In the House

Doug in 2nd reading of Bill 3, Discriminatory Provisions Repeal Act

I rise to take my place in second reading debate of Bill 3, the Discriminatory Provisions (Historical Wrongs) Repeal Act, and I'm very pleased to take my place. This is a good move by the entire chamber and the Legislature to be able to support this kind of bill.

The bill fulfils a recommendation from the Chinese Historical Wrongs Consultation Final Report and Recommendations. That was a report to ensure the repeal of discriminatory legislation that was passed by the Legislature and part of the Legislature debates in the past.

It repeals discriminatory provisions that remain technically in effect in a number of private acts. Although we aren't behaving in the way that these laws set out in a different time, they're still on the books and are, frankly, offensive and discriminatory and need to be addressed.

The actual act has its roots back in 2014, when the official opposition urged that the legislative record inform a full apology and reconciliation of historical wrongs against the Chinese-Canadian community and other racial minorities. The work of the member for Vancouver-Kingsway and the official opposition member for Surrey-Whalley and the then-member for Vancouver–Mount Pleasant, Jenny Kwan, went a long way to providing the basis for the act that we are debating today at second reading.

Having served with the former member for Vancouver–Mount Pleasant, Jenny Kwan, I have to really point out the amazing and thorough and persistent work she did in this area. Shortly after a unanimous consent was achieved in this House in May 2014 around an apology, around this racist legislation and racist views from the past, Jenny Kwan introduced, in 2015, a Racist Covenants Removal Act as part of the Land Title Statutes Amendment Act.

She was, again, trying to get at provisions that are in the legislation around the discrimination against Chinese and Japanese when it came to actually owning property and owning title. Those are still outstanding, as far as being in the record. But it just showed her determination and her persistence in trying to correct historical wrongs — wrongs that I think any fair-minded person would realize are against diversity and against race.

Some of them that we're considering today…. It was pointed out by the official opposition — Vancouver-Kingsway — back in 2014. He pointed out that we're talking about 89 separate bills and 49 resolutions of the B.C. Legislature passed from 1872 to 1928, not to mention a raft of other motions and efforts by private members to perpetuate this vision, this notion that B.C. was a white man's province, and if you weren't white, you weren't allowed. These are the words of the member for Vancouver-Kingsway back in January 2014, as reported in the media.

That's, in essence, what we're getting at today with this bill. The bill actually addresses 19 of those bills and resolutions and motions and efforts. When looking back through the ones that are being addressed in what we're considering today, I think of my official opposition spokesperson area portfolio, which is mainly focused primarily on mining and mineral exploration. 

Many of the acts that we're looking at today as discriminatory under Bill 3 have to do with mining in the province. If anyone has read the history of mining in B.C., you would know that many Chinese immigrants worked the claims, especially around Barkerville, in the early days. Once those claims were proven up, they then became subject to racist, discriminatory legislation that we're looking at today to make sure is repealed. That's still on the record. Much of the legislation that's being considered under this amendment, under Bill 3, has to do with actually specific private companies who discriminated against….

I think of some of them, and it reminds me again of the backbreaking work that many Chinese immigrants did in the gold fields, especially around Barkerville. Provisions such as this that we're looking at….

Back in 1881, a provision granted the exclusive right to make, erect and maintain a dam for the purposes of penning back the waters of Quesnel Lake and, also, to mine the bed of Quesnel River for a term of 20 years. This was a very mineral-rich, gold-rich area of the province.

The specific discriminatory clause in that was that the association, meaning the association that had the authority over this river bed and the dam, shall not sell rights or interests to Chinese. This is the kind of outright racist discrimination…. After people of Chinese origin and Chinese descent went into an area of the province and worked those claims, they were then virtually banned or prohibited from owning any of the interests in them.

Another one — this was around a lease of a portion of the bed of Findlay Creek and lands contiguous thereto for mining purposes. I don't know exactly which Findlay Creek we're talking about. There are a number of them in the northern part of the province. There are also some in the Kamloops area.

This granted a lease of 25 years to the lands near Findlay Creek for the purpose of mining. Yet again, in the discriminatory section of this act, the company shall not employ Chinese workers and the company shall not transfer the lands of interest to the Chinese. Again, not only banning employment but the transfer of lands. In many cases, the initial claim, the initial stake, was made by people of Chinese descent, and then once that lease came up for more permanent renewal, these laws discriminated against them actually owning it.

These are very, very…. What's the word I'm looking for there? They're discriminatory and racist — basically, laws that reflected the attitude of the time.

There's another piece of legislation that we're considering under Bill 3 around the right to prospect in the mouth of the Quesnel River and adjacent lands. Again, the discriminatory clause of that is that the company shall not employ Chinese or Japanese workers. That was 1895.

The Cariboo district. Another piece of legislation gives the company the right to mine lands in the Cariboo district for a period of 20 years. This is the Lightning Creek Gold Gravels and Drainage Co.. Again, the clause in the act is that the company shall not employ Chinese or Japanese workers.

So out of the 19 pieces of legislation that we're considering under this bill, there's about half of them that deal with mining. That just reflects the hard work that many Chinese immigrants and people of Chinese descent undertook on behalf of the province and undertook in the Barkerville area and around the province generally to help build and extract minerals from the ground that led to a lot of wealth being generated in the province.

The Speaker will know that the murals of this building, in the rotunda, outline the four areas of wealth that has been generated by this province from natural resources and were important in the formation of this province. There are four murals depicted. One is commercial fishing, one is commercial forestry, one is around agriculture, and the fourth is around mining. So it's very significant that mining laws were amended by previous legislatures to not only prohibit the employment of Chinese and Japanese Canadians when it came to actually working the claims that many of them had originally staked but also when it came to owning those claims as well.

