Names of those aboard the ship are seen at Komagata Maru monument in downtown Vancouver, on Tuesday, May 18, 2021. The City of Vancouver has issued an apology for its racist role in denying entry to 376 passengers aboard a ship that was forced to return to India over a century ago. Mayor Kennedy Stewart says discrimination by the city had “cruel effects” on the Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims aboard the Komagata Maru, which arrived in Burrard Inlet on May 23, 1914. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Names of those aboard the ship are seen at Komagata Maru monument in downtown Vancouver, on Tuesday, May 18, 2021. The City of Vancouver has issued an apology for its racist role in denying entry to 376 passengers aboard a ship that was forced to return to India over a century ago. Mayor Kennedy Stewart says discrimination by the city had “cruel effects” on the Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims aboard the Komagata Maru, which arrived in Burrard Inlet on May 23, 1914. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Vancouver mayor says sorry for city’s role in turning away South Asians in 1914

Kennedy Stewart has declared May 23 as the annual Komagata Maru Day of Remembrance

The City of Vancouver has issued an apology for its racist role in denying entry to 376 people aboard a ship that was forced to return to India with its passengers over a century ago.

Mayor Kennedy Stewart said Monday that discrimination by the city had “cruel effects” on the Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims aboard the Komagata Maru, which arrived in Vancouver’s Burrard Inlet on May 23, 1914.

Federal officials refused to allow the South Asians, mostly Sikhs from Punjab, to stay in Canada, saying they were flouting immigration laws even though they were British subjects.

They were forced to stay aboard the ship in poor conditions, often going days without food and water.

Stewart said that on June 19, 1914, city council passed a resolution saying it was opposed to the admittance of “Hindus and other Asiatic races” into Canada and that “these people would prove a serious menace to our civilization, both economically and socially.”

The passengers were forcibly turned away on July 23 that year and 19 of them were killed in skirmishes with British authorities when they returned to India, while others were jailed for being political agitators.

“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. “City council, in 1914, supported the laws that prevented passengers from disembarking. For this, and all the repercussions that followed, we are sorry.”

Stewart has declared May 23 as the annual Komagata Maru Day of Remembrance, saying the passengers were trying to seek entry into Canada in the hopes of a brighter future but Canada’s racist laws forced them to stay on the ship in unsafe conditions.

Vancouver resident Sukhi Ghuman said she learned about the Komagata Maru about 20 years ago in a Punjabi class at the University of British Columbia.

Ghuman, 41, mentioned the plight of the passengers to her father and learned her great-grandfather, Harnam Singh, had been one of them.

“Those internal wounds he experienced aboard the Komagata Maru stayed with him forever,” Ghuman said of his hunger aboard the ship and escaping a firing squad when it returned to India.

“He refused to come back to Canada after his experiences on the Komagata Maru.”

Ghuman’s grandmother arrived in Canada in the 1950s to get married, but despite their talks over the years, the story of her great-grandfather’s journey to Canada and forced return home was never mentioned.

“I wish I had known earlier because then I would have spoken to my grandma about what it was like, what her father went through,” she said.

“Once my grandparents had settled in Canada, they just wanted to allow their children to live a Canadian lifestyle while still remaining true to their roots. And I think they just didn’t talk about some of the challenges or even the racism that they’d faced growing up here in the Lower Mainland.”

British Columbia apologized for the Komagata Maru in 2008, before former prime minister Stephen Harper issued an apology in 2015 in Surrey, B.C., where members of the South Asian community said it should have been issued in the House of Commons.

Ghuman, who went to Ottawa a year later when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau apologized in the House of Commons, said apologies on their own are meaningless without a sincere approach toward redress and empathy for Canada’s most vulnerable and marginalized communities.

“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. These people, even today, are seeking freedom and opportunity similar to those 376 passengers that were aboard the Komagata Maru in 1914.”

While some teachers are including the history of the Komagata Maru and other historical wrongs in curriculums, there’s a need for more awareness of such issues in the school system, she said.

Hugh Johnston, professor emeritus of history at Simon Fraser University, focused his career on Sikhs in Canada and wrote “The Voyage of the Komagata Maru,” which was first published in 1979.

