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B.C.'s racist past bared on Tuesday

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This City of Kelowna sign in City Park references the once-thriving Chinese community that was based around the first few blocks of Leon Avenue.
In the early 1900s, this newspaper routinely referred to Chinese people as Chinks. When they made the news, it was usually in reference to opium use and illegal gambling dens.
Leading business people of the day called for the government to take measures preventing Orientals from owning land. "It is undesirable that Asiatics should be allowed to form a large and permanent part of the population," the Okanagan United Fruit Growers declared in December 1913.
Nine of the 10 Kelowna people who died of Spanish Flu in 1919 were of Chinese descent, the disease spreading rapidly through the cramped quarters in which they were segregated. "The only Chinamen allowed on the streets will be those wearing a white linen tag," indicating they were disease-free, the paper reported.
In 1913, a Kelowna business called The White Restaurant opened its doors. The "cooking will be done only by white labour," the owners boasted.
These local practices simply reflected what was going on around the province. More than 100 pieces of racist and discriminatory legislation were passed against the Chinese by the legislature in Victoria in the early 1900s.
On Tuesday night, a provincial panel will convene in Kelowna to gather public input for a proposed public apology to members of the Chinese-Canadian community.
"This was a very black part of our province's history, and it needs to be acknowledged," Tun Wong, a 72-year-old West Kelowna man said Sunday.
"People should know more about the racist attitudes that prevailed then as a way of helping to ensure it never happens again," said Wong, who intends on
addressing the panel during its Kelowna hearing at the Best Western Inn from 5 to 7 p.m.
Measures taken by the provincial government prohibited Chinese immigrants from holding certain jobs, voting, running for office or enjoying other benefits of full citizenship.
"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 Teresa Wat, minister of multiculturalism.
Wong's family was the only one in Kelowna's Chinatown district until the late 1940s. Although people of Chinese descent made up about 15 per cent of the city's population before the First World War, almost all of them were single men who could not afford to bring their wives or families to Canada because of the $500 Head Tax applied to all migrants from China and, later, the Exclusion Act.
"Once they came to Canada, many of these men never saw their wives or families ever again," Wong said. "By and large, they lived a harsh and lonely existence."
Unlike some other members of the Chinese-Canadian community, Wong doesn't believe the government should pay any compensation to living descendants of people who were victims of racist and discriminatory provincial legislation.
"How much would be paid, and who would it be paid to?" he said. "Just acknowledging and apologizing for these actions, that's what's more important to me."

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