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PM Justin Trudeau Rights An Historic Wrong In Apologizing For The Komagata Maru Racism

South Asian Community Says Thank You Mr. Trudeau And All Those Who Struggled To Get Justice For The Victims, Including Moe Sihota The First Indo-Canadian Politician To Raise The Apology Issue!

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pointed to his Defence Minister Harjit Singh Sajjan as an example of how far Canada has come since the 1914 Komagata Maru incident which until Wednesday had remained a black stain of Canada’s racist past. Sajjan received a thunderous applause and standing ovation from the House.

By R. Paul Dhillon

With News Files

OTTAWA — The Komagatu Maru arrived in 1914 in Vancouver’s harbour from Hong Kong with 376 passengers, mostly Sikhs from India. Only 24 were allowed to land, while the rest remained on board the ship for two months – victims of the era’s exclusionary laws.

The ship’s passengers and crew then returned to India, where 19 people were killed on its arrival in Calcutta in a skirmish with British soldiers. Others were jailed.

“Those passengers chose Canada. And when they arrived here, they were rejected,” said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, pointing out that rules forcing immigrants to arrive in a single continuous journey from their homeland were specifically targeted at people from countries like India.

“Canada cannot solely be blamed for every tragic mistake that occurred with the Komagata Maru and its passengers. But Canada’s government was, without question, responsible for the laws that prevented these passengers from immigrating peacefully and securely. For that, and for every regrettable consequence that followed, we are sorry,” Trudeau said.

Former NDP cabinet minister Moe Sihota, the first Indo-Canadian elected to the B.C. legislature, was the first Indo-Canadian politician to 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, reported Canadian Press.

“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.”

Former Conservative MP Gurmant Grewal put out a press release, saying he felt a sigh of accomplishing a mission since he was the first person to raise the issue in the House of Commons of an apology in October 1997 and a dozen times thereafter, demanding an apology from the Canadian government for the tragedy of Komagata Maru ship in 1914.

The federal NDP has long advocated that a respectful apology needs to be made in the House of Commons for this dark chapter of our history, said NDP MP Jenny Kwan, who on Feb 3 , carried on the hard work of former MP Jasbir Sandu by tabling my motion about this historical wrong.

“I would like to acknowledge the hard work of the Professor Mohan Singh Memorial Foundation of Canada for initiating the call for justice in 2012 and for not losing sight of the pre-election promise that the now Prime Minister made when he said he would make the apology within the first 90 days of his mandate,” Kwan said.

Rona Ambrose, Interim Leader of the Conservative Party of Canada and Leader of the Official Opposition, said: “While Canada is renowned for being warm and welcoming toward new Canadians, unfortunately, our past record isn’t perfect.  This is evident through the detention and turning away of the Komagata Maru in 1914.  It was an event that caused terrible hardship for its passengers. When the vessel arrived in Vancouver on May 23, 1914, most of the nearly 400 passengers aboard were immigrants from Punjab. They were Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims, and all British subjects, just like Canadians at the time. For many, it was an event that ended in tragedy.

“Today is a historic day for Canadians, as we recognize the Komagata Maru incident in the House of Commons with an apology. It is important that Canada acknowledges our wrongdoings of the past, as we have always stood up for social injustices at home and abroad.”

Columbia Premier Christy Clark was in Ottawa  to witness the apology concerning the racist policies that denied the Komagata Maru entry into Canada on May 23, 1914: “The Komagata Maru is an important part of both Canada’s and British Columbia’s history that we must never forget. In our great province and country, it is vital to remain steadfast in our goal to create an inclusive environment for all cultures that celebrates diversity and refuses to tolerate racism and hatred.

“In 2008, the B.C. legislature also issued a formal apology for the events of May 23, 1914, when 376 passengers of the Komagata Maru were denied entry to Canada. It is my honour, as premier, to attend the federal government’s formal apology ceremony, along with a delegation of fellow British Columbians.”

New Democrat John Horgan said: “This dark chapter of Canadian history came at a time when racist, exclusionary laws existed to deny immigrants of Asian origin and descent the right to settle in Canada. In 2007, the New Democrats under Jack Layton were the first party to call for an official apology from the Government of Canada in the House of Commons. The official apology in Ottawa serves as a reminder that although the Komagata Maru incident occurred 102 years ago, racism and anti-immigrant discrimination in many forms still exists today.”

Sukh Dhaliwal, Member of Parliament for Surrey-Newton, said he has spent the past decade since being elected in 2006 advocating for the government to correct this terrible wrong in Canadian history.  For Dhaliwal, it has been a hard fought journey to get to this point after years of being ignored by the previous Conservative government.

“I made my first statement in the House of Commons urging for a formal apology over nine years ago, so today marks the end of a long battle,” says Dhaliwal.  “Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s statement will allow for closure and healing to begin within Canada’s Punjabi community.

“We can still take away important lessons from an incident that happened over 100 years ago, which is why this apology has so much relevance today,” adds Dhaliwal.  “From the way we treat our Indigenous Peoples, to the introduction of a Bill on transgender rights, to how we can offer support to those in peril abroad, this Government understands the important role that the mistakes of the past can play in shaping a better future.”

Randeep Sarai, MP for Surrey-Centre, applauded the Government’s apology regarding the Komagata Maru incident.

“As of yesterday our government has created an Office of Human Rights, Freedoms, and Inclusion (OHRFI) so we can protect human rights at home and abroad, and today will be a historic day for the story of the Komagata Maru, for all the descendants of the passengers and their families, and for Canada. There will be no tolerance for racism, discrimination, and exclusion by this government and we are committed to carrying through on those values together”

“The Komagata Maru incident hits close to home for myself and my family- my wife’s great grandfather, Narang Singh, was a passenger on the Komagata Maru ship. Upon his return to India he was shot at and thankfully survived. If we had been passengers on the ship at the time, there are good chances that we too would have been turned away to return to an uncertain fate”

“The descendants of the Komagata Maru passengers and their families have been advocating for the Government to apologize in the House of Commons and in the official Hansard for many years now. The apology today fulfills a campaign promise made by Prime Minister Trudeau many months ago to the families of the descendants”

“It’s an honour to sit as a Member of Parliament in the very chambers that created, debated and enacted the laws that excluded and deliberately prevented our ancestors from trying to make Canada their home – it showcases how far Canada has come in the 102 years since”

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

Her great-great grandfather chartered the ship Komagata Maru, filled it with 376 Indian passengers, 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 South Asians 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, reported Canadian Press.

The community’s influence is also reflected in the corridors of power in Ottawa – 23 South Asians, 17 of them Sikh, were elected last fall.

Randhawa was in the public gallery of the Commons on Wednesday to watch the apology – something she said proves 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.”

The 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 Randhawa, it was an important distinction, reported Canadian Press.

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.

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