VANCOUVER, Feb. 8 (Xinhua) -- Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has reflected on discriminatory practices toward early Chinese settlers and called for stronger ties with China for the economic benefit of both countries.
Speaking at the Canada-China Chamber of Industry and Commerce's Chinese New Year celebration here Friday, the Canadian leader told the gathering of more than 400 people in suburban Burnaby that Canada "cannot change the past, but we can learn from it and build a better future together."
"When I think about the Canadian-Chinese community and how successful it is, how vibrant, how integral to Canadian life, it's hard to imagine just how difficult things were within the span of a lifetime," Harper said.
"I'm referring to the head tax and the exclusion of Chinese immigrants, shameful acts that produced extreme hardship and divided families. That's why in our first mandate, our government issued a full apology to the living victims of those misdeeds, along with symbolic compensation."
Starting in 1885, Chinese, under the so-called "guest worker policy," had to pay a 50 Canadian dollar head tax to be in the country, a levy not issued against any other nationality. The tax was eventually increased to 500 Canadian dollars.
In 1923, Canada enacted the Chinese Exclusion Act, effectively stopping Chinese immigration and preventing families from reuniting.
In 1947, the discriminatory practices were repealed and, with the enactment of the citizenship act, Chinese were given full Canadian citizenship.
After years of the Chinese-Canadian community seeking redress, in June 2006, Harper's ruling Conservative government formally apologized to the estimated 95,000 Chinese who had paid the tax and made a 20,000-Canadian-dollar payment to each of the survivors or their surviving spouse.
Harper, who was welcomed to the stage by Mark Roswell, the Canadian personality better known in China as Dashan, noted it was just over a year ago that he was last in China when almost two dozen business agreements were signed between Canadian and Chinese companies worth almost 3 billion Canadian dollars.
According to the economic section of the Canadian Embassy in Beijing, bilateral trade between the two countries reached a record 65 billion Canadian dollars in 2011, the most recent figures available.
"Let me just say that Asia looms large in Canada's economic future," Harper said. "It's why I made my second trip to China just a year ago ... and why our government works hard to forge deeper ties with that economy, which is already one of our largest trading partners." (1.0037 Canadian dollars = 1 U.S. dollar)