Desi Talk - page 19

May 27, 2016
– that’s all you need to know
By Ishaan Tharoor
n May 18, Canadian
Prime Minister Justin
Trudeau delivered a
formal apology in his
country’s House of
Commons for an incident that
took place more than a century
In mid-May 1914, the
Komagata Maru, a Japanese
steamship, arrived inVancouver
after leaving Hong Kong in early
April. On board were 376 pas-
sengers, most of whom were
Sikh migrants from what was
then British India. The ship was
not allowed to dock.
A 1908 Canadian law at the
time forbade arrivals in the
country who did not make a
“continuous journey” from their
nation of birth or citizenship. In
an era when hundreds of thou-
sands of white European immi-
grants were settling in Canada,
the law was seen as a measure
to stymie Indian arrivals
because it was practically
impossible to travel directly
from the Indian mainland to
North America.
In a challenge to the rules,
the Komagata Maru, chartered
by a Sikh businessman with ties
to an influential Sikh political
party in the Americas, steamed
across the Pacific. Its arrival in
Canada was anticipated by
doom-mongering local head-
lines, which warned of an
impending “Hindu invasion.”
Sir Richard McBride, then the
Conservative premier of British
Columbia, made clear the
explicit racism of Canada’s poli-
cies on the night the Komagata
Maru reached Vancouver.
“To admit Orientals in large
numbers would mean the end,
the extinction of the white peo-
ple,” he said. “And we always
have in mind the necessity of
keeping this a white man’s coun-
After an almost two-month
standoff, which also involved
feisty demonstrations by ethnic
Indians onVancouver’s shores,
the ship was eventually turned
away. When it reached Calcutta,
now Kolkata, in India, British
colonial authorities attempted
to seize suspected Sikh radicals
on board. The semi-riot that
ensued saw security forces kill at
least 19 passengers and arrest
many others.
The incident is a reminder,
particularly for Canada’s consid-
erable Sikh population, of the
widespread discrimination and
bigotry meted out on Indians
and other Asians on the west
coast of the Americas a century
ago. “The real value in the apol-
ogy lies in a re-examination,” Ali
Kazimi, an Indian-Canadian
academic who made a docu-
mentary on the Komagata Maru
story, told the Toronto Star. He
added that should lead to a
recognition “that Canada for the
first 100 years of its existence
had what was effectively a
‘White Canada’ policy.”
“We failed them utterly,”
Trudeau said in April when he
indicated his intentions to make
a formal apology. “As a nation,
we should never forget the prej-
udice suffered by the Sikh com-
munity at the hands of the
Canadian government of the
In 2006, Trudeau’s predeces-
sor, Conservative Prime
Minister Stephen Harper, made
a formal apology in the House of
Commons to the country’s
Chinese community for the dis-
criminatory “head tax” imposed
on Chinese immigrants who
came to Canada between 1885
and 1923. In 2008, Harper apol-
ogized in Parliament to the
country’s indigenous popula-
tions for an official government
policy that saw tens of thou-
sands of indigenous children
taken from their families and
resettled in boarding schools.
But an apologetic speech he
made in 2008 at a Sikh cultural
event in British Columbia didn’t
assuage Sikh demands for a
proper reckoning with the past,
which many argued must also
include a formal apology deliv-
ered in Parliament.
Trudeau, who defeated
Harper and the Conservatives in
elections last year and appoint-
ed the world’s most Sikh
Cabinet, promptly obliged.
Trudeau, perhaps more than
any other politician in the
Western hemisphere, has also
been particularly outspoken
about the need to welcome
Syrian refugees. Descendants of
those aboard the Komagata
Maru are expected to join him in
the House of Commons.
“It’s staggering,” Sukhi
Ghunam, whose great-grandfa-
ther was aboard the Komagata
Maru and never stepped foot in
Canada, told the Globe and
Mail. “I don’t think he ever
thought this moment would
– TheWashington Post
The Sad Story Behind Canada’s Formal Apology To Indian Immigrants
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