100th Anniversary of the Chinese Exclusion Act

June 23, 2023

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Before we begin, I would also like to acknowledge that we are gathered here on the unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinabe people who have lived on and cared for this land for thousands of years.

One hundred years ago a law anchored in discrimination and intolerance came into effect. This was the Chinese Exclusion Act. We are gathered today to acknowledge the harm it caused to families, communities and our country. Today, we add another chapter to Canada’s true history. In telling the stories of those who suffered as a result of racism, we are not rewriting the past, but giving a fuller picture of our history and our national narrative. It’s about being inclusive.

I understand the trauma caused by this act. It left a legacy of hurt and harm that takes time to repair. But I am here today to help in that process. And part of that is to acknowledge all that Chinese-Canadians have done—and still do—for Canada.

In short, they helped build this country.

They contribute locally, nationally and globally.

They are innovative and passionate.

And they are dedicated to public service, as exemplified by my predecessor, Adrienne Clarkson, who served as governor general from 1999 to 2005.

I know some watching this broadcast remember first-hand the impact the Chinese Exclusion Act had on their communities. I thank you for continuing to fight and to raise your voices against injustice and discrimination.

What we do today is a part of reconciliation. What we do is improving relationships between all Canadians.

In learning the truth of what happened and acknowledging the harm that was done, we make room for healing and for renewed relationships between Chinese-Canadians and other Canadians. It is an ongoing process to deepen understanding between peoples.

Many may not realize that the relationship between Indigenous peoples and those of Chinese descent is historically strong and long-standing. Chinese labourers built the railways and mines. Piece by piece, they helped build the infrastructure of this country. And Indigenous peoples supported them during this time, providing medicine and food.

They helped each other. 

When the law prevented Chinese businesses or restaurants from serving white Canadians, Indigenous peoples frequented these places. And it was Chinese people who gave Indigenous peoples jobs when no one else would.

These acts of kindness and support between communities of different backgrounds and beliefs are, I believe, the foundation of our modern Canada. A more inclusive Canada. A Canada focused on reconciliation.

We must remember this as Chinese-Canadians face renewed discrimination and racism. History is there to teach us lessons, and we should reject sentiments and acts of racism and discrimination that we see today. Last week, the Canadian population hit 40 million. That is 40 million stories of hope, determination, pride, strength, struggle, renewal, challenge and resilience. The story of Chinese-Canadians is part of our overarching narrative, and it’s a story more than a century in the making. They are an integral part of our country, and a part of who we are.

To everyone here in the Senate, to everyone watching across the country, let us all remember the mistakes of the past—learn from them—and let us all build a more inclusive future. Together. 

Thank you.