” … Not only were the Chinese hated and scorned by the common man, but the British Columbia legislature had created a system of legalized repression that invites comparison with American white-supremacism and South African apartheid. The province’s Chinese were not allowed to become citizens; they could not vote or hold office; they were barred from working in certain industries; they were forced to pay special levies and taxes; they had no right to enter white restaurants or bars if their owners sought to exclude them. Only the continual interference of the federal government - worried less about racism than about the usurpation of federal law-making powers - prevented the legislature from enacting even more discriminatory measures. Since the 1880’s, the “Oriental menace” had been the paranoid cornerstone of provincial politics, the one issue upon which Liberals, Conservatives, and Socialists found themselves loudly agreeing. Year and after year, the honourable members sought to outdo each other in denouncing Chinese and Japanese immigration, claiming that it would one day result in the Oriental domination of the economy and turn the West Coast into a “yellow preserve”.
Despite a $500 head tax on each newcomer, the Chinese continued to immigrate to Canada. As late as June, 1924, the arrival of three hundred immigrants in Victoria caused a new outbreak of public hysteria. (“Orientals Pour into British Columbia” fretted the Vancouver Daily Province.) Soon afterwards a member of the legislature proclaimed to the House that the Ku Klux Klan should be banned from Canada if it preached hatred against Catholics, Jews, and blacks, but he would welcome it with open arms if it promised “to free the province of Orientals”.
In July, 1924, the House of Commons delighted Western racists when it passed a bill requiring Orientals to carry registration cards. Across the country the Chinese held a “National Humiliation Day” and wore coloured tags as a sign of protest. In Winnipeg, where the city council insisted on a special $500 license for Oriental businesses, a Chinese writer complained: “We are compelled to go through a ‘criminal process’ registration. Similar provisions are not to be found in the statutes of any civilized country.”
Apologists for the federal government claimed that the Chinese were treated comparatively well in Canada; by contrast, they pointed to the sordid history of beatings and lynchings that characterized race relations in the United States. They did not, of course, mention the incidents of serious violence that had marred the Canadian tradition of genteel racism. In the anti-Oriental riots of 1887 several Vancouver Chinese were injured, and many residents of Chinatown remembered the day in September, 1907, when the Asiatic Exclusion League led 30,000 whites on a rampage through their community. “Vancouver, B.C.?” an editorial in the New York Evening Post has asked, then answered it’s own question: “Yes, 10,000 B.C.”
- Edward Starkins, Who Killed Janet Smith?, 1984.