PRIME Minister Justin Trudeau on Saturday issued the following statement on the anniversary of the Komagata Maru incident:
“More than a century ago today, 376 passengers aboard the Komagata Maru steamship arrived in Vancouver. Like millions of immigrants coming to Canada before and since, these passengers came seeking better lives for their families.
“After a long journey from India, the majority of the passengers—who were Sikhs, Muslims, and Hindus of South Asian origin—were told they could not set foot on Canadian soil, due to the discriminatory laws of the time. They were refused entry and, for two months, were confined to the ship and denied regular access to food and water.
“Despite the efforts of local South Asian communities, the Canadian government of the day only allowed a few passengers into Canada and the rest were forced to return to India, where some were later killed and many others imprisoned.
“Four years ago, I stood in the House of Commons to apologize on behalf of the Government of Canada to all those whose lives were changed by this tragic event. While no words can fully erase their pain and suffering, we must learn from the mistakes of our past and make sure to never repeat them. The Komagata Maru incident continues to resonate in our history as a reminder to treat each other with respect, champion the rights of all, and embrace inclusion and respect for diversity as a great strength.
“Today, we remember the victims of this incident, and reflect on how much Canada has benefitted from the contributions of our South Asian communities and others who have come to this country and offered the best of who they are. We will always be proud of Canada’s diversity—we are strong not in spite of our differences, but because of them.”
B.C. Premier John Horgan released the following statement:
“Today marks the 106th anniversary of the Komagata Maru’s arrival on the shores of British Columbia. On board were 376 Sikh, Muslim and Hindu people, hoping to build a better life for themselves and their families. Instead, they were blocked from completing their journey because of discriminatory laws that banned South Asians from immigrating to Canada.
“When I look out the window from my Vancouver office, I can see the exact spot where the Komagata Maru was moored for two months as its passengers endured cruel conditions. After being forced to leave Canadian waters, 19 people were killed, and others were imprisoned upon return to India.
“On this day, I think of the people who were on that ship and how they must have felt. I wonder how they would have enriched our country if given the opportunity. Some were students and labourers, others were ex-soldiers from the British Indian regiments. All of them shared the dream of making British Columbia their home.
“Racism is part of our history in British Columbia, and our work continues to right the wrongs of the past. The Province of British Columbia formally apologized in the legislative chamber in 2008 for its role in the Komagata Maru tragedy. This event stands as a reminder for how racism, discrimination and hate have hurt generations of people. But it also reminds us of the incredible resiliency in our province – including all those who stand up against injustice and work to make B.C. a place where everyone is welcome and safe.
“As we live through the COVID-19 pandemic, racism has tarnished our community’s response. People have been attacked and assaulted. Racism has no place in our province. We must stand firm against hate and learn from our past as we build a better, more inclusive future.”