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Richmond MLA leads apology charge

Teresa Wat is planning a formal apology to the province’s Chinese community in the B.C. legislature this spring.  - Black Press
Teresa Wat is planning a formal apology to the province’s Chinese community in the B.C. legislature this spring.
— image credit: Black Press

A Richmond MLA is urging all British Columbians to have a say in a planned apology to the Chinese community.

“All British Columbians need to be a part of this important process if it is to have the currency it needs to be truly meaningful,” said Teresa Wat, Richmond Centre MLA and minister responsible for trade and multiculturalism, in an opinion piece released Thursday.

Wat said she wanted to make it clear everyone is welcome to attend a series of forums being held throughout B.C. to prepare for the formal apology, expected during the spring legislature session.

The consultations will help determine the wording and delivery of the apology for historical wrongs, but no further financial compensation is being considered.

“We can’t undo the past but we can move forward and leave a legacy for future generations by educating them about the past,” said Wat, adding the apology must receive full support in the Legislature and be “completely non-partisan.”

One of seven forums is planned for Richmond on Jan. 28 from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Radisson Hotel Vancouver Airport.

At a news conference in Vancouver Wednesday, the B.C. NDP released its own history of B.C.’s official efforts at racial discrimination, from denying the vote to Chinese and Indian immigrants in 1872 to efforts to restrict Asian immigration in the 1930s.

NDP leader Adrian Dix said the dossier of racist actions by B.C. legislators is intended to accompany an apology to people of Chinese descent that the provincial government plans to deliver in the legislature this spring.

“I think it’s important that we take this work seriously, and that it not be just a one-day apology, but that it leads to reconciliation,” he said.

The NDP package mostly duplicates material posted by the B.C. government on a dedicated website, www.embracebc.ca. The NDP records are at www.bcndpcaucus.ca.

Dix said the documents will be used for an educational event with B.C. students in February, to get their suggestions on how the modern provincial government should respond.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper made a formal apology to Chinese Canadians in 2006, and the federal government paid $20,000 each to families of immigrants who paid the “head tax” that was designed to deter Chinese immigration to Canada.

An apology to residents of Chinese descent was postponed last year after a document from Premier Christy Clark’s staff was leaked, describing a plan to use that and other ethnic appeals to build support for the B.C. Liberal Party.

Clark’s government issued a formal apology for the World War II-era internment of Japanese residents in May 2012.

—with files from Tom Fletcher

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