Canadian Wrongs: The Historical Context of the Chinese Head Tax
Upon their arrival in British Columbia, Chinese migrants experienced intense racism. Chinese migrants were often the scapegoats for social problems. For instance, Chinese migrants were blamed during economic downturns and for taking away jobs from white Canadians.3 More importantly, the Chinese were viewed as a “backward people who could never learn to live like white Canadians.”3 Chinese migrants were stereotyped as being thieves, and were said to carry immoral habits such as smoking opium that “threatened Canada’s wellbeing.”3 According to Library and Archives Canada, “racism against Chinese and other immigrant groups… as well as against First Nations peoples, were expressions of a powerful belief in white superiority.”3
The Law in-Depth
Through the Chinese Immigration Act of 1885, the Canadian government implemented a head tax on Chinese individuals. Chinese individuals entering Canada were forced to pay a head tax of $50. The Canadian government intended this tax to significantly curtail Chinese immigration, because it was presumed that the Chinese were too poor to pay.3 Upon paying the head tax, the government would track Chinese individuals by registering them in the General Registers of Chinese Immigration.
The head tax only reduced immigration from China for a number of years. By 1903, the Canadian government increased the head tax from $50 to $500 in an effort to decrease immigration further. This increased head tax was also only effective for a number of years, as Chinese immigration to Canada increased in 1908. In 1923, the anti-Chinese attitudes in Canada reached a new plateau, as the Canadian government amended the Chinese Immigration Act to completely halt Chinese immigration outside of a small class of individuals. It was not until 1948 that the Chinese Immigration Act was repealed.