WSO Welcomes Komagata Maru Apology- Calls for Inclusion in School Curricula

Ottawa (May 18, 2016):  The World Sikh Organization of Canada welcomes today’s apology by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on behalf of the Government of Canada for the Canadian Government’s decision in 1914 to refuse entry to the Komagata Maru.  The ship, carrying 376 mostly Sikh passengers from Punjab, British India was turned away after two months of being refused entry at the Vancouver ports.  The WSO has reached out to provincial minsters of education across Canada, calling for the Komagata Maru tragedy and the racist immigration policy behind the incident to be made part of school curricula.

The Komagata Maru and its passengers, despite being British subjects, were denied entry due to racist immigration controls established by the Canadian government to exclude non-European immigrants.  In response to race riots and “anti-Asiatic” parades, driven by fears that Canada would be overrun by Asian immigration, the Canadian government passed an Order in Council in 1908 prohibiting immigration of individuals who did not come to Canada via a continuous journey from their country of birth or citizenship.  In effect, this law prohibited the entry of all immigrants from India, as a continuous voyage was not possible without a stopover. Other Orders in Council also prohibited the landing of Asian immigrants that did not possess $200 upon arrival.  At the same time, Canada was welcoming record levels of European immigration.

While Prime Minister Trudeau’s apology in the House of Commons recognizes the “dark chapter” the Komagata Maru incident as well as the exclusionary and racist immigration laws represent in Canadian history, it is important that this chapter is neither forgotten nor ignored.  The WSO has written to provincial ministers calling for the Komagata Maru incident to be included in school curricula across the country.

WSO President Mukhbir Singh said today, “Prime Minster Trudeau’s apology in the House of Commons today is a historic moment for Canadian Sikhs and recognizes the dark chapter the Komagata Maru tragedy marks in Canada’s history.  While Canada is today a model of multiculturalism and inclusivity, it is important for us to understand that it was not always.   We believe it is essential that the Komagata Maru incident, as well as the anti-immigrant sentiment that fueled this incident, be made a part of our provincial education curricula. It is important that we as Canadians teach our youngsters to confront issues such as racism and xenophobia and learning about the Komagata Maru incident is an excellent opportunity to do so.”

Formally apologizing for the Komagata Maru tragedy will shape a better future

By Sukh Dhaliwal, Member of Parliament for Surrey-Newton

It has been a long journey since I was first elected in 2006 to get to the historic Komagata Maru apology delivered by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the House of Commons on Wednesday.  I first rose in the House in 2007 to urge for such a statement, only to spend several years being ignored and dismissed by the former Conservative government.

It was frustrating to watch how the issue was treated as a political tool to attract votes.  There were dozens of meetings with the Professor Mohan Singh Memorial Foundation, several Gurdwaras and other community organizations, and annual speeches made at the Mela Gadri Babian Da, but never any action taken.

Prime Minister Trudeau’s approach to the tragedy is very different.  The formal apology is being delivered to correct an historical wrong, and to continue to improve in the way that we govern.

More importantly, this simple act is part of the Government of Canada’s understanding that examining our past can help to build a better future.

Whether it is adopting recommendations from the Reconciliation Commission of Canada regarding the terrible abuse within the Indian residential school system, or officially issuing an apology in the House of Commons for the Komagata Maru incident, the Liberal government believes in making changes from our past mistakes.

This kind of recognition not only offers atonement, but also charts a different way that we as a government designs, implements and reviews policy.  By always placing a priority on basic human rights, equality and inclusion, every piece of legislation we introduce will be guided by the lessons learned.

From a personal standpoint, the apology marks one of the highlights of my time as a Member of Parliament.  This has been an important issue in Surrey-Newton and amongst thousands of my constituents since the first day that I was sworn in.  I have been aggressive in my attempts to advance towards the recognition that was just achieved, and I never gave up hope that we would one day get to this point.

I am also very proud to be a part of a government that does not run away from taking responsibility to bring closure to the Punjabi community within Canada, and across the world.

In a moment like this, I am reminded why I so passionately believe in public service.

Prime Minister delivers formal Komagata Maru apology in House of Commons

The Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, today delivered a formal statement of apology in the House of Commons for the Komagata Maru incident.

On May 23, 1914, a steamship arrived in Vancouver carrying 376 passengers who had hopes for a new life in Canada. After a long journey from India, the majority of the passengers – who were of Sikh, Muslim, and Hindu origin – were denied entry into Canada due to the laws in existence at the time.

Today, the Prime Minister delivered a formal apology in front of descendants of those directly affected by the incident. He emphasized that Canada’s rich diversity is a source of strength for our country and reaffirmed the government’s commitment to upholding the values – including multiculturalism – enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

“Today – while knowing that no words can fully erase the pain and suffering experienced by the passengers – I offer a sincere apology on behalf of the government for the laws in force at the time that allowed Canada to be indifferent to the plight of the passengers of the Komagata Maru.” said Rt. Hon. Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada

“The Komagata Maru incident is a stain on Canada’s past. But the history of our country is one in which we constantly challenge ourselves, and each other, to extend our personal definitions of who is a Canadian. We have learned, and will continue to learn, from the mistakes of our past. We must make sure to never repeat them,” said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the House of  Commons  while delivering the formal apology for the Komagata Maru incident.

