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Chinese Head-Tax: A Discriminatory Piece of Legislation

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Essay title: Chinese Head-Tax: A Discriminatory Piece of Legislation

Canada is a country built on immigration, mainly British at first, but from all over the world afterwards. Chinese immigration to Canada dates back to the period of the gold rush when they were recruited to mine. In the 1880's, the Chinese population increased after Canada joined the confederation and extra labour was required to build a cross-country railway. Due to the poor economy in China, many Chinese were willing to migrate and work for low wages. The Canadian government seized this opportunity and allowed the companies working on the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) to import Chinese immigrants. With a drive for completion a significant number of Chinese were recruited. In order to control this increase in immigration, the Canadian government implemented a policy imposing a head-tax on Chinese immigrants entering Canada. The head-tax was a discriminatory piece of legislation, which was enacted by the government due to public pressure, and which led to severe discrimination of the Chinese people, thus violating present day human rights codes.

During the 1880's, an immense number of Chinese entered the country to work on the Canadian Pacific Railway, and due to economic and geographic reasons, most settled in British Columbia (Anderson ,21). As a result, in order to control this immigration, the government of Canada enacted the 1885 Immigration Act. Embedded in the Act, was a $50 head-tax that would be imposed on Chinese migrants before they could be landed (Anderson ,22). Although the government tried to justify the reason for the head-tax to be one of generating revenue, it was clearly used to restrict the entry of Chinese migrants (Anderson ,25). If it in fact was a method for generating revenue, the government should have applied the policy to all people migrating to Canada, however, they only applied it to the Chinese. The number of Chinese immigrants entering the country in the years that the head-tax was in effect significantly decreased, and to add to that decrease, the government raised the tax to $100 in 1900 and then to $500 in 1905 (Anderson ,21). That amount of money during that period was equivalent to 2 years of work (Bright ,13), and as a result not many people could afford to enter Canada, especially families. This was direct discrimination as Chinese were mainly the only people that were being restricted entrance into Canada. This went against Canada's reputation as a humanitarian country and its notion of equality. Also, restricting people the right to migrate into a country on the basis of race was, as Canadian Senator Alexander Vidal said "utterly inconsistent with our professions as Christians and with the vaunted freedom we profess to cherish as a British people" (Anderson ,24)

The main reason why the government enacted the head-tax was to conform to the wishes of the public. When the Chinese first started migrating into Canada, they were accepted by Canadians since they were few in number, and they were hired to do physical labour and work in low-paying jobs that Canadians would not opt to do. However, as time passed, the Chinese population increased and more employers became interested in Chinese workers, as they could be exploited and paid wages that were much less than those of Canadians. By accepting the low-wages, the Chinese minorities were perceived as being dangerous to the Canadian economy. They were demonized as being a threat to the social order of the society, seeing that jobs were being displaced from whites to the Chinese. This was enough reason for Canadians to be worried, even though most Chinese were working on the CPR, they could easily replace Canadians in their jobs. In order to be safe, Canadians turned to the provincial government of British Columbia requesting intervention; however, it was dependent on the federal government. The local politicians tried to persuade the MPs to pass legislation that would put restrictions on Chinese, such as to "make it illegal to hire people to work on the construction of the CPR if their hair was greater than 5.5 inches in length" (Anderson ,22), however, the federal government benefited more from their labour on the CPR since they worked for low-wages, and at the pace they were working at, the CPR would be finished in a short period of time. As a result the federal government did not take action at first. By 1885, the CPR was completed and the demands for action increased, so in order to satisfy the public, the government enacted the Immigration Act which included the head-tax. During this period, the Chinese entered the city looking for other sources of employment; as they would accept low-wages, businesses were willing to hire them. Although the $50 head-tax slowed immigration, the public kept pushing the government to be stricter as there were too many Chinese in the city. Again the government conformed to the wishes of the

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