Removal of the infamous ‘head tax’ didn’t please everyone

B.C., he predicted, would become "a colony and ultimately a possession of a united Orient".

It wasn’t so long ago that the federal government issued an apology and an offer of compensation to those Chinese Canadians who’d suffered because of the infamous $500 head tax.

As distasteful as this means of restricting immigration from the Orient is to us today, racial discrimination was for many years an integral part of the Canadian fabric and national policy.

Multiculturalism wasn’t even thought of, in December 1924, when the Hon. William Sloan, provincial secretary, minister of mines and MLA for Nanaimo, stood up in the Legislature and raged against the "Oriental menace."

Armed with what was described as a mass of historical and statistical information, he cited the "alarming growth" of the province’s Asiatic population in the previous 17 years. Even with severe restrictions imposed upon immigration by the federal government, he said the birth rate of those already in the province (1,080 Japanese and 3,680 Chinese babies in the previous three years) was alarming.

Why, in just 40 years, the B.C. Japanese population had doubled, and he had no hesitation in joining with Victoria MP Hayward in saying that the domestic situation was serious. Competition of "these foreign races was being felt in all lines of business. The shoe was beginning to pinch in all branches of the industrial and commercial life of the country, and now the agitation was being taken up by all and the chorus from the West almost might be considered unanimous."

What was needed, said Sloan, was a policy of, "No truck or trade with the foreigners in our midst". In his 37-year residence in B.C. he’d never worn a Chinese-laundered shirt. If more citizens could say the same, they wouldn’t be faced with the crisis they faced now! Two years before, he’d made a motion in the Legislature that further immigration from the Orient be completely prohibited, but the Dominion had, instead, imposed the head tax.

Worse than that, over the years, the Feds had disallowed the province’s racially restrictive legislation no fewer than 38 times. Now, even with Chinese immigration slowed to a trickle, continuing Japanese immigration and their combined birth rate was, "alarming."

Was British Columbia, with its 500,000-odd square miles of territory, rich in natural resources and its 500,000-population of something less than one person per square mile to permit this peaceful penetration to continue? If the State of California, with its 3,500,000 population, couldn’t assimilate the Japanese and Chinese immigrants, was it

safe for B.C., with its handful of white people, to attempt to do so? Seventeen years before to the day, he’d stood in the House of Commons as the member for Similkameen and predicted that, "time will see our Canadian possessions from the Rocky Mountains westward to the Pacific Ocean become a colony and ultimately a possession of a united Orient. It would require the united will of the people of British Columbia to master." He trusted they would "rise to the occasion with the same determination as had been witnessed in the Pacific coast states to the south."

So said the Hon. William Sloan, 90 years ago. Time has shown that his gift of prophecy was as empty as his logic and his humanity.