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Canada Komagata Maru Incident To Be Commemorated

Jan 6, 2005
Metro-Vancouver, B.C., Canada
Komagata Maru incident to be commemorated
By DENISE RYAN, Vancouver Sun - December 12, 2010 - 1:02 PM

"VANCOUVER -- Proud members of Vancouver’s Sikh community gathered today at the Ross Street Temple to applaud the announcement that the federal government will provide funding for two projects to commemorate the Komagata Maru incident.

“This should have happened a long time ago,” said Jason Kenney, Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism.

Kenney made the announcement of the historical recognition project funding at the Ross Street Temple in Vancouver. The Khalsa Diwan Society will receive $82,500 to work with the Vancouver Parks Board to design and locate a memorial to the Komagata Maru.

An additional grant of $104,000 will provide seed money to develop a museum dedicated to the incident. The museum will be located in an existing building on the site of the Ross Street Temple.

Members of the Khalsa Diwan Society were on hand to hear the announcement. The Khalsa Diwan Society was directly involved in community response to the Komagata Maru incident 96 years ago.

In 1914, 376 Indian immigrants were denied the right to disembark from the Komagata Maru after it was prevented from docking in Vancouver’s harbour.

A two-month stand-off followed, during which the passengers were denied supplies, including food.

Eventually the ship was forced to return to India, where it came under fire from British soldiers.

Approximately 20 passengers were killed.

Jack Uppal, past president of the Khalsa Diwan Society said the society has been working for at least 15 years to raise awareness and seek redress for the incident. “This is very important to newcomers and members of our community to finally have this injustice redressed.”

Uppal still recalls the stories his father told him about smuggling food and water on to the ship in an effort to keep the immigrants alive. “Those people were British subjects, and they didn’t even let them off the ship.”

Mohinder Gill, also a prominent member of the Vancouver Sikh community said, “A great injustice was done. Now the government has recognized and apologized for the injustice and offered our community a chance to come together.”

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

source: http://www.{censored}/life/Komagata+Maru+incident+commemorated/3965971/story.html


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Jan 6, 2005
Metro-Vancouver, B.C., Canada
Acknowledge immigrant struggles,
don’t build them memorials

Adrian MacNair - December 13, 2010 – 10:50 am - The National Post

Almost a century after the fact and long after everybody associated with the incident is dead, the federal government is throwing some money at a project in lieu of an official apology.

The infamous 1914 Komagata Maru incident, in which 376 passengers from India were turned away from Canada after spending months at sea, prompted an unofficial apology by Prime Minister Stephen Harper while visiting a Vancouver suburb back in August of 2008.

At the time, the Sikh community in Surrey wasn’t satisfied with the apology one bit. You see, the Chinese had gotten their apology in the House of Commons for the Head Tax Act and Sikhs wanted the same.

No further apology was issued in Parliament, but the federal Conservatives have made sudden and unexpected restitution by funding two Vancouver-area projects that will commemorate the incident. Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney made the announcement in a written statement on Sunday.

"Prime Minister Harper was the first prime minister in Canadian history to recognize the tragic nature of the Komagata Maru incident. He is also the first prime minister to apologize to the Indo-Canadian community for it."

The government will give $82,500 and $104,000 to Vancouver’s Khalsa Diwan Society to create a monument and a museum dedicated to the Komagata Maru. But why now?

This is one of those government moves I just don’t understand. Nobody in the Sikh community was asking for a museum and a monument. They wanted an apology in the House of Commons, which was refused.

The problem I have with the Komagata Maru incident being commemorated is that I’m not sure it’s the black mark on Canadian history we’re constantly told it is.

Certainly the historical record shows that racism was prevalent in 1914 and even the local newspapers warned of the coming peril of undesirable tides of immigrants arriving on the shores of British Columbia. Attitudes were vastly different a century ago and we’ve acknowledged that immigration decisions were often made based on race.

But Canada has never surrendered its sovereign right to chose whom it allows inside its borders. A decision was made to disallow the Komagata Maru ship in 1914 based on the laws of the day.

The Canadian government was within its legal rights — even if the policy is deemed racist by today’s standards — to turn the ship around based on the passage of an order-in-council restriction of immigrants who, "in the opinion of the Minister of the Interior" did not "come from the country of their birth or citizenship by a continuous journey and or through tickets purchased before leaving their country of their birth or nationality."

A similar agreement now exists between the United States and Canada in which refugees cannot claim status in one country if he or she has already passed through the other.

The Komagata Maru incident was hardly the fault of Canada alone. It was a test of Gurdit Singh Sandhu, a wealthy fisherman in Singapore who was fully aware of exclusion laws in Canada prohibiting Punjabis (and other groups). The Komagata Maru, not unlike the flotilla to Gaza, was a means of challenging the laws of Canada. This was therefore a political, rather than a humanitarian, mission from the outset.

Canada faced a nearly identical challenge this year when the unseaworthy Thai freighter MV Sun Sea took 490 Tamils from Thailand to Vancouver, circumventing several other legitimate asylum destinations along the way. Canada was chosen, it has since been said by Canada’s former high commissioner to Sri Lanka Martin Collacott, because we’re "an easy mark."

It is fortunate that we allowed these 490 Tamils into Canada on compassionate grounds, lest our great-grandchildren erect monuments with taxpayer dollars proclaiming our inhumanity.

But it does raise an important question. How much more must Canada prostrate itself before all former injustices have been restored?

Shall the government apologize for every ethnic minority that has felt the least bit mistreated since arriving on these most coveted of shores? Is there not a means of simply apologizing for everything all at once and getting the whole thing over with? Surely we can’t continue to go about finding ancient grievances in order to throw modern tax dollars at them in self-righteous rectification?

If we do continue, however, perhaps we could take a few moments in remembrance to the suffering of our European forebears, not all of whom were given free dental, health and welfare upon arrival in the new world.

Acknowledging the struggle of immigrants — wherever their origin on the planet — would seem to me to be a more legitimate form of restitution than the cherry-picking taking place with the announcement of this memorial pay off.

National Post





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