Vancouver Mayor Apologizes for City’s Racism Against South Asians in 1914 Komagata Maru Incident

Vancouver City Mayor Kennedy Stewart issued an apology on Monday for the city’s racist role in denying entry to hundreds of South Asians, mostly Sikhs from Punjab, aboard the Komagata Maru ship in 1914.

The apology: Stewart said the South Asians who arrived in Vancouver’s Burrard Inlet on May 23, 1914, were looking to enter the country in hopes of having a better future, according to The Canadian Press.

  • City officials turned them down, even though they were British subjects, and forced them to stay aboard the ship in terrible conditions, surviving for days without food and water.
  • “Today, as we come up to the 107th anniversary of the ship arriving in Vancouver, my council colleagues and I sincerely apologize for the City of Vancouver’s role in the Komagata Maru incident,” Stewart said in a statement. “City council, in 1914, supported the laws that prevented passengers from disembarking. For this, and all the repercussions that followed, we are sorry.”
  • The city marks May 23 as the annual Komagata Maru Day of Remembrance.
  • British Columbia apologized for the Komagata Maru incident in 2008, and former prime minister Stephen Harper also apologized in 2015. A year later, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau offered his apology for the Komagata Maru incident, CBC reported.

What happened: The Canadian government passed a resolution on June 19, 1914, barring “Hindus and other Asiatic races” into Canada, believing “these people would prove a serious menace to our civilization, both economically and socially.”

  • The government escorted the ship out of its country on July 23, 1914, forcing the 376 passengers to return to India.
  • Komagata Maru Journey, a project documenting the incident and funded by the Department of Citizenship and Immigration Canada, stated 20 returning residents, the ship’s doctor and his family were eventually granted entry to Canada during the incident.
  • Upon their return to India, 19 of the passengers were killed in gunfire while the others were sent to prison.
  • “As a nation, we need to continue to stand up for those who are seeking asylum in Canada, for temporary foreign workers as well as immigrants and migrant communities,” Vancouver resident Sukhi Ghuman said. “These people, even today, are seeking freedom and opportunity similar to those 376 passengers that were aboard the Komagata Maru in 1914.”
  • Ghuman later discovered her great-grandfather was one of the passengers of the Komagata Maru.

Featured Image via Kennedy Stewart (left), Vancouver Public Library (Public Domain Mark 1.0)

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