirely, and that was really only repealed and overturned in 1948.

Again, this was about race. It was about nothing else. It is another shameful example that people who sat in this place and sat in the House of Commons are responsible for, and we need to learn from that. We cannot be smug about it. We need to learn.

The other example, which again was entirely about race, wasn’t about people coming here; it was about the residential schools. We know that, starting in 1884 and moving forward — in Saskatchewan, right into the 1990s — the government established the Indian residential schools. They allowed them to be run by the churches, and their objective was to take the Indian out of First Nations kids. Their objective for these 150,000 or so children that went through the residential schools was to take the Indian out of them. Six thousand of those kids died in those schools.

As the Indian commissioner said when he was talking at the time about why it was important to discourage those children from going back and seeing their families and their parents, it was because it slowed down the process of civilizing those children. It slowed down the process of civilizing them if you allowed them to go back and spend time with their families.

We know the tragedy of the residential schools. It is, along with these other instances, one of the true blights on this country. It is one of the most shameful things about this country. We know about the physical abuse. We know about the sexual abuse.

If we can be thankful about anything, we know about the extraordinary courage of our First Nations people to overcome that and to have the place they have in our society today, where there is very little that we do internationally, globally or at any level, when we want to celebrate who we are, that we don’t put the First Nations people right at the forefront of that celebration and that we don’t use those First Nations people to help identify who we are and who we want to become.

But in the residential schools, we were trying to take that Indian out of those kids. We were trying to civilize those kids.

That’s four examples. They’re examples that I believe everybody — I would certainly hope and believe — in this room, that sits in this place, would agree are shameful parts of our history that we need to overcome, that we desire to overcome and that we want to make sure we never, ever repeat.

We need to be very careful about that. We need to because we are in a difficult time when it comes to race today. We are seeing what’s happening in the United States. We are seeing the actions of the President of the United States around the immigration bans. We all see the stories about people in the United States who feel that they have been validated around racist behaviour and that it’s okay — that racist behaviour. We see it every night on the news.

Today, just in the last few days, we’re watching the debate around European elections as they start to move forward, as white nationalist parties start to assert themselves and increasingly look like they’re gaining traction in countries throughout Europe — parties whose fundamental belief is: “You need to keep those people out of our country and keep our country white.”

We need to fight that. We need to be vigilant, and we need to never, ever feel that we have overcome this and put it behind us.

In our own country, we don’t have to look back very far to look at the death of five innocent Muslims in Quebec, killed in a mosque for praying. We don’t need to look back more than a few days to bomb threats against our Jewish brothers and sisters in this province. We read about that happening in other countries. We see it here. We all know the stories of the leaflets that fly around in our neighbourhoods and end up on the windows of cars about who shouldn’t be here.

This is a difficult time, and it is a time which makes it also even more important that we pass this legislation with determination and with loud voices. But it is a time, after we pass this legislation, when we not be too pleased with ourselves about that, that we reaffirm and redouble our commitment to make sure that every member of this House — as leaders in our communities, as leaders in this province — steps up whenever we hear the bigotry and the racism that is bubbling and percolating globally and that, sadly, is also in this province in a very real way. That’s our responsibility.

I’m pleased to support this bill. I’m pleased to have heard great comments from members on both sides of this House about the importance of correcting historic wrongs. I’m grateful to hear the comments of members on both sides of this House about the determination that we have to move forward in an inclusive way.

I mostly want to just really implore the members here and those who are watching — probably the six or eight people who are watching us right now — that we need to stay vigilant about this. We cannot allow ourselves to rest on this issue.

We are a proud people in British Columbia. I know that on Canada Day, I’m always proud to stand up, when I get a chance to say a few words at celebrations, to talk about how our strength is our multiculturalism. Our strength in this country and this province is our ability to bring people from diverse backgrounds together and to allow them to embrace their own culture and to embrace Canada too — and to bring that together in a way that not all countries in the world have been successful in doing.

The success of that has to be that we will defend and protect that. We will defend and protect our multiculturalism, and we will stand together and defend and protect those people, whether it’s the Chinese, the Japanese, the Jews, the Muslims or First Nations. Collectively, we will stand up and say: “We are all in this together. We are all equal. We all share the same rights and responsibilities. We all share the same benefits. And we all have a right to be here and to believe what we believe, to pray to who we want to pray to, to be whatever colour we are.”

Only if we do that, hopefully, a hundred years from now, whoever is sitting in this place will say: “You know, back in 2017, when they passed this bill, they got it right. They got it right, and we’ve been making progress ever since.”

If we do that, this will be a great day not just for passing Bill 3, but a great day because our determination is reflected in moving forward to make sure that we don’t allow those tragic situations, which caused this bill to come about, to happen again.

I’m pleased to have the opportunity to be part of this debate.

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