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Agreement-in-Principal with Chinese Canadians

In 1885, the federal government charged a $50.00 head tax on Chinese immigrants, many of whom worked on the Canadian Pacific Railway. Only the men were taxed.


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An Agreement-in-Principal was reached with the Chinese Canadian community on November 24, 2005 in response to Bill C-333 in the House of Commons (the Chinese Canadian Recognition and Redress Act), which recognizes the contribution that Chinese immigrants made to Canadian life.

Part of the bill is the Acknowledgment, Commonwealth, and Education (ACE) Program which will consider and fund eligible proposals for compensation for the head tax imposed on immigrants of Chinese origin from 1885 to 1923 under the Chinese Immigration Act, as well as the imposition of other exclusionary immigration measures, pursuant to the Chinese Immigration Act of 1923, which lasted until 1947.

In 1885, the federal government charged a $50.00 head tax on Chinese immigrants, many of whom worked on the Canadian Pacific Railway. Only the men were taxed.

This amount was raised to $100.00 by the Chinese Immigration Act of 1900, and to $500.00 by the act of 1903. In 1923, the head tax was replaced by the Exclusion Act, which meant Chinese immigrants were banned altogether until 1945.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, a $300.00 head tax equal to two years' salary was instituted 100 years ago in May, 1906, and continued until 1949. As in the rest of Canada, only men could be immigrants. (Before 1949, Newfoundland and Labrador was a colony of Britain, and not a part of Canada.)

The Chinese were the only group to pay the tax when they entered Canada. The head tax was also known as the Bachelor Tax, because the men could not afford to bring their families with them.

Ping T. Tan, Executive Co-Chair of the National Congress of Chinese Canadians, said "The signing of this agreement-in-principal is one of the most significant milestones in the history of the Chinese community in Canada. We are pleased that the personal suffering and untold hardships endured by the thousands of Head Tax Payers of head tax and their families resulting from the Government of Canada's discriminatory immigration policies implemented against the Chinese are now officially acknowledged."

At the time, in the fall of 2005, the Chinese Canadian National Council (CCNC) said that they had registered over 4,000 redress claimants in Canada and they wanted (the then) Prime Minister Martin to verify the accuracy of his numbers, because they believed they are not correct. CCNC is a national organization with 27 chapters across the country.

Since then, the Library and Archives Canada (LAC) has started a new immigration exhbit on its website, called "Moving Here, Staying Here: The Canadian Immigration Experience", which has devoted some of its space to the Port of New Westminster Register of Chinese Immigration (1887-1908).

The information in the database includes the date of registration, the fees which were paid, if the person was issued either a C1.5 or C1.6 (issued if they paid a head tax), the sex, the age, the date and place of birth, the occupation, when they arrived in Canada, how they arrived, and the name of the vessel or the railway.

Right now, the LAC has the Port of New Westminster Register online, but expects to have the complete General Registers of Chinese Registration, 1855 to 1949, this year.

Beverley J. Oda, Minister of Canadian Heritage and Status of Women, has travelled across the country to meet with Canadians of Chinese origin to obtain their opinions as to how the government should apologize, and what compensation should be paid them.

As Prime Minster Stephen Harper said in a recent speech, "the government will act in parliament to offer an apology for the Chinese head tax."

The website for the National Congress of Chinese Canadians (NCCC) is , and the Chinese Canadian National Council (CCNC) website is .

Source Information: Canadian Connections, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2006.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

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