April 30 to mark Vietnamese ‘boat people’ acceptance in Canada
April 27, 2015
By Kim Mackrael, Globe and Mail |
There were cheers and applause as Stephen Harper stepped on stage at a Mississauga convention centre in early February, facing a room filled with South Vietnamese flags and surrounded by Conservative parliamentarians.
Parliament was considering a new proposal, Mr. Harper told the crowd at the Vietnamese Lunar New Year celebration. Known as the Journey to Freedom Day Act, the proposed legislation would establish April 30 as a day to commemorate the acceptance of some 60,000 Vietnamese “boat people” in Canada after the end of the Vietnam War.
“It is a story that more Canadians should know,” Mr. Harper said.
That bill came into effect last Thursday, to the delight of some Vietnamese-Canadian associations and the frustration of the government of Vietnam. On Friday, Vietnam’s foreign ministry summoned the Canadian ambassador in Hanoi and publicly denounced the bill as a “backward step” in relations between the two countries.
Ottawa’s support for the controversial legislation was widely viewed as an effort to win support from the members of Canada’s 220,000-strong Vietnamese community, many of whom left their home country as refugees after South Vietnam was defeated. Such a strategy could become increasingly apparent as the Conservatives look to secure votes from immigrant communities in Canada ahead of an expected fall election.
Much of the bill’s controversy concerns its choice of date and the language that was first used to describe it. Senator Thanh Hai Ngo introduced the bill as the Black April Day Act and said it was meant to mark the day South Vietnam fell “under the power of an authoritarian and oppressive communist regime.”
The title was changed to the Journey to Freedom Day, and references to the communist regime were removed, but Hanoi still opposes the choice of April 30. Vietnam’s government has said that April 30 – the day in 1975 when Saigon fell – should be celebrated as marking the end of the war and the beginning of reconciliation between North and South Vietnam.
Julie Nguyen, director of the Canada-Vietnam Trade Council, told a House of Commons committee earlier this month the bill could divide the Vietnamese community and impose a history that favours the former South Vietnam regime. She and other groups have called for the date to be changed to July 27, to coincide with the day in 1979 when the first planeload of Vietnamese refugees landed in Toronto.