May 19, 2016
OTTAWA: Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delivered a formal apology for
the Komagata Maru incident in the House of Commons on May 18 as he had
declared at last month's Vaisakhi celebrations of the Sikhs in Ottawa.
“Today – while knowing that no words can fully erase the pain and suffering
experienced by the passengers – I offer a sincere apology on behalf of the
government for the laws in force at the time that allowed Canada to be indifferent
to the plight of the passengers of the Komagata Maru,” he said.
“The Komagata Maru incident is a stain on Canada’s past. But the history of our
country is one in which we constantly challenge ourselves, and each other, to
extend our personal definitions of who is a Canadian. We have learned, and will
continue to learn, from the mistakes of our past. We must make sure to never
repeat them,” Trudeau reflected.
On May 23, 1914, a steamship arrived in Vancouver carrying 376 passengers who
had hopes for a new life in Canada. After a long journey from India, the majority
of the passengers – who were of Sikh, Muslim and Hindu origin – were denied
entry into Canada due to the laws in existence at the time, he lamented in the
"Next month (on May 18, 2016), I will rise in the House to offer an apology to
Sikhs for the Komagata Maru incident," the Prime Minister had declared on April
11, 2016. He made the announcement coinciding with the Vaisakhi celebrations.
“As a nation, we should never forget the prejudice suffered by the Sikh community
at the hands of the Canadian government of the day. We should not – and we
will not... An apology made in the House of Commons will not erase the pain and
suffering of those who lived through that shameful experience. But an apology is
not only the appropriate action to take, it’s the right action to take, and the
House is the appropriate place for it to happen,” he said.
Trudeau had said he will stand in the House of Commons on May 18 to deliver the
This year marks the 102nd anniversary of the Komagata Maru incident. Passengers
mostly Sikhs numbering 376 arriving in Vancouver were refused entry into Canada
due to discriminatory laws of the time.
The Komagata Maru was a refitted Japanese steamship, previously used to
transport coal, that sailed from Hong Kong, then under the British Empire, to
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, in 1914, carrying 376 passengers from
Punjab, British India, mostly Sikhs. Of them 24 were admitted to Canada, but
others in the ship were forced to return to India. Two months the Komagata Maru
sat in the Vancouver harbour, before formally ordered out under the then exclusion
law of immigration. On return to Calcutta, the British Raj treated them as law-
breakers. some were arrested, some escaped and 19 were shot. The Komagata
Maru incident is cited as a case of discrimination in Canadian immigration laws.
It may also be recalled that in 2014, on the 100th anniversary of the Komagata
Maru incident, the monument in Harbour Green Park commemorating the incident
was vandalized. In another similar incident in 2013, a photo was posted online
showing someone urinating on the monument.