(ECNS) -- Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson formally apologized on Sunday for historic discrimination against residents of Chinese descent as part of a larger Chinatown Culture Day event.
Robertson, who read the apology in English, said it is an important day to come together, recognize wrongdoings and build a better future. The apology publicly acknowledged former discriminatory legislation, regulations and policies put in place by Vancouver City councils.
More than 500 people gathered at the Chinese Cultural Centre for the event, where former Vancouver City councilors Maggie Ip and Bill Yee read the apology in Cantonese and the Sze Yup dialect, as many of the Chinese mistreated in the past came from Taishan in South China's Guangdong Province.
Robertson said in a previous interview that delivering the apology among the community at a public event rather than at a government building would help convey the city's "intention to make sure that Chinese culture is supported and embraced."
The city formed an advisory group of Chinese and non-Chinese experts and community leaders between 2016 and 2017 to study policies that affected the Chinese community from 1886 to 1947. Last November, a report confirmed a number of discriminatory practices, including residents of Chinese descent being barred from voting until 1948 and from civic employment until 1952.
In the late 19th century, more than 15,000 Chinese came to Canada to build the most dangerous and difficult section of the Canadian Pacific Railway — more than 4,000 of them died completing the task. Once the railway was complete, the Canadian government of the time set in place a number of measures to stop the flow of immigrants from China to Canada.
On June 22, 2006, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said the Chinese head tax was a grave historical wrong that caused undue hardship on families. Amid calls for redress from overseas Chinese, the City of New Westminster, B.C., apologized on Sept. 20, 2010 for historic discrimination, making the municipality the first in Canada to offer such an apology to the community. In 2015, Chinese-Canadians received an apology from then-premier Christy Clark on behalf of British Columbia for more than 100 racist laws, regulations and policies of past B.C. governments.
Canadians of Chinese descent make up about five percent of the Canadian population, or about 1.77 million people. Vancouver and Toronto have almost 500,000 and 700,000 people of Chinese ethnic origin respectively.