Today is the 100th anniversary of the Komagata Maru incident in which hundreds of Indian migrants were denied entry into Canada.
The Toronto Star explains, "The Komagata Maru was a chartered ship that departed Hong Kong carrying 376 passengers from British India to the Dominion of Canada. When the ship arrived in Vancouver on May 23, 1914, the Canadian government refused to allow 352 migrants, mainly Sikhs, from disembarking because of a 1908 law called the Continuous Passage Act. The law, which remained on the books until 1947, required immigrants to enter Canada directly from their country of origin without any stops in between."
The article continues, "After months of legal battles, the Supreme Court of British Columbia upheld the law and on July 23, 1914, a Canadian naval ship escorted the Komagata Maru out of Vancouver’s harbor and into international waters. Upon the ship’s return to India, World War I had broken out, and many passengers were shot or imprisoned by police under charges of carrying out seditious activity."
"In May 2008, the British Columbian government voted to apologize for the treatment of the passengers on the ship. Three months later Prime Minister Stephen Harper also apologized during a speech in Surrey B.C. attended by 8,000 people. Despite Harper’s apology, many from the community denounced it at the time, demanding the apology be made in the House of Commons like he did when he apologized for the Chinese head tax." Earlier this month, Canada Post issued a commemorative stamp marking the anniversary of the incident.
The Council of Canadians has joined with numerous organizations and individuals to sign an open letter which states, "The Komagata Maru is not a failure of the past that can simply be recovered through apologies and commemorative stamps. Those are important steps in a process of reconciliation that has barely begun. But, it is imperative that we stop exclusionary laws and policies now, rather than wait for apologies from future governments. We call on the Government of Canada to immediately reverse the moratorium on migrant workers in the food sector. Canada and its provinces must ensure access to permanent residence and full citizenship, a living wage, rights and benefits for poor and working class migrants and their families."
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Photo: Komagata Maru memorial in Vancouver. Photo by Steve Bosch , PNG