Honourable senators, I rise today to pay tribute to James Pon, one of the last surviving head-tax payers, who passed away in March 2013 at the age of 95.
Last Saturday, I attended an event in Toronto in commemoration and celebration of his life and achievements. His family, friends and members of the public gathered to remember James and his family’s contributions to the country.
James’ grandfather was among a group of 17,000 workers who came from China to construct the Canadian Pacific Railway in the late 19th century. However, the government at the time imposed an unfair head tax upon Chinese immigrants. Subject to paying head tax, James’ family had to borrow money from relatives and could not afford James’ education. Despite such hardship, James demonstrated resilience and persistence while growing up in a small town in Alberta. He went on to have a successful career in the engineering field, working for major enterprises, including Atomic Energy of Canada Limited.
During World War II, James made an innovation that helped Canada’s aircraft industry and he received a Governor General’s award for that. His philanthropy and work in the community also earned him a Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal in 2002.
James was active in the community on many fronts, serving on many boards, including his time as board director of Mount Sinai Hospital. His tireless effort in bringing the head tax matter to light was recognized in 2006 in the House of Commons, when Prime Minister Harper issued an official apology to the Chinese community for the unfair treatment. James had worked for decades for this symbolic redress from the government and had travelled the country to tell the story to the young generation
I ask all honourable senators to join me in recognizing the contributions of James Pon and in offering our sincere condolences to his wife Vera and three children, Karen, Douglas and Louie.4104
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