This Week in History
Humiliation Day Ended
For the week of Monday, May 1, 2017
On May 1, 1947, the Canadian Parliament met to debate repealing the Chinese Immigration Act of 1923. Just two weeks later the Act was repealed, enfranchising Chinese-Canadians across the country. This Act was part of a period of anti-Chinese and anti-Asian sentiment in Canada that began in the 1880s during the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway.
After the First World War, poor economic conditions in British Columbia led to public accusations that Chinese immigrants were taking jobs away from Canadian citizens. Despite a $500 tax for each Chinese immigrant coming to Canada, there was a push for even more restrictions. This resulted in the passage of the Chinese Immigration Act on July 1, 1923. The Act outraged Chinese Canadians who began referring to Dominion Day (now Canada Day) as Humiliation Day, and refused to take part in celebrations until the Act’s repeal.
Under the Act, only Chinese diplomats and government representatives, children born in Canada who left for educational purposes, merchants, and university students were permitted into the country. Vessels could only transport one Chinese immigrant per 250 tons of the ship’s weight, and could only dock at Victoria or Vancouver. Chinese-Canadians were required to have photo identification to prove they were citizens. With these restrictions, Chinese immigration shrank to only 15 people between 1923 and 1946.
Chinese Canadian contributions during the Second World War led to a shift in public opinion. They raised money for both Canada's and China’s war efforts on the home front, and joined the armed forces to fight for Canada. Chinese Canadians were fundamental to Operation Oblivion, which sent them deep behind enemy lines to gather intelligence in the Pacific theatre.
Upon joining the United Nations, Canada faced increased pressure to repeal the Chinese Immigration Act since it conflicted with the UN charter’s non-discriminatory policies. The Act’s repeal on May 14, 1947, gave Chinese Canadians the right to vote in federal elections and marked the beginning of a move toward a non-discriminatory immigration system.
Vancouver’s Chinatown and Victoria’s Chinatown are designated national historic sites. To learn more read Vancouver’s Chinatown: a vibrant neighbourhood, and Victoria’s Chinatown: Not Enough Women in the This Week in History archives.
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