Jaswinder Singh Baidwan
Akhran da mureed
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Wednesday tendered a formal apology in his country's House of Commons, 102 years after the Komagata Maru incident where the government of the day turned away 376 Indians, mostly Sikhs, seeking a better life in Canada.
“Mr Speaker, today I rise in this House to offer an apology on behalf of the Government of Canada, for our role in the Komagata Maru incident,” Trudeau said in the House, with descendants of the ship's passengers in the galleries. “No words can fully erase the suffering of Komagata Maru victims. Today, we apologise and recommit to doing better.”
The Komagata Maru, a Japanese steamship, arrived in Vancouver in mid-May 1914, after leaving Hong Kong in early April. The ship, however, was not allowed to dock. After an almost two-month standoff, which also involved feisty demonstrations by ethnic Indians on Vancouver's shores, the ship was eventually turned away. When it reached Calcutta, British colonial authorities attempted to seize suspected radicals on board. The semi-riot that ensued saw security forces kill at least 19 passengers.
A 1908 Canadian law at the time forbade arrivals of immigrants in the country who did not make a "continuous journey" from their nation of birth or citizenship. A painful chapter in the history of Sikhs in Canada, the incident also highlighted the discriminatory immigration policies Canada had followed against Asian immigrants in the 19th century.
In 2008, then PM Stephen Harper had apologised to the Sikh community, but the Sikh-Canadians had demanded a formal apology in the House of Commons. Trudeau-led Liberal Party, which has four Sikh ministers in the Cabinet, had promised a formal apology during the election campaign last year.