The Komagata Maru Apology

Komagata maru - Incredible Opinions

Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada has showed once again that Canada is inclusive. There could be a delay in an apology but there is one for sure. He formally apologized from Sikh community in the House of Commons for the infamous Komagata Maru incident on May 18, 2016. The apology came after 102 years of the Komagata Maru incident which was the symbol of discriminatory and exclusion laws in Canada designed to keep out immigrants of only Asian origin.

All you need to know about Komagata Maru

Komagata Maru was a Japanese steamship which sailed from Hong Kong (then a part of British Empire), through China, Japan and finally to Vancouver, Canada carrying 376 passengers mostly from Punjab, British India in 1914.

April 4, 1914 

The Komagata Maru departed from Hong Kong with 376 passengers under Hong Kong based businessman Baba Gurdit Singh. Baba Gurdit Singh knew that the Canadian immigration laws were discriminatory but he wanted to help his countrymen whose previous journeys to Canada had been blocked.  

May 23, 1914

The Komagata Maru arrived in Burrard Inlet, on the west coast of Dominion of Canada (the formal name of Canada was Dominion of Canada in 1914). The Komagata Maru passengers were denied entry to Vancouver. They had nowhere else to go and decided to stay at the docks until they were allowed an entry. 

July 19, 1914

Komagata Maru stayed at the docks for 2 months. 125 Vancouver police officers and 35 special immigration agents attempted to board the ship and were beaten back. Thirty immigrants were injured while protesting against the prejudiced immigration law.

July 23, 1914

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

September 27, 1914

Komagata Maru arrived in Calcutta and were stopped by a British gunboat.

September 29, 1914

When the alleged leaders started to resist the arrest, gunfire from the British gun boat started to break out and at least 19 people were killed and others were put behind the bars.

October 21, 1914

Bhai Mewa Singh shoots William Charles Hopkinson, a British immigration official, at the Court House.

January 11, 1915

Bhai Mewa Singh is hanged in New Westminster on January 11.

Canadian Immigration Policy and the ill treatment of Indian passengers in 1914

Canada had very strict immigration policies at that time. The most cumbersome requirement was the Continuous Passage regulation. It stated that immigrants must "come from the country of their birth, or citizenship, by a continuous journey" and using tickets "purchased before leaving the country of their birth or citizenship". Since all the passengers of Komagata Maru were travelling to Canada through China so it was considered illegal for them to immigrate to Canada but there was no direct steamship between Calcutta and Canada. These kind of strict immigration laws were clearly put in place to control the flow of Asian immigrants in the early 20th century who were coming to Canada for seeking employment. On the other hand, white and Christian migrants from northern Europe and America were always welcomed.

The Sikh passengers argued and protested that they should be allowed to immigrate because they were citizens of British India and should be allowed to move to another commonwealth nation like Canada without any problem. They were not allowed to step a foot on Canadian land instead and were sent back in the same ship Komagata Maru to Calcutta. When the ship arrived in Calcutta, British rule saw the passengers as dangerous political agitators and shot dead 19 of them, some of them were imprisoned.

Justin Trudeau's apology

The descendants of Komagata Maru incident had been asking for a formal apology from the Canadian Government since long time. It finally came through Justin Trudeau who apparently apologized for Canadian Government's discriminatory behaviour against Sikhs in Komagata Maru incident and indicated that Canada will never let any community barred from immigrating based on their race, religion or country. Since British were equally responsible for the killings of the Indians aboard Komagata Maru, when should the apology from them be expected?