OTTAWA (TIP): Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has formally apologized in the House of Commons for the Komagata Maru incident in 1914, in which hundreds of Sikh, Muslim and Hindu passengers were denied entry to Canada and forced to return to an uncertain and ultimately violent fate in India.
On May 23, 1914, a steamship arrived in Vancouver. The 376 passengers had hopes for a new life in Canada, were of Sikh, Muslim, and Hindu origin. They were denied entry into Canada due to the laws in existence. On May 18, 2016, the Canadian PM delivered a formal apology in the House of Commons, in front of descendants of those directly affected by the incident.
Opposition Leader Rona Ambrose, NDP Leader Tom Mulcair, BQ Leader Rheal Fortin and Green Party Leader Elizabeth May also rose to add their voices to the apology and to offer their own remarks.
“Canada does not bear alone the responsibility for every tragic mistake that occurred with the Komagata Maru and its passengers, but Canada’s government was without question responsible for the laws that prevented these passengers from immigrating peacefully and securely, for that, and for every regrettable consequence that followed, we, are, sorry,” Trudeau said.
Here is the text of Prime Minister Trudeau’s apology in the House of Commons.
“Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by acknowledging the hard work done by many of my colleagues. From my own caucus, I’d like to thank the members from Surrey-Newton and Winnipeg North for their tireless advocacy. They have petitioned the Canadian government for years to make the apology that will be made today. I thank them for their commitment to this cause.
“From the Opposition benches, special mention must be made of the members from Calgary Heritage, Calgary Midnapore and the former member for Surrey North. Each deserves recognition for the work they have done to seek resolution for victims and their families.
“As do the many organisations that have sought the same, in particular, the Professor Mohan Singh Memorial Foundation.
“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.
“More than a century ago, a great injustice took place. On May 23, 1914, a steamship sailed into Burrard Inlet in Vancouver. On board were 376 passengers of Sikh, Muslim and Hindu origin. Those passengers, like millions of immigrants to Canada since, came seeking better lives for their families. Greater opportunities. A chance to contribute to their new home.
“Those passengers chose Canada. And when they arrived here, they were rejected.
“Mr. Speaker, Canada cannot solely be blamed for every tragic mistake that occurred with the Komagata Maru and its passengers. But Canada’s government was, without question, responsible for the laws that prevented these passengers from immigrating peacefully and securely.
“For that, and for every regrettable consequence that followed, we are sorry. … I apologise, first and foremost, to the victims of the incident.
“No words can fully erase the pain and suffering they experienced. Regrettably, the passage of time means that none are alive to hear our apology today.
“Still, we offer it, fully and sincerely. For our indifference to your plight. For our failure to recognise all that you had to offer. For the laws that discriminated against you, so senselessly. And for not formally apologising sooner. For all these things, we are truly sorry.
“I also wish to apologise to the descendants of the passengers of the Komagata Maru, including those who are here with us here today. We can never know what your lives would have been like had your relatives been welcomed to Canada.
“The ways in which your lives would have been different. The ways in which Canada would have been enriched. Those possibilities are lost to history.
“For that — and to you — we apologise. Just as we apologise for past wrongs, so too must we commit ourselves to positive action — to learning from the mistakes of the past, and to making sure that we never repeat them. That is the unique promise and potential of Canada. …
“Mr. Speaker, before I finish, I would like to acknowledge one more member who has helped to bring the Komagata Maru incident to our national attention — the Minister of National Defence. Before entering political life, the Minister was the commanding officer of the British Columbia Regiment Duke of Connaught’s Own — the same regiment that once forced out the Komagata Maru. A century ago, the Minister’s family might well have been turned away from Canada. Today, the minister sits beside us, here, in this House.
“In a House that includes immigrants. That includes the daughters and sons — the granddaughters and grandsons — of immigrants. The very makeup of this House should remind all of us that when we have the choice between opening our arms to those in need or closing our hearts to them, we must always choose the more compassionate path.
“When we see injustice, we must speak up, and attempt to make things right. When we make mistakes, we must apologise, and recommit ourselves to doing better.
“Mr. Speaker, Canada is a country unlike any other. We are blessed to call it home. Let us always endeavour to do better, and to be better. Let us do that in honour of the victims of the Komagata Maru incident, and every courageous person who leaves behind family and familiar things, to bring to Canada the very best of who they are.