Komagatu Maru Apology

This has been a long-standing issue for many in the Indo-Canadian community, particularly Sikh Canadians. Reading the announcement, reminded me of the previous attempt by former Prime Minister Harper to do so at an Indo-Canadian community picnic on 3 August 2008.

It was a “drive-by” apology, to use my irreverent words, given that the PM and his party had to beat a hasty retreat after one activist seizing the mike and denouncing the fact that it was not delivered in Parliament. See Harper apologizes in B.C. for 1914 Komagata Maru incident, CBC, 3 August 2008.

My takeaway from that incident (I was present) was that any apology, if made, should be done in the House of Commons (as was the case for Japanese wartime internment, the Chinese head tax and residential school abuse). Any other approach made the community being apologized to feel second-rate, as was the case with Italian Canadian wartime restrictions (former PM Mulroney delivered an apology at a dinner) or the above case of the Komagata Maru).

So while there will be predictable debate about whether an apology is warranted, the House is the appropriate forum.

An Indo-Canadian friend of mine reminded me that neither the Government of India or Britain have ever apologized for opening fire on the ship and killing passengers.

Will be interesting to see if Italian Canadians continue to press for a formal House apology.

Text of the PM press release:

The Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, today announced that on May 18, 2016, he will make a formal apology in the House of Commons for the Komagata Maru incident.

This year will mark the 102nd anniversary of the Komagata Maru incident, where 376 passengers of mostly Sikh descent arrived in Vancouver and were refused entry into Canada due to the discriminatory laws of the time.

The Prime Minister made the announcement at Vaisakhi on the Hill concluding a three day religious ceremony, where Sikh scriptures were read continuously to commemorate Vaisakhi.

Quotes

“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.”
– Rt. Hon. Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada

“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.”
– Rt. Hon. Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada

And the full remarks of the PM at the Vaisakhi ceremony on the Hill:

This year will mark the 102nd anniversary of the Komagata Maru incident where 376 passengers of mostly Sikh descent arrived in Vancouver and were refused entry to Canada due to the discriminatory laws of the time. The passengers of the Komagata Maru like millions of immigrants to Canada since were seeking refuge and better lives for their families. With so much to contribute to their new home, they chose Canada and we failed them utterly. 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. That is why next month, on May 18, I will stand in the House of Commons and offer a full apology for the Komagata Maru incident.

An apology made in the House of Commons will not erase the pain and suffering of those who lives 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. It was in the House of Commons that the laws that prevented the passengers from disembarking were first passed and so it’s fitting that the government should apologize there on behalf of all Canadians. It’s what the victims of the Komagata Maru incident deserve and we owe them nothing less.

Just as we look back and acknowledge where we’re failed, so too do we need to celebrate the remarkable success of the Sikh community here in Canada and Vaisakhi is the perfect opportunity to do just that. April is a special month, not only for Sikhs but for all Canadians. It marks the anniversary of the adoption of the Charter of rights and freedoms which ensures that no Canadian needs to make the choice between their religion and activities in their day-to-day lives. The charter ensures that the five Ks are protected. As Canadian Sikhs gather with their loved ones to mark the creation of the Khalsa, it’s a chance to reflect on shared values and celebrate the successes of the past year.

What Justin Trudeau said today about the Komagata Maru incident

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

One Response to Komagatu Maru Apology

  1. Pingback: Descendants of Komagata Maru passengers ‘pleased’ by apology | Multicultural Meanderings

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