British Columbia

Vancouver's Komagata Maru memorial vandalized

A memorial in Vancouver meant to acknowledge a racist chapter in Canada’s history has been defaced with white paint.

Nearly 400 Sikh, Muslim, and Hindu people aboard the ship were denied entry to Canada in 1914

Hand prints and paint splatter are shown on a section of the Komagata Maru memorial in Vancouver's Coal Harbour neighbourhood Sunday. (Martin Diotte/CBC News)

UPDATE, Aug. 23, 2021: The Vancouver Police Department said it is investigating the vandalism as a possible hate crime.

A memorial in Vancouver meant to acknowledge a racist chapter in Canada's history has been defaced with white paint.

Nearly 400 people were aboard the Komagata Maru in 1914 when it was turned away from Canada due to racist laws at the time. Raj Singh Toor, whose grandfather was one of them, speaks for the Descendants of the Komagata Maru Society. 

"It's a very, very terrible incident and it's very sad," Toor said Sunday evening from the memorial, where white paint was spread on a list of the names of people who had been aboard the ship.

"This should not be happening here."

The Komagata Maru memorial was installed in 2013 in Vancouver's Coal Harbour neighbourhood, near where the boat arrived in 1914 with 376 passengers on board. (Martin Diotte/CBC News)

The City of Vancouver said Sunday in a statement it was "saddened" to learn the memorial had been defaced, noting workers will be sent to remove the paint.

"While it is not clear what the motivation was, it shows disrespect to those who travelled and suffered on the ship and to their families," the statement said about the vandalism.

Toor hopes police will investigate the vandalism. Calls to the Vancouver Police Department were not immediately returned.

People on social media began posting images, video and expressions of dismay at the vandalism Sunday afternoon.

Later on Sunday a man at the memorial, who did not want to be identified, arrived with brushes and cleaning products and began scrubbing away the paint.

"This is not my Vancouver," he said.

A man who didn't want to be identified worked to clean paint off the Komagata Maru memorial in Vancouver on Sunday after it had been vandalized. (Chad Pawson/CBC News)

The Komagata Maru memorial was installed in 2013 along the waterfront in Vancouver's Coal Harbour neighbourhood.

A century earlier, in 1914, the steamship of the same name arrived in Vancouver's Burrard Inlet with hundreds of people aboard, mostly from the Punjab region of India, who were planning for a new life in Canada.

However, after two months in the harbour, the vessel was forced to return to India with everyone on board. There were 340 Sikhs, 24 Muslims, and 12 Hindus who were never let off the boat in Vancouver. They did not have appropriate medical aid, food or water.

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

The vessel, which was a Japanese charter ship, was forced to turn back because of racist laws aimed at curtailing Asian immigration to Canada at the time.

Upon its return to India, 19 passengers were shot and killed. Others were injured or jailed after being considered political agitators.

In 2008 and 2016, the province and Ottawa each formally apologized for the act of discrimination.

In June 2020 Vancouver City Council unanimously passed a motion to formally apologize for actions of members of the 1914 city council regarding the Komagata Maru incident and declare May 23 as "Komagata Maru Remembrance Day."

The city said the apology was part of a broader ongoing effort to educate decision-makers and the public about the human rights violations against people of South Asian descent.