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Trudeau apologises for Komagata Maru incident in House of Commons
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 House.

"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 full apology.

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.

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