Historical Leadup to Japanese Internment

Anti-Asian sentiments had been lingering in Western Canada for quite some time. Canada’s first offense against Asian immigrants came in the form of the Chinese Immigration Act on July 20th, 1885, which imposed a $50 head tax on all new Chinese immigrants.1 Its purpose was to impose an “unequal financial burden” on Chinese immigrants, attempting to “limit new arrivals” and “[interfere] with the development of community services that responded to state-sanctioned racism.”2 In addition, Section 5 of the Chinese Immigration Act states that vessels carrying Chinese immigrants to Canada can have no more than one Chinese person per 50 tons of tonnage; any vessel carrying more than this “shall be liable to a penalty of fifty dollars for each person so carried in excess.”3 The Act was amended in 1900, raising the fee to $100, and restricting any stay outside of Canada to one year only.4 If they did not return with a year, they were required to pay the $100 fee again. Three years later, in 1903, the tax was increased fivefold.5 Estimates claim that in 1903, $500 was enough to purchase two houses in Montreal.6 For men who came to Canada for work, this increase made it difficult for them to bring their families over, causing family dislocations and separations. In total, 38 years of imposing the Head Tax allowed the Canadian government to amass $38 million, ironically enough to pay for the Western portion of the Canadian Pacific Railway.7 In 1923, the Act was amended to prohibit Chinese Immigration entirely.8

[1] “Taxing the Chinese,” Roadtojustice.ca, http://www.roadtojustice.ca/laws/chinese-head-tax.

[2] Ibid.


[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.