Trudeau to formally apologize for 1914 Komagata Maru tragedy

OTTAWA—Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will offer a full apology in the House of Commons next month for a decision by the government in 1914 to turn away a ship carrying hundreds of South Asian immigrants.

The apology for the Komagata Maru incident will be delivered on May 18, nearly 102 years after the ship from Hong Kong arrived off Vancouver only to have almost all of its 376 passengers — nearly all Sikhs — denied entry due to the immigration laws at the time.

The ship was eventually sent to Kolkata and least 19 people were killed in an ensuing skirmish with British soldiers, while others were jailed.

“We failed them utterly,” Trudeau told a packed room Monday on Parliament Hill at a celebration marking the Sikh holiday of Vaisakhi.

“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, we will not.”

Former prime minister Stephen Harper apologized for the incident in 2008 at an event in British Columbia, but members of Canada’s Sikh community have long said an apology should be offered formally in Parliament.

The Komagata Maru in Vancouver's English Bay in May 1914. Stephen Harper apologized for the tragedy at an event in 2008, but Canada's Sikh community wanted to see it recognized officially in Parliament.


The Komagata Maru in Vancouver’s English Bay in May 1914. Stephen Harper apologized for the tragedy at an event in 2008, but Canada’s Sikh community wanted to see it recognized officially in Parliament.

The Liberals have been calling since 2008 for an apology in the Commons and Trudeau repeated that pledge during the election campaign.

Trudeau said Monday while an apology will not ease the pain and suffering of those who lived through the experience, it is the right thing to do and the House of Commons the right place for it to be delivered.

“It was in the House of Commons that the law that prevented the passengers from disembarking were first passed and so it is fitting that the government should apologize there on behalf of all Canadians.”

There are 17 Sikh members of Parliament, including Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan.

Prior to being elected, Sajjan was the commanding officer of the B.C. military regiment Duke of Connaught’s Own, which over a century ago had been involved in the government’s efforts to turn back the ship.

British Columbia’s government celebrates South Asian contributions to B.C.’s shared history

VICTORIA – The South Asian contribution to the province’s and the
country’s shared history will be on permanent display in the B.C.
legislature after today’s announcement by Premier Christy Clark that an
historically symbolic flag would be installed inside the Parliament

The 1874 version of the Red Ensign flag is one of the first Canadian
flags to display the emblem of British Columbia after the province joined
Confederation in 1871.

The flag was presented to the province by Steven Purewal, founder of
Indus Media Foundation Canada, in honour of the contributions made to
British Columbia, Canada, and the British Crown by the Punjabi community.

It is dedicated to Kesur Singh, a Risaldar Major Captain in the British
Indian Army who arrived in B.C. as one of Canada’s first Sikh immigrants.
It is the version of the Canadian flag that would have flown over
government buildings when he arrived.

“With Remembrance Day two weeks away, this is a meaningful time to
commemorate our history – and better understand how we got to today,”
said Premier Clark. “The prosperous, free, and multicultural province
we’re so fortunate to call home was built through the hard work and
sacrifice of people who came from halfway around the world in search of a
better life.”

Many early South Asian Sikh pioneers were veterans of colonial Punjabi
regiments that had served the Crown since 1849, when Punjab became part
of the British Empire.

They came to Canada looking for a better life, but faced difficult
conditions. In 1914, the Komagata Maru ship carrying 376 passengers from
India was turned away from the port in Vancouver. In 2008, the B.C.
Legislature formal apologized for the incident.

During the First World War Punjabi soldiers were fighting shoulder-to-
shoulder with Canadians. They suffered enormous losses – and in death,
100 years after the war, they lie beside their Canadian brothers-in-arms
in 17 cemeteries scattered across French and Belgian Flanders.

“This centennial is an opportunity to commemorate those who lost their
lives, but also to engage today’s youth and diverse communities about the
significance of the sacrifices that were made,” said Purewal. “During
WWI, nearly 500,000 Punjabis fought in a joint cause with Canada, despite
the discriminatory conditions prevailing at the time — their service and
notion of duty was truly remarkable.”

Premier Clark and Purewal were joined by members of Surrey-based 3300
British Columbia Regiment (Bhai Kanhaiya) Royal Canadian Army Cadet
Corps, along with leaders from B.C.’s Sikh communities.

The history and contributions of the South Asian communities to B.C. are
part of the province’s new K-12 curriculum being phased in over the next
three years.

“We’re not just talking about history, we’re talking about today,” said
Premier Clark. “B.C. is a place where we recognize and embrace the
contributions of all diverse communities, including South Asians,
including First Nations, including Europeans – and celebrate the new
generation moving forward.”

Quick Facts:

* B.C. is the most ethnically diverse province in Canada and welcomes
nearly 40,000 new immigrants every year.

* Sikhs are the largest South Asian ethnic group in Canada.

* Established in 2013, the 3300 RCACC is the first cadet corps in Canada
to embrace the Sikh culture and contribution to Canada’s military history
as part of their corps identity.

* One-quarter of the people in B.C. are self-identified visible

* Since 1990, B.C.’s Multicultural Advisory Council has promoted cross-
cultural understanding and supports the British Columbia Multicultural

Learn More:

Indus Media Foundation Canada: