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Aboard The Komagata Maru: above, a young Sardar. Below, Baba Gurdit Singh.

History

Canada’s Parliament Apologizes To Sikh-Canadians Today For
The 1914 Komagata Maru Incident

STEPHANIE LEVITZ

 

 

 






Nimrat Kaur Randhawa’s family first tried to get into Canada in 1914.

Her great-great grandfather chartered the ship Komagata Maru, filled it with 376 passengers from Punjab, nearly all of them Sikhs, and they sailed to the shores of British Columbia in search of a new life.

Fast forward more than a century and Canadians from the subcontinent, a majority of them Sikhs, are the single largest visible minority community in the country, with Statistics Canada estimating that they will represent one in every three people in the Toronto area alone by 2031.

The community’s influence is also reflected in the corridors of power in Ottawa - 17 Sikh MPS, were elected last fall, four of them now holding key cabinet posts.

It’s expected all will be on hand today (May 18, 2016)  for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s historic apology for what happened next with the Komagata Maru some 102 years ago.

Canadian officials refused to allow the passengers in, arguing the ship’s passengers were violating hastily cooked racist immigration laws, even though they were British subjects just like every other Canadian of the time ... And Canada was part of the British empire.

The ship was forced back to the subcontinent, where 19 were killed in a skirmish with British authorities and dozens of others were imprisoned or forced into hiding, including Nimrat’s great-great grandfather.

The family would continue their lives in Punjab, the dream of moving to Canada deferred for more than 70 years, until 2003 when - despite their family’s history — the family applied again to enter Canada and were accepted.

Nimrat will be in the public gallery of the Commons today to watch the apology -  something that she believes will prove that the Canada her family moved to is entirely different from the one that rejected them all those years ago.

“We can say that Canada is a multicultural community,” she said, “but when you start to see things like this happen, you realize that it actually is.”

Multiculturalism had only just become a buzzword in the 1980s, when Munmohan ‘Moe’ Singh Sihota became the first Sikh-Canadian (and for that matter, the first from the subcontinent) elected to the B.C. legislature and began his long, difficult crusade to correct the Komagata Maru injustice.

Sihota’s initial efforts were met with ridicule and neglect. It would take until 2008 for the B.C. government to formally apologize, and another eight years for Parliament to follow suit - proof positive, he said, of how diversity can shape politics.

“The face of Canada is somewhat better represented now in our Parliament than years before,” said Sihota.

“With that comes a collective understanding, sympathy and appreciation of the significance of these events and the need to apologize for them.”

The earlier Conservative government issued an apology of its own, but former prime minister Stephen Harper delivered it in B.C., not in the House of Commons. For Nimrat and all Sikh-Canadians, it was an important distinction.

The laws that excluded her family were drafted and debated in the House of Commons and so the apology should come from there, she said.

Harper’s decision not to apologize in the Commons was seen as a slight by Sikh-Canadians. The Liberal promise to do so was on Nimrat’s mind last fall as she prepared to cast a ballot for the first time in a Canadian election.

“It factored in,” she said. “It was time to give someone else a chance and see what they would do.”


[Courtesy: The Canadian Press. Edited for sikhchic.com]
May 18, 2016
 

Conversation about this article

1: Hitpal Singh  (New Zealand ), May 20, 2016, 3:12 AM.

As for India's genocidal crimes against the Sikhs in 1984 and in the decades since then, we don't need apologies; what we need is that the criminals (most of whom are still alive and identified) be brought to justice. Start with Badal and his colleagues who conspired with Indira Gandhi for the army assault on the Darbar Sahib ...

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