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At Last, An Apology: ‘Komagata Maru’

Ninety-four years after hundreds of Indians were denied entry into Canada for racial reasons, the British Columbia legislature has formally apologized for its treatment of the South Asian passengers aboard the Komagata Maru in 1914. A Siliconeer report.

(Above): View of crowded conditions on the ‘Komagata Maru.’ (Photo: Vancouver Public Library)

British Columbia politicians offered an official apology May 23 for the treatment of South Asian passengers aboard the Komagata Maru who were denied entry to Canada in 1914.

The apology came on the 94th anniversary of the vessel’s arrival at Vancouver’s harbor with 376 people on board.

Politicians on both sides of the legislature made emotional statements offering apologies for what they called a dark chapter in the country’s history.

Liberal House leader Mike de Jong looked up at the packed gallery of the B.C. legislature and said the government was offering an apology for the injustices suffered by Komagata Maru’s passengers who were refused the opportunity to make Canada their new home.

Part of his message was spoken in Punjabi and translated into English. It said, “Forgive us; you are welcome.”

Opposition House Leader Mike Farnworth said British Columbia needs to acknowledge the difficult periods of its history in order for the province to understand where it stands today.

“It is a period in our history that is important we don’t forget,” he said.

Ottawa offered an apology for what has become known in Canadian history as the Komagata Maru incident earlier this week when the House of Commons voted unanimously to support a private member’s bill, introduced by a member of the Liberal Opposition.

Brampton-Springdale MP Ruby Dhalla introduced the apology motion.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is expected to make a formal apology, and the Conservative government is planning $2.5-million in grants for a Komagata Maru memorial.

The Komagata Maru spent more than two months in Vancouver’s harbor before being eventually forced to leave Canada for India.

B.C. Attorney General Wally Oppal said that what happened to the passengers is unimaginable today. He said the B.C. government has acknowledged the racism and has apologized for the passengers’ suffering.

“The cry of the day was that Canada was a white man’s country,” he said. “Many had come here to make Canada their home. They all had dreams to come here.”

Many of the people who witnessed the debate in the legislature were descendants of those who were on the Komagata Maru. Others said they had been lobbying for an apology for decades.

B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell was on a trade mission in Asia and was not in the legislature for the apology debate.


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