Chinese Immigration Act, 1923

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The Chinese Immigration Act, 1923, known today as the Chinese Exclusion Act,[1] (the Act) was an act passed by the Parliament of Canada, banning most forms of Chinese immigration to Canada. Immigration from most countries was controlled or restricted in some way, but only the Chinese were so completely prohibited from immigrating.


Before 1923, Chinese immigration was heavily controlled by the Chinese Immigration Act of 1885, which imposed a hefty head tax on all immigrants from China. After various members of the federal and some provincial governments (especially British Columbia) put pressure on the federal government to discourage Chinese immigration, the Chinese Immigration Act was passed, it went into effect on July 1, 1923. The Act banned Chinese immigrants from entering Canada except those under the following titles:

  • Diplomat
  • Foreign student
  • Under Article 9 of the Act, "Special circumstance" granted by the Minister of Immigration (This is the class that former Governor General Adrienne Clarkson's family fell under).
  • Merchant

The Act did not only apply to Chinese from China, but to ethnic Chinese with British nationality as well. Since Dominion Day coincided with the enforcement of the Chinese Immigration Act, Chinese-Canadians at the time referred to the anniversary of Confederation as "Humiliation Day" and refused to take any part in the celebration.

Because Canada became a signatory of the United Nations Charter of Human Rights following World War II and the Chinese Immigration Act was inconsistent with the UN charter, the Canadian Parliament repealed the act on May 14, 1947 (following the proclamation of the Canadian Citizenship Act 1946 on January 1, 1947). However, independent Chinese immigration to Canada came only after the liberalization of Canadian immigration policy in the 1960s under the governments of John Diefenbaker and Lester Pearson.


On June 22, 2006, the then Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologized in the House of Commons; the first phrase of the apology was spoken in Cantonese Chinese, the most frequently spoken Chinese language among Chinese immigrants. He announced that the survivors or their spouses will be paid approximately CA$20,000 in compensation for the head tax.

On May 15, 2014, the then Premier of British Columbia Christy Clark apologized in the Legislative Assembly; the apology motion was unanimously passed and aims to make amends for historic wrongs. Unlike the federal apology, no individual compensation was provided. However, CA$1 million was promised to be put into a legacy fund which would help legacy initiatives. The formal apology went through a three-month consultation period with various parties to help ensure that the apology was done properly.

On April 22, 2018, the then Mayor of Vancouver, British Columbia Gregor Robertson issued a formal public apology.[2]


The Act and its legacy have been the subject of at least three documentary films: Kenda Gee and Tom Radford's Lost Years: A People's Struggle for Justice (2011–2012), William Dere and Malcolm Guy's Moving the Mountain (1993) and Karen Cho's In the Shadow of Gold Mountain (2004).[3]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Chinese Canadian Recognition and Restitution Act". Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). House of Commons, Canada. 2005-04-18. p. 1100.
  2. ^ Pawson, Chad (Apr 22, 2018). "City of Vancouver formally apologizes to Chinese community for past discrimination". CBC News.
  3. ^ Karen Cho, writer/director (2004). In the Shadow of Gold Mountain (Documentary film). National Film Board of Canada.

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