Letter to the Editor: August 18th

Dear Editors,

The Faculty of Law has launched a community consultation regarding a name change for Sir John A. Macdonald Hall. The consultation process website details Macdonald’s controversial role in the treatment of Indigenous peoples but neglects his marginalization of Chinese immigrants to Canada. As an incoming JD student to Queen’s Law who has a Chinese background, I am writing this letter to remind people of the notorious Chinese Head Tax—a discriminatory policy implemented by the Canadian government during Macdonald’s tenure as Prime Minister.

 Sir John A. Macdonald is famous for being Canada’s first prime minister who formed the country through the Canadian Pacific Railway; by linking Eastern Canada and British Columbia, the railway guaranteed the latter’s entry into Confederation. During the construction of the railway, Macdonald brought in a large number of Chinese immigrants, who had to work harder but were paid less than non-Chinese workers. At least 600-800 of them died during work. In 1885, Macdonald enacted the Chinese Immigration Act, 1885 to restrict immigration from China by placing a head tax of $50 on almost all Chinese people entering Canada. The Chinese Head Tax was later increased to $100 in 1901 and further raised to $500 in 1903. Only immigrants from China were required to pay the head tax.

The Canadian government collected $23 million from the Chinese Head Tax, a huge amount of revenue at that time. It came at the expense of the Chinese-Canadian community. The Head Tax created institutional discrimination and fostered anti-Chinese sentiments, ultimately segregating Chinese people from mainstream society. The heavy financial burden presented by the Head Tax forced many Chinese men to leave their families in China, which caused a severe gender imbalance and proved damaging to their relationships. The physical and psychological suffering of the Chinese-Canadian community has been felt for generations.

In 1885, Sir Macdonald infamously claimed that the “Chinaman has no common interest with us”, “...has no British instincts or British feelings or aspirations.” Nevertheless, 135 years later, Chinese-Canadians have become Governor-General and Lieutenant Governors, members of parliament, renowned athletes, scholars, entrepreneurs, artists, and performers. Macdonald has been proven wrong.


Jiayi Zhang, JD Law ‘23

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