New Westminster sets example for province
The province could learn a thing or two from New Westminster about how to go about reconciling for past wrongdoing says the head of Canadians for Reconciliation Society.
Bill Chu, the organization's chair, held a press conference at city hall as a response to the recent BC Liberal memo suggesting apologies for past transgressions would help attract votes from ethnic groups.
Chu said the current and any future provincial government could learn from the process New Westminster has undergone since he approached the city in 2009. He chose New West because the city has the longest relationship with the Chinese community than any other in the area since it is where the first Chinese settlement was established and was home to two Chinatowns over the years.
"We have a very strong relationship, but not always a good relationship," said Coun. Jaimie McEvoy who was serving as acting mayor.
With several Asian media outlets in attendance, Chu and McEvoy pointed out New Westminster did a comprehensive report on past discriminatory practices, held a public forum on the subject and also initiated consultation meetings that resulted in about 50 suggestions being made. Then, on Sept. 20, 2010, the city issued a public apology and has been following that up with "ongoing work on redressing the past and working toward the future," said McEvoy.
He noted the city has commissioned mosaic tiles in the Downtown area celebrating the Chinese community as well as providing Chinese-language documents in its museum and archives.
Deciding what to do with the former site of the Chinese Benevolent Association at 824 Agnes St.—which it donated in 1977 to the city and is currently used an off-leash dog park—is still in the works.
"The city remains committed to working with Chinese groups," said McEvoy.
Chu said reconciliation should be about the process, not the quick fix.
"This is really critical to British Columbians and this country," said Chu. "The quick fix really degrades our population and we shouldn't be targeted and manipulated every four years. It is time for all of us to realize that reconciliation is for more than just one day."
Chu said an apology from the B.C. government for the Chinese head tax, as proposed in the infamous email memo, would backfire because there was a lot of discriminatory legislation passed in the province over the years.
"This is not about one quick apology, but to build upon the many layers that the city took," said Chu. "It's a journey we all have to work together on. We are not asking for anything outrageous. We are asking for things based on wisdom."
When asked why he felt the need to call the press conference, Chu replied, "It's important because the city has done something right, something that has set a standard with the rest of the country… This is an opportunity for the country to be inspired to seek something better than just an apology."
Chu said when the memo hit the fan, the media called him for his opinion and he kept saying what happened in New Westminster should also be done by the province.
"In our case we cannot go city to city to city and ask for the same process as New Westminster when it could be accomplished in one step," he said.