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Government response to the 1907 anti-Asian riots

Overview of the set

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Primary sources

1. Aftermath of the anti-Asian riots |



2. Telegram from Mr. Kishie to Sir Wilfrid Laurier |



3. Chinese reaction to the riots |



4. Police action during the riots |



5. Testimony regarding number of convictions |



6. Riots expected, according to British officials |

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7. Japanese demand repayment |

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8. Fair compensation for the Japanese? |

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9. Testimony of Chinese merchant submitting damage expenses |



10. Appendix from the Royal Commission |



11. Statement from Chinese lawyer to Mackenzie King |


Secondary sources

 

1. Precautionary measures |

 

2. Consequences of the riot |

   

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Student tasks

Question: Was the response of the various levels of government (city of Vancouver, British Columbia provincial government and federal government) to the 1907 riots appropriate? 

When answering this question, you may want to consider the following.

  • Did the government have any prior knowledge that a riot might occur and did they do everything in its power to prevent the riot from happening? 
  • Did the government respond quickly to the riot and use all of its resources to stop the riot once it started? 
  • Did the government fairly compensate people for the damages caused by the riot? 
  • Did the government take appropriate action to make sure that anti-Asian riots would not happen again? 


Teacher notes

The following notes on topics addressed in the History Docs are intended to enhance teachers' understanding of the sources and ability to guide students in interpreting them.

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Historical context for teachers

Asian discrimination in Canada

  • Despite the fact that Chinese and Japanese people had been in North America for as long as many European immigrants, many North Americans prior to World War II expected, and sometimes demanded, that Asian immigration be limited. Many people of European descent considered themselves to be more Canadian than Chinese people who had settled in Canada long before them. 
  • By the late 1800s and early 1900s, anti-Asian sentiment was strong in British Columbia because the demand for Japanese and Chinese workers decreased when the labour shortage ended, and because Japanese and Chinese workers were willing to work for lower wages than white workers.
  • Throughout British Columbia’s early history, many white citizens tried to stop Asian immigration because they believed that Asian immigrants could not be assimilated into mainstream society. White citizens also blamed Asian workers for taking jobs away from white workers because they were willing to do dangerous and dirty work for long hours with little pay. 
  • The British Columbia provincial government and the federal government both passed anti-Asian immigration laws in the late 1800s. 
  • In 1874, the British Columbia government disenfranchised (took away the voting rights of) the Chinese. In 1895, the provincial government disenfranchised the Japanese.
  • After the Canadian Pacific Railway was completed in 1885, the federal government introduced the Act to Restrict and Regulate Chinese Immigration into Canada that required Chinese people entering Canada to pay a head tax of $50 per person. Chinese immigrants were the only ethnic group to be charged a head tax that was later increased to $100 in 1902 and $500 in 1903. 
  • At the same time, employers in the fishing, logging and railway sectors, eager to increase their profits, pressured the British Columbia provincial government and the federal government to ensure that they would have continued access to cheaper Asian workers. 

 Anti-Asian riot

  • In 1907, Canada entered a recession and many white workers in British Columbia were out of work. There was a great deal of anger and hostility toward Asian immigrants because unemployed whites felt that Asian workers were taking job opportunities away from them. Adding to the tension was the fact that more than 9000 Japanese immigrants entered Canada from 1906 to 1908. 
  • The Asiatic Exclusion League (AEL) was originally formed by union leaders and trade councils in San Francisco in 1905, and in Vancouver in 1907, to prevent Asian people from immigrating to either Canada or the United States. 
  • On September 7, 1907, the AEL organized a parade in Vancouver that began at the Cambie Grounds at Georgia and Beatty streets and ended at city hall. Once at city hall, politicians, labour leaders and leading citizens delivered speeches and burned an effigy of Lieutenant-Governor Robert Dunsmuir, who employed many Asians in his coal mines and would not endorse the Immigration Act that aimed to limit Asian immigration.
  • At 9:00 p.m., the agitated crowd moved from city hall to the alleys of Chinatown, where they began rioting. The 24 police officers on duty could do little to contain the riot that included an estimated 9000 people. Reportedly, three arrests were made and one person was fined $50 for assaulting a police sergeant. The crowd repeatedly freed others who were arrested. 
  • Eyewitness Kishiro Morikawa, the Japanese Consul, believed that officers were as racist as the general population and had been ordered to defend Japantown, not Chinatown. One of his staff observed three policemen doing nothing to stop a rioter from damaging Chinese property. 
  • After seeing the rioters move through Chinatown, the Japanese community armed themselves with guns, knives and bricks and built barricades at the entrance to Japantown. The rioters attacked in waves, assaulting residents and destroying property; however, Japanese residents were able to push the rioters back, using their fists and rudimentary weapons. 
  • Although English language news claimed there were no fatalities, a Taiwanese news article reported that four white men were killed by residents. 
  • Calm was finally restored in the early morning hours of September 8, 1907. During the days following the riot, police and armed residents guarded Japantown. On the evening of September 9, rioters once again tried to attack, but were dispersed by the police. A fire was set to the Japanese Language School, but was quickly put out.

Consequences of the riot

  • Later that year, the federal government conducted a Royal Commission (an investigation that looks into issues of public importance) to investigate the causes of the riot and to consider claims of compensation for damages. 
  • The federal government appointed future prime minister William Lyon Mackenzie King, the Deputy Minister of Labour, to conduct the Royal Commission on the riots, which became known as the King Commission. King travelled to Vancouver and began a series of hearings and interviews with victims of the riot, witnesses and local government officials.
  • The King Commission report identified recent large increases in Asian immigration to Canada as the main cause of the riot. The report recommended that Ottawa severely limit immigration from Japan.
  • In 1908, the governments of Japan and Canada negotiated the Hayashi-Lemieux “Gentlemen’s Agreement” that restricted Japanese immigration to 400 male immigrants and domestic servants per year. 
  • In 1923, the federal government passed the Chinese Exclusion Act that prevented the immigration of anyone from China.