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B.C. legislation to repeal historical wrongs against Chinese-Canadians

British Columbia Premier Christy Clark (right) and Teresa Wat, Minister of International Trade and Minister Responsible for the Asia Pacific Strategy and Multiculturalism, arrive to speak at Vancouver International Airport in Richmond, B.C., on Nov. 21, 2013. The B.C. government will repeal 19 pieces of historical legislation that contain discriminatory provisions – acts passed between 1881 and 1930 that forbid employing Chinese or Japanese people.

DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

The B.C. government will repeal 19 pieces of historical legislation that contain discriminatory provisions – acts passed between 1881 and 1930 that forbid employing Chinese or Japanese people.

The province introduced legislation to remove the discriminatory laws on Tuesday. It identified the acts during a year-long review that stemmed from the province's pledge to address historical wrongs against Chinese-Canadians.

The province said the "obscure" provisions could not have been used to discriminate against British Columbians today, but members of an advisory group that works with the government and the Chinese-Canadian community on historical wrongs said taking them off the books is an important step.

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Queenie Choo, a member of the Legacy Initiatives Advisory Council and chief executive officer of social-service provider Success B.C., said the mistakes of the past should not be repeated.

In an interview, she said removing the provisions is simply about "doing the right thing."

"It is important to ensure that what has been done wrong is corrected," she said.

Henry Yu, co-chair of the advisory council and an associate professor of history at the University of British Columbia, said removing the provisions has a symbolic importance.

He said he was not surprised to learn of the discriminatory provisions.

"To me, I think it was a useful way in the present to look back and to really realize the kinds of things that were done in the name of white supremacy," he said in an interview.

Prof. Yu said many of the laws were used as "tools" to cast blame. He drew a parallel to the 15-per-cent tax on foreign home buyers the B.C. government introduced last year.

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He said certain tools, like discriminatory laws, are used over and over again.

George Ing, a third member of the advisory council and a veteran, in a statement wrote "many people were affected by racist laws in this province, but the legislation review and the new legislation to repeal discriminatory content are key steps in the healing process."

The laws that will be repealed applied to individual entities or companies, and covered such activity as the erecting of a dam or creation of a lighting company. They were not as broad as public acts, according to a report released by the province.

Nearly all of them discriminated through employment, although some forbid selling rights or interests in businesses to Chinese people.

Between 1881 and 1890, the provisions targeted people of Chinese descent specifically, according to the report. After that, the provisions also discriminated against Japanese workers and others from Asia.

The province said more than 1,950 pieces of legislation were reviewed after the province's formal apology in 2014 for past treatment of Chinese-Canadians.

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"Some of the legislation discovered during the legislative review is reflective of a dark time in British Columbia's history," Teresa Wat, B.C.'s Minister of Multiculturalism, wrote in a statement.

"This review and subsequent legislation provides an opportunity to support the healing process and acknowledge the tremendous contributions Chinese-Canadians and other ethnic groups have made to the social and economic development of this province."

Naomi Yamamoto, B.C.'s Minister of State for Emergency Preparedness, said she is "incredibly proud to once again stand beside my colleagues as action is taken to remove discrimination from laws enacted during a shameful period in British Columbia's historical narrative."

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