PM apologizes for the Chinese head tax of the 19th and early 20th centuries, offering compensation packages of $20,000 to surviving payers of the tax and commits $35 million to cultural education programs in a recent speech.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper offered a formal apology for the head tax that was imposed on Chinese immigrants to Canada in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in front of an audience of head tax payers and their descendents in the House of Commons recently.

The 19th century saw the gold rush of British Columbia and the construction of the Canadian Railway which brought an influx of Chinese immigrants to Canada in search of a better life. At the turn of the 20th century the Canadian government imposed a head tax to limit Chinese immigration. The head tax remained until 1923 when Canada banned Chinese immigration. This ban was not lifted until 1947.

Immigrants suffered from massive debt incurred by the tax as it reached a high cost of $500 (the equivalent of two years wages for the average worker at that time).The cost disabled many family members from ever being able to migrate to Canada, forcing younge laborers to leave parents, wives and even children behind.

Harper apologized for the tax imposed upon Chinese immigrants, noting that it was a racist and unjust product of a very different time. He gave a commitment for a better future for all Canadians stating, "We have a collective responsibility to build a country base firmly on the notion of equality of opportunity, regardless of one’s race or ethnic origin."

The government will be offering a "symbolic payment" of $20,000 to any surviving payers of the tax and their spouses. No compensation will be given to children or other descendents.

The government has added $10 million to the $25 million put aside by the previous Liberal government to finance cultural community improvement projects and a "national recognition" education program aimed at acknowledging the impact of past immigration restrictions on ethno-cultural communities.

Other cultural communities, including Italian, Ukrainian and Sikh, who have suffered from unjust immigration laws in Canada's past will also see a contribution from this $35 million dollar cultural education fund.

Summarized from various articles Globe and Mail