Head Tax

Head Tax receipt for $500, circa 1919 (courtesy Government of Canada, Library and Archives Canada. R1206-178-X-E)

Welcome to the Vancouver Lexicon. Its purpose is to pin down the patois of the City of Vancouver by recording its toponyms, nicknames, slang terms, personalities, places, and other Van-centric things. Full A-Z here.

Head Tax | historical | A fee levied on incoming Chinese persons by the Canadian government. It was a core facet of the first Chinese Immigration Act of 1885, which was drawn up in Ottawa to appease racist politicians and xenophobic labour leaders in British Columbia. Even though it raised over $23 million (the tax rose from $50 per person in 1885 to $500 in 1903), its revenues were secondary to its true intent, which was to dissuade and prevent Chinese people from entering BC. The Head Tax was in place for 38 years before the Act was rewritten in 1923 to essentially ban all ethnic Chinese people from entering Canada. This legislated discrimination was on the books until 1947, when its blatantly racist purpose barred Canada from being a signatory to the United Nations’ Charter of Human Rights.

Usage: “Most of my younger friends think racism towards Chinese people is a new thing in BC. Then I tell them about the Head Tax…”

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