This past week marked a bittersweet anniversary for Chinese Canadians that struck a chord in my heart. Fifteen years ago Stephen Harper, our Prime Minister at the time, delivered an apology and compensation to victims of the Chinese “head tax.”

The impact of these exclusionary laws and practices is still felt today. A recently released report, Colour-Coded Retirement by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, shows that Chinese seniors have the lowest average income ($28,200) and highest poverty rate (25%) among all racialized groups. People born in Canada are much more likely to be financially secure compared to peers born abroad. That’s true for everyone, Chinese or not. But only 3% of Chinese-Canadian seniors were born in Canada and therefore most of the seniors we serve are less financially secure.

Ongoing acts of racism against Asian Canadians and the unearthing of heartbreaking tragedies in Indigenous communities clearly signal that our work must continue. We must continue to advocate for equity and social justice for all Canadians.

I have invited Yee Hong leaders to acknowledge and reflect on the impact of systemic racism and oppression, and what we can do to address and prevent these impact on future generations. Yee Hong’s new 2021-24 Strategic Plan includes objectives to advocate and promote cultural humility, increase access to culturally-appropriate services and care, and to embrace diversity, equity and inclusion.

Yee Hong was established in 1987 to address the void in culturally-appropriate services and care for seniors. Today, we serve over 15,000 seniors, caregivers and families from diverse backgrounds to “Live their lives to the fullest – with health, independence, and dignity.” Yee Hong supports seniors to have the highest quality of life. We remove barriers due to language, culture, poverty and other factors. Our broad continuum is our hallmark at Yee Hong, where we provide culturally-appropriate, person-centred services and care for seniors living in any setting.

Please take some time to reflect and consider what meaningful dialogue and action to prevent racism and oppression mean for you. We invite you to join us in this important journey.

Chinese Immigration Acts

Between 1885 and 1923, Chinese immigrants were required to pay a head tax to enter Canada. The tax was levied under the Chinese Immigration Act (1885).

It was the first legislation in Canadian history to exclude immigration on the basis of ethnic background. During the 38 years the tax was in effect, about 82,000 Chinese immigrants paid nearly $23 million to the federal government.

The Chinese were the only group that had to pay the head tax. The head tax was removed with the passing of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1923 which banned all Chinese immigrants with the exception of some merchants, diplomats and students, until its repeal 24 years later in 1947.

Institutional racism was perpetuated by the Chinese Immigration Act and more than 100 other policies. They denied Chinese people the right to vote, to practice law or medicine, to hold public office, to seek employment on public works, to own crown land, and other restrictions.

As a result, the Chinese community suffered low social standing which continues today. The impact on family life was severe: bringing family from China was too expensive, and the ratio of Chinese men to women in Canada became absurd – 28 to 1 in the 1911 Census.