One Hundred and Two Years Late: A Full Apology For Discrimination

102 years past the Komagata Maru incident where the government of the day turned away more than 300 Indians, 24 Muslims, and 12 Hindus, all British subjects seeking a better life in Canada.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will offer an apology in the House of Commons on May 18, almost 102 years after the Komagata Maru incident, where the government of the day turned away more than 300 Indians, 24 Muslims, and 12 Hindus, all British subjects seeking a better life in Canada.

The Komagata Maru incident involved a Japanese steamship, Komagata Maru, that sailed from Hong Kong through Shanghai, China, to Yokohama, Japan, and then to Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, in 1914, carrying 376 passengers from Punjab, British India. Only 24 of them were admitted to Canada, but the 352 other passengers were not allowed to land in Canada, and the ship was forced to return to India. Eventually, the boat sailed back to Calcutta where it was met by police, and 20 people were killed as they disembarked, while others were jailed. Many of those aboard the Komagata Maru were Sikhs. This was one of several incidents in the history of early 20th century involving exclusion laws in both Canada and the United States designed to keep out immigrants of only Asian origin.

In 2008, then-prime minister Stephen Harper apologized to the Sikh community in Surrey, B.C. But as soon as he left the stage members of the Sikh community rushed to the podium denouncing the apology and said they wanted it made on the floor of the House of Commons. “The apology was unacceptable,” said Jaswinder Singh Toor, president of The Descendants of Komagata Maru Society.

The Sikh community will get its wish next month, Trudeau announced in Ottawa.

“As a nation, we should never forget the prejudice suffered by the Sikh community at the hands of the Canadian government of the day. We should not and we will not,” he said.

“That is why, next month, on May 18th, I will stand in the House of Commons and offer a full apology for the Komagata Maru incident.”

Trudeau called the laws that allowed the Canadian government to turn the Komagata Maru away discriminatory.

“The passengers of the Komagata Maru, like millions of immigrants to Canada since, were seeking refuge, and better lives for their families. With so much to contribute to their new home, they chose Canada and we failed them utterly,” he said.

Discriminatory laws

In 1910, an order-in-council was passed which stated immigrants coming to Canada must do so by continuous journey. As a result, Gurdit Singh chartered the Japanese ship Komagata Maru and sold tickets for a continuous journey from the Punjab state to Canada.

The passengers argued a 1908 provision that required all “Asiatic” immigrants to have $200 did not apply to them because they were British subjects. At the time, India was still a colony.

That July, the government ordered the ship to sail but the passengers took over the ship and refused to leave.

On July 23, under the guns of the naval cruiser HMCS Rainbow, the Komagata Maru was escorted out to sea and returned to India.

SOURCE: Canadian Broadcasting Corp.