British Columbia

Komagata Maru: Justin Trudeau to apologize for 1914 incident

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announces he will offer a full apology for the 1914 Komagata Maru incident in the House of Commons on May 18.

Prime minister says he will offer full apology in House of Commons on May 18

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he will offer a full apology for the 1914 Komagata Maru incident in the House of Commons on May 18. (CBC)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will offer an apology in the House of Commons on May 18 almost 102 years after the Komagata Maru incident, where the government of the day turned away more than 300 Indians seeking a better life in Canada.

In 2008, then-prime minister Stephen Harper apologized to the Sikh community in Surrey, B.C., but many demanded he make a formal apology in the Commons.

The Sikh community will get its wish next month, Trudeau announced in Ottawa Monday.

"As a nation, we should never forget the prejudice suffered by the Sikh community at the hands of the Canadian government of the day. We should not and we will not," he said.

"That is why, next month, on May 18th, I will stand in the House of Commons and offer a full apology for the Komagata Maru incident."

Trudeau called the laws that allowed the Canadian government to turn the Komagata Maru away discriminatory.

"The passengers of the Komagata Maru, like millions of immigrants to Canada since, were seeking refuge, and better lives for their families. With so much to contribute to their new home, they chose Canada and we failed them utterly," he said.

Discriminatory laws

In 1910, an order-in-council was passed which stated immigrants coming to Canada must do so by continuous journey. As a result, Gurdit Singh chartered the Japanese ship Komagata Maru and sold tickets for a continuous journey from the Punjab state to Canada.

The Komagata Maru sailed into Vancouver harbour with 376 people aboard on May 23, 1914.

The passengers argued a 1908 provision that required all "Asiatic" immigrants to have $200 did not apply to them because they were British subjects. At the time, India was still a colony.

The dominion government would not allow the passengers to disembark and the vessel sat in the harbour for two months.

That July, the government ordered the ship to sail but the passengers took over the ship and refused to leave.

On July 19, 125 Vancouver police officers and 35 special immigration agents attempted to board the vessel and were beaten back. Thirty were injured.

On July 23, under the guns of the naval cruiser HMCS Rainbow, the Komagata Maru was escorted out to sea and returned to India.