Friday, March 9, 2012

Head tax activist dies in Vancouver at 105

Charlie Sang Now Quan was remembered Saturday as an ordinary man with extraordinary accomplishments, an unlikely activist who fought in his 90s to right the wrongs of Canada’s Chinese head tax and Exclusion Act.

Quan, who was one of the oldest remaining head tax payers, died Feb. 23 in Vancouver. He was 105.

Quan came to Canada in 1923 from Hoyping, China, and was forced to pay the $500 head tax — equivalent to about two years’ wages in China at the time.

Head tax activist Sid Tan, a close friend of Quan’s, remembered him as the only head tax survivor who actively spoke out against the legislation, demanding both an apology and monetary redress from the Canadian government.

“Charlie was the only head tax payer that would come out and say what he wanted, unequivocally,” said Tan, who gave a eulogy at Saturday’s service at Forest Lawn cemetery in Burnaby.

Quan told Tan that when he came to Canada, immigration officials forced him to stand naked for half an hour — “for really no reason at all.”

The Chinese Exclusion Act, which banned all Chinese immigration to Canada from 1923 to 1947, meant he would not see his wife and children until after it was repealed.

“Charlie was the guy that taught me what being a chink was,” Tan said. “That is a word that is used to describe the Chinese in the most surly, derogatory, disrespectful way, and Charlie didn’t like that.”

After meeting Tan in the late ’90s, Quan began actively calling for an apology and redress. He met with three prime ministers — Jean Chretien, Paul Martin and Stephen Harper — to plead his case.

When the federal government in 2006 issued an official apology and tax redress cheques of $20,000 to survivors and spouses, Quan was among the first to receive his.

“The next day, I went down to visit him and he had this incredibly big smile on his face,” Tan said. “He came up to me and he said, ‘Sid, I’m not a chink any more. I get my money back.’ ”

Friends and family celebrated with a feast.

Tan was predeceased by his wife, Own Yee Lee. He is survived by his daughter-in-law Chung Yit Quan, his two sons Gary and Wesley, six grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

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