Our Continued Role in Achieving Social Justice – 100 Years After the Chinese Exclusion Act

The Chinese Exclusion Act was passed 100 years ago today in 1923. At Yee Hong, we are reminded of how far we have come and how far there is still to go in achieving racial equality in Canada for Chinese Canadians, Asians and all people of diverse races and backgrounds. Some of the older adults Yee Hong serves experienced the negative effects of the Exclusion Act themselves, reminding us of the act’s lasting and far-reaching impacts.

It is our duty at Yee Hong and as Canadians to look back at our history and to build a society that prevents and addresses racism and discrimination.


About the Chinese Exclusion Act:

The Chinese Exclusion Act was a piece of legislation that banned Chinese immigrants from entering Canada. Calls for the complete cessation of Chinese immigration originated in British Columbia but received broad support from across Canada. During the postwar period, poor economic conditions were regularly blamed on visible minorities, leading to widespread anti-Chinese racism sentiment in Canada and in other countries [2].

Only four classes of Chinese immigrants were allowed in Canada: diplomats and government representatives; children born in Canada who had left for educational or other purposes; merchants as defined by the minister of immigration and colonization; and students attending university or college.

Ships transporting Chinese immigrants were only authorized to carry one Chinese immigrant for every 250 tonnes of its total weight. Chinese individuals already living Canada were required to register for photo identity documents and carry them around as evidence of their compliance with the regulations of the act. Even Canadian-born and naturalized Chinese individuals had to register [4]. Within workplaces, Chinese Canadians faced significant barriers to employment and advancement to leadership positions, which perpetuated a cycle of inequality.

The Chinese Exclusion Act was in effect for 24 years until 1947 when it was repealed by the Canadian government. It is estimated that between these years, less than 100 Chinese immigrants were accepted into Canada [5]. Other Chinese immigrants who had already settled in Canada were unable to bring their spouses and children to Canada, limiting the Chinese community’s natural growth [6].

Chinese immigrants were subject to strict regulations and surveillance. They also experienced overt and systemic racism, which led to negative effects on their health and well-being. Chinese Canadians also experienced significant challenges accessing health care, employment and housing, resulting in poorer health outcomes, poverty and social marginalization. Few statistics exist to quantify the impact of the Chinese Exclusion Act on Chinese Canadians, though recent research shows that Chinese Canadian elders continue to experience greater rates of social isolation and lower health outcomes [7].

Notwithstanding these significant hardships and the negative impacts of the Act on generations of Chinese Canadians, our Chinese Canadian community is proud of everything that we have contributed to make Canada the great nation that it is. I can’t help but wonder however, what progress and standing Chinese Canadians would have today in society if this Act did not exist?

Yee Hong was founded in 1987 as one of the first “Chinese Canadian nursing homes” in Toronto. Yee Hong provided culturally-appropriate care to Chinese older adults who did not have anywhere to go where they could communicate and have their needs met. Then and today, Yee Hong stands for social justice as it advocates for long-term care, community support services, home care and hospice/palliative care to more than 8,000 people on its wait lists across the Greater Toronto Area.

Please join us as we continue to advocate for social justice and with other diverse communities as part of our ongoing journey to improve equity, diversity and inclusion at Yee Hong and beyond.