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Neighboring Canada enacts a Head Tax, forcing Chinese immigrants to pay a fee of $50 (a substantial amount at that time) to enter the country.

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The Most Discriminatory Laws in Canadian History

The Geary Act is amended to impose harsh restrictions on Chinese businessmen entering the US.
The same year, Parliament heard the report of the Royal Commission on Chinese Immigration, in which supporters of importing Chinese labour squared off against its opponents. At the same time, the Electoral Franchise Act was also making its way through Parliament; it passed with an important amendment forwarded by Macdonald that an eligible voter was "a male person, including an Indian, and excluding a person of Mongolian or Chinese race."

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Parliament acted quickly on the recommendations of the Royal Commission, in which one of two commissioners, Justice John Hamilton Gray, had suggested imposing a head tax of $10 on every Chinese man, woman or child disembarking from a ship. Lawmakers in Ottawa went further with the Chinese Immigration Act (1885) that imposed the first head tax of $50 on all Chinese entering Canada. The Act also limited ships carrying Chinese to one per every 50 tonnes displacement and established a system to collect the head taxes from a ship's captain before any crew or passengers could disembark. Further amendments to the Act in 1900 increased the head tax to $100, and in 1903 the amount was raised to $500.


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On July 1, 1923, as Canadians celebrated Dominion Day, Chinese and their families were dealt another blow by the federal government. The head tax was replaced by the Chinese Exclusion Act. For many years, Chinese Canadians referred to what later became known as Canada Day as "Humiliation Day."

The Chinese Exclusion Act, formally called the Chinese Immigration Act (1923), barred all but a few Chinese from entering Canada until it was repealed in 1947, largely due to the actions of Chinese Canadian civil rights activists, including some Canadian-born Chinese war veterans.

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Discrimination against the Chinese began early in Canada's history. While Chinese were present in Canada even before Confederation, in 1867, arriving in the thousands nearly a decade earlier for the Fraser Valley gold rush, they were characterized by the white population as undesirable. Though their reasons for making the journey from China to "Gold Mountain" were similar to those of non-Chinese explorers and settlers, they suffered legislated discrimination, especially around the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway.

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The Exclusion Act brought further hardship to Chinese living in Canada. Disenfranchised federally, and by some provinces and municipalities, they were also excluded from many businesses and professions, including law, accounting, engineering and pharmacy. Professional organizations at the time required members to be included on voter's lists to obtain certification.

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Family separation became a reality for many Chinese, enforcing the notion of a "bachelor society" of single, Chinese men living in isolation. Many were actually married and had families, but they were forced by the Exclusion Act to live alone in Canada. There are many stories of parents and children not ever living together, or even seeing each other during their lifetimes.

San Francisco Chinatown - The largest chinatown outside of Asia

Canada's first census in 1871 recorded the Chinese community in British Columbia at 1,548 - a mere fraction of the total provincial population of 594,207. As the economic activities of building a new nation boomed, so did the population, reaching 643,871 in 1891, with 9,129 identifying China as their country of birth.