I'm very happy to support this bill and, as I said before, especially from the aspect of my official opposition spokesperson portfolio, which is primarily focused on the mining and mineral exploration part of what we do here in the Legislature.

I want to also read back words that the minister responsible for this legislation, when she introduced it at second reading — some of the words that I think are very important that she put on the record in Hansard. This is in reference to the laws and some of the wording in the different sections that we're considering. "Repealing them through the proposed bill will not only encourage healing; it will clearly reflect British Columbia's refusal to accept any form of racism. And it will solidify our reputation as a place of diversity and acceptance, a place where people of all cultures are welcomed and embraced."

I really embrace those heartfelt words from the minister as she introduced second reading. As well, it reminds me of legislation generally that we consider — not from, necessarily, way back in the 1930s or previous to that but more recent legislation and provisions that lie within current legislation that also, I think, fall under what the minister is talking about here.

One that sticks in my mind because of the area I represent is the wording in many of the acts that the province has that reflects federal wording, and that's how an Indian is defined. Those are the words used in the legislation and what we're referring to as First Nations people in this province. The way that that is defined in legislation in this province is an Indian as defined under the federal Indian Act. Again, the Indian Act federally defines an Indian as someone who is a registered Indian — in other words, someone who has status. In other words, the federal government is defining who is an aboriginal person in this province by saying they have to be registered under status.

If we're really considering a refusal, as the minister's words were, to accept any form of racism and trying to solidify our reputation as a place of diversity and acceptance, as the minister said in second reading, there's more than simply the legislation we're looking at today. I'm very supportive of this legislation when it comes to the discriminatory provisions that have been listed against Chinese and Japanese and other people, but we also have to think about this in terms of First Nations people in the province.

I'm not sure if everybody understands how offensive it is to be defined as a First Nations person by the federal government as someone only who has status under the federal act. Many First Nations don't have status, yet they are aboriginal peoples of this province. I gave some examples before about how a First Nations person could lose their status — for instance, if they wanted to fight for this country in the Second World War. To do that, they had to give up their status and weren't able to get it back. In that instance, that person then was no longer an Indian in the views of the legislation, in the views of the federal government and, therefore, in the views of the provincial government, because we still have these kinds of discriminatory definitions on record.

I also know, and I've been told, of personal stories of Indians agents at the time. This is within living history — Indian agents who operated in the area I represent who were encouraged and given bonuses if they could get First Nations to give up their status. Of course, a person who has status is entitled to certain benefits from the federal government based on the fact of fiduciary obligation and legal and constitutional issues. But an Indian agent was rewarded by the federal government to get people to revoke their status. I know stories of young First Nations mothers who had children and were offered a washing machine and a dryer if they gave up their status. These are real stories.

Again, as we're considering Bill 3 and the uncontestable merits of this act that we're considering in Bill 3, we've also got to base that in the context and the reality of…. These days are not over in this province, not simply just with the kinds of revisions and repeals that we're talking about in this act. We really need to look with a sharp eye at other legislation that impacts people today.

In relation to that, some people would say: "Well, how else would you define what an Indian is unless you consider the federal legislation?" As I said, the provincial legislation refers directly to the federal legislation on this matter. Well, you would ask First Nations to provide a definition that's workable within the legislation.

I point out…. For instance, one First Nation in the area I represent, the Gitanyow — as well as the Gitxsan and the Wet'suwet'en and other First Nations in the area I represent — has very strong social, cultural and political governance systems within their structure. It's a very structured hereditary organization. It's alive, and it's well. It's based on the house group system, the wilp, and people understand it. In fact, with the Gitanyow, they have an agreement with the provincial government called the Gitanyow Lax'yip land use agreement where the wilp system, the hereditary system, is actually recognized as the decision-making system on their territory, on their unceded lands.

Here we have a workable solution around what many would call the racist language of federal legislation when it comes to a status Indian, which the current provincial legislation refers to and uses. On one hand, we have that. On the other hand, we have some recognition that the wilp system is alive and well. It's a true governance system, and that is being recognized by various ministries in the government as a legal authority to sign agreements when it comes to land use planning.

I think that's the way forward. Each house group, each wilp, has very well defined territory within the Gitanyow, within the Gitxsan and within the Wet'suwet'en, and there are laws around how that happens. Those laws are called the Adawaak and the ayookw. So there are well-known and well-established laws about how that land can be used and who can use that land. This government has recognized that within the Gitanyow Lax'yip land use plan.

I think what would be a wonderful follow-up to this bill is to look through legislation in this province that discriminates on the basis of race, especially when it comes to First Nations in this province, and consider how important the need for reconciliation is if we're going to move forward, and then look at those provisions, such as defining an Indian only as a person who has status under the definition of the federal act, and see where we can work a more realistic and less racist solution.

In the words, then, of the minister who introduced this bill — and I quote her again: "It will solidify our reputation as a place of diversity and acceptance and a place where people of all cultures are welcomed and embraced." I think that's the approach we need to take with legislation, not only like this, which is correcting historical wrongs when it comes to Chinese people in this province, but with First Nations as well.

With that, I will wrap up my comments on Bill 3. I'm in support of this bill and look forward to it setting a precedent where we can actually look at other legislation, when it comes to First Nations in this province, that has the same kind of discriminatory tone and discriminatory provisions.