Vancouver play revisits murder intertwined with Komagata Maru incident

A play about a 100-year old assassination and execution shines a light on a case that the history books have deemed closed.

Mewa Singh was executed by hanging in 1915 for the murder of immigration official William C. Hopkins

On May 23, 1914, the Komagata Maru, a Japanese steamship sailed into Vancouver's Coal Harbour carrying 376 passengers from Punjab, India seeking asylum. (CBC)

A play about a 100-year old assassination and execution shines a light on a case that the history books have deemed closed. 

The Undocumented Trial of William C. Hopkinson tells the story of Mewa Singh, who was convicted and executed in New Westminster in 1915 for the murder of Canadian immigration inspector, William C. Hopkinson.

Today, Mewa Singh is considered a martyr to many in the South Asian community, but the playwright behind the play, Paneet Singh, says it's more complicated than that.

Mewa had contacts with revolutionaries who supported India's efforts to separate from the British Crown, but he was just an everyday member of the South Asian community in Vancouver — until he murdered Hopkinson, according to Paneet.

"He wasn't any kind of leader by any stretch of the imagination. He was just an everyday individual who felt that Hopkinson had pushed him too far," he said.

The incident happened just after the government denied entry to 376 hopeful immigrants from India who came on a boat called the Komagata Maru.

Hopkinson, who was born in India and fluent in Hindi and Punjabi, tried to turn Mewa into an informer, following Mewa's arrest for attempting to smuggle weapons into Canada that were intended for the passengers of the Komagata Maru.

"His main job at the Canadian immigration department was to act as an interpreter, but, also he had a network of spies at the time in the South Asian community who worked for him on the immigration department payroll," said Paneet.

The Arts Umbrella instructor says he wrote the play to encourage discussion on something that would otherwise be remembered as an open and shut case.

"The real injustice here is that this story has been lost to time," he said. "It would be unfair for us to just close his chapter of Canadian history in 1915 and not examine it now."

The play runs until Monday at the Vancouver Art Gallery. Tickets can be bought here.


To listen to the full audio, click the link labelled: Playwright Paneet Singh on The Undocumented Trial of William C. Hopkinson.

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