As part of his research, Johnston interviewed Kartar Singh, one of the passengers aboard the ship, in 1976, a few months after the man in his mid-90s returned to Canada.

He said Singh caught up to the Komagata Maru in Japan after boarding another vessel in Hong Kong with a few other people from Punjab.

“I can still see him sitting there with his son-in-law, holding his hand and stroking his arm as he told me what it was he remembered. And the whole family actually gathered there, fascinated to hear it all.”

— Camille Bains, The Canadian Press

RELATED: B.C. is not exempt: New report documents 150 years of racism and the fight against it

RELATED: Victoria councillor faces racism after holiday travel

Just Posted

(Submitted Photo)
Skeena Voices| Dance, discipline and determination

When Braya Kluss is not dancing, she is a regular 16-year-old teenager… Continue reading

Karl Meyer was an active member of the Thornhill Volunteer Fire Department. (Terrace Professional Firefighters/ Facebook)
VIDEO: First responders parade through town in honour of fallen Thornhill firefighter

Thornhill Volunteer Fire Department’s Karl Meyer was found deceased during June 3 flooding

Suspected methamphetamine and scale seized by police. (Terrace RCMP photo)
Terrace RCMP seize guns, ammo, suspected narcotics

Man released after court appearance

Caledonia Secondary School is the recipient of a $50,000 grant to replace its aging science equipment. (File photo)
Cal snags major grant to modernize science equipment

The $50,000 comes from a pharmaceutical company

Unemployment rate drops in northwestern B.C.

Large improvement since Spring 2020

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau participates in a plenary session at the G7 Summit in Carbis Bay, England on Friday June 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada donating 13M surplus COVID-19 vaccine doses to poor countries

Trudeau says the government will pay for 87 million shots to be distributed to poor countries

Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price (31) is scored on by Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Alec Martinez, not pictured, during the second period in Game 1 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup semifinal playoff series Monday, June 14, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Habs fall 4-1 to Vegas Golden Knights in Game 1 of NHL semifinal series

Match was Montreal’s first game outside of Canada in 2021

Kelowna-Lake Country MLA Norm Letnick, assistant deputy speaker at the B.C. legislature, presides over committee discussions. The legislature is completing its delayed spring session this week, with most MLAs participating by video conference. (Hansard TV)
B.C.’s daily COVID-19 infections dip below 100 over weekend

Only 68 new cases recorded Monday, four additional deaths

The BC Ferries website went down for a short while Monday morning following a provincial announcement that recreational travel between health authorities can resume Tuesday. (Black Press Media file photo)
BC Ferries’ website crashes in wake of provincial reopening announcement

Website back up now, recreational travel between health regions to resume as of Tuesday

The Kamloops Indian Residential School is photographed using a drone in Kamloops, B.C., Monday, June, 14, 2021. The remains of 215 children were discovered buried near the former school earlier this month. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Communities grapple with what to do with former residential and day schools

Some tear them down as a tool to help healing, others repurpose them as tools for moving forward

FILE – Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry talks about B.C.’s plan to restart the province during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, Tuesday, May 25, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. watching U.K.’s COVID struggles but don’t think province will see similar pitfalls

Studies show that one dose of vaccine is only 33 per cent effective in preventing B.1.617.2 spread

RCMP Const. Shelby Patton is shown in this undated handout photo. RCMP say that Patton was hit by an allegedly stolen truck that he had pulled over on Saturday morning in Wolseley, east of Regina. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, RCMP
Pair charged in Saskatchewan Mountie’s death make first court appearance

Const. Shelby Patton was hit by an allegedly stolen truck that he had pulled over Saturday morning

David and Collet Stephan leave for a break during an appeal hearing in Calgary on Thursday, March 9, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Todd Korol
Appeal Court rejects stay for Alberta couple facing third trial in son’s death

Pair accused in their earlier trials of not seeking medical attention for their son sooner

Highway notices like this come down effective June 14. Public health restrictions on non-essential travel and commercial operation have hit local businesses in every corner of B.C. (B.C. government)
Province-wide travel back on in B.C.’s COVID-19 restart plan

Gathering changes include up to 50 people for outdoor events

Most Read