"The real value in the apology lies in a re-examination"
May 18, 2016 8:45 AM   Subscribe

On July 23, 1914, the Komagata Maru and its passsengers were turned back from Canada and returned to India. Nineteen passengers would be killed as they disembarked there. On May 18, 2016, Canada's Prime Minister will rise in the House of Commons to deliver an apology, over 100 years in the making, for the Komagata Maru incident.

From the Komagata Maru digital archive, hosted by Simon Fraser University:
On May 23, 1914, a crowded ship from Hong Kong carrying 376 passengers, most being immigrants from Punjab, British India, arrived in Vancouver's Burrard Inlet on the west coast of the Dominion of Canada. The passengers, all British subjects, were challenging the Continuous Passage regulation, which stated that immigrants must "come from the country of their birth, or citizenship, by a continuous journey and on through tickets purchased before leaving the country of their birth, or citizenship." The regulation had been brought into force in 1908 in an effort to curb Indian immigration to Canada.

As a result, the Komagata Maru was denied docking by the authorities and only twenty returning residents, and the ship's doctor and his family were eventually granted admission to Canada. Following a two month stalemate, the ship was escorted out of the harbour by the Canadian military on July 23, 1914 and forced to sail back to Budge-Budge, India where nineteen of the passengers were killed by gunfire upon disembarking and many others imprisoned.

Komagata Maru timeline

The "Incident"

Passenger list

Continuous Journey, a film by Ali Kazimi.

Kazimi, on the eve of the apology:
One of the words he hopes not to hear is “incident.”

For Kazimi, a York University professor who has produced a film and written a book on the Komagata Maru, there was nothing incidental about Canada’s rejection of the ship’s passengers, most of them Sikhs from Punjab.

“My hope is that this won’t just be an apology about a so-called dark chapter that happened and therefore we bring closure to this and move on,” he told the Star.

“The real value in the apology lies in a re-examination” of Canada then and since, he said, “which gets us to recognizing that Canada for the first 100 years of its existence had what was effectively a ‘White Canada’ policy.”
posted by mandolin conspiracy (12 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
posted by srboisvert at 9:11 AM on May 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

“The real value in the apology lies in a re-examination” of Canada then and since, he said, “which gets us to recognizing that Canada for the first 100 years of its existence had what was effectively a ‘White Canada’ policy.”

Yes. This.

I love living in Vancouver with it's diversity and embrace of change. But this was not always the case. When my parents immigrated to Canada, and I was a small boy - Vancouver Chinatown was a city of lonely old Chinese men, who were barred from bringing over their wives and families. They would fawn over me - interacting with a Chinese kid - something very rare in those days.

The Head Tax, the Chinese Exclusion Act, the Komagata Maru, the internment of the Japanese during WWII - Canadian history is not exactly a shining beacon of racial tolerance. And yet... Canada has been able to move forward. In large part because the government understands what was done was wrong, and genuine apologies need to be made. I cannot tell you how healing it is for a society. Of course there still much more to be done (especially for Canada's Indigenous Peoples) - but these acts of apology are not just some sort of Political Correctness. The have real meaning in a diverse culture.
posted by helmutdog at 9:32 AM on May 18, 2016 [27 favorites]

Trudeau is really batting a thousand on so many issues. (Not all of them. Sideyeing you, TTIP and the goddamn surveillance bill).
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:37 AM on May 18, 2016 [3 favorites]

I hope that in addition to an apology funds are set aside to set something up for the community, in the same way that some settlement funds for the internment of Japanese-Canadians were used to pay for the new JCCC building in Toronto.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 10:24 AM on May 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

The ice rink in Kerrisdale is named after Cyclone Taylor, a hockey star who was also the immigration officer to turn away the Komagata Maru.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 11:13 AM on May 18, 2016

As a U.S. person, I'm not familiar with the story, and the linked site doesn't offer a short summary: can someone explain why the nineteen passengers were killed on return? Were they refugees from some particular persecution? What happened to the others?
posted by praemunire at 12:25 PM on May 18, 2016

Nice to see Ali's documentary posted on the Blue. It is worth checking out. I had a great conversation with Ali a few years ago about his work. We both lamented how the story of the Komagata Maru is not better known here and in India.
posted by Ashwagandha at 12:42 PM on May 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

The Komagata Maru was hired by Gurdit Singh, a Singaporean fisherman and businessman, who was also affiliated with the Ghadar Party, a Punjabi political organization in North America which sought relaxation of immigration restrictions to the US and Canada and Indian independence from British rule. One of these Canadian rules was the Continuous Journey regulation, which decreed that immigrant transports must make a single direct voyage from their port of origin to the destination Canadian port with no stops in between. This act was aimed primarily at Indians, who as nominal fellow subjects of the British Empire could not otherwise be subjected to the standard forms of immigration exclusion applied to other Asian peoples. Gurdit Singh's aim with the Komagata Maru voyage was to present a direct legal challenge to the Continuous Journey regulation and thus open the door for Indian and specifically Punjabi immigration to Canada, so as to escape the debilitating conditions of the British Raj's colonial reign in their own country.

They were, nonetheless, turned away after two months in port in Canada, the details of which can be found in the links above. On the ship's return to India, they were detained by the British military, as the British Raj accused them of being lawbreakers and political dissidents. There was an attempt to take them into custody, during which a riot broke out and 19 Indians were killed by the armed forces. Most of the remainder of the passengers were arrested, sent back to their villages, and confined for the duration of the First World War. Gurdit Singh lived in hiding for a number of years, then gave himself up at Mahatma Gandhi's request and was imprisoned for 5 years.
posted by Errant at 12:45 PM on May 18, 2016 [9 favorites]

Transcript of the apology.
posted by Errant at 12:50 PM on May 18, 2016 [5 favorites]

I think the apology was pretty good. Would have like the government to announce some action along with it. I thought the PM was going that way when he said we must choose the more compassionate path (maybe by accepting some more Syrian refugees) but I guess not.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 1:09 PM on May 18, 2016

posted by Errant at 1:19 PM on May 18, 2016

Thank you, Errant.
posted by praemunire at 1:20 PM on May 18, 2016

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