Tuesday, December 13, 2022

C.I. certificates -- A Key to Unlocking The Past

There once existed a dizzying array of special identity documents – called C.I. certificates – that were issued by the Canadian Government exclusively to its Chinese residents. These pieces of paper were intended to control, contain, monitor and even intimidate this one community.
Scholars such as Catherine Clement is soon launching The Paper Trail to the 1923 Chinese Exclusion Act exhibition and all of the scans all the scans of all the C.I. Certificates will be housed in a public archive at UBC.   2023 is an important but unfortunate anniversary as it's the 100th year since the passing of the 1923 Chinese Immigration Act in Canada (more commonly known as the Chinese Exclusion Act) that set the stage for Chinese being barred from entry into Canada based solely on their country of origin.

If there are family members who were in Canada in 1923, they would have been required to register when the Chinese Exclusion Act passed.  The C.I.44 was issued to certify that an individual had registered under Section 18 of the Chinese Immigration Act of 1923. Registration was required for every person of Chinese origin in Canada. The certificate recorded detailed identifying information and bore a photo and related file numbers.  Files were kept of foreign-born Chinese in Vancouver, Victoria, and Ottawa.

However, the Chinese Immigration records currently stored at the LAC are somewhat messy.  According to my colleague June Chow, who is a highly respected activist and organizer in the community, the C.I9s do not appear to be complete. There are microfilm reels that are scattered, as the records were separated by port (Vancouver or Victoria) and by foreign-born versus native-born Chinese. Some reels are digitized while some are not; some records are indexed and some are not.  "It's quite a quagmire."

With the newly released CI.44 record set, the hope is that they can lead to finding other existing record sets.  This CI.44 record set documents the mass registration required of all Chinese living in Canada when the 1923 Exclusion amendment passed.   I have submitted an ATIP request to LAC to open those records.  I'm hopeful that my search for my ancestry can continue.


Unca Al said...

Hi Allan, just curious if there's been progress in the "review" happening regarding getting the C.I. 44's digitized & made available?

Allan said...

Unfortunately, my search is to no avail. The response from LAC: "We have carefully searched our records and were unsuccessful in identifying any records regarding your request. We regret that we are unable to respond more favourably to your request. I appreciate your patience while we had members of our Reference Team and our Government Archives Division review your request, but ultimately after consulting the relevant finding aids and research tools, they were unable to trace any additional records back to Choo Bing Fai."

It's quite tragic that years of records were accumulated to surveil its unwanted citizens, years later, these records seemingly disappear into thin air when it's requested. This is disappointing on two accounts. Firstly, the LAC wasn't able to locate a case file, although it is true that many government files were destroyed back in the day.

Second, it is telling in itself, that LAC has no process for dealing with such requests, or is not being transparent about the process. Since 2023 is the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Head Tax in Canada, it's very bittersweet.

"Please be advised that you are entitled to complain to the Information Commissioner concerning the processing of your request within 60 days after the day that you become aware that grounds for a complaint exist. In the event you decide to avail yourself of this right, your notice of complaint should be addressed to:

The Information Commissioner of Canada
30 Victoria Street, 7th Floor, Gatineau, Quebec, K1A 1H3"

I kid you not!

Robert said...

Hi Allan, how did you get the image of Choo Bing Fai's C.I.44 form?

In response to Unca Al, your question about "C.I.44's digitized & made available", in my discussions with an LAC analyst he said that the microfilm T-reels are in the queue to be digitized but with no target date. Heritage Canadiana is the organization contracted with doing the digitization. The forms are considered "open" access and have no restrictions. You can pay to get a copy of a specific form or visit LAC in Ottawa to examine them presumably for free.

Allan said...

Thanks Robert, I appreciate this. This is an important document.