Canada apologises for century-old snub of Indian migrants

OTTAWA: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made a formal apology Wednesday for an incident in which a shipload of Indians were refused entry into Canada more than 100 years ago.

More than 300 Indians were barred from Canada in 1914 after an immigration dispute, only for some to be killed in protests on their return to India.

“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,” Trudeau said in parliament, referring to the name of the ship.

“More than a century ago a great injustice took place,” he said.

After crossing the Pacific ocean aboard the Japanese liner Komagata Maru, the crew and nearly 300 Hindu, Muslim and Sikh passengers sailed into Vancouver harbour.

The ship sat anchored offshore for two months before being escorted out to sea under the guns of a Canadian navy cruiser in July of that year.

Upon their return to India, passengers were arrested and British colonial officials planned to send them back home to the northern state of Punjab.

Some refused to go and 20 were killed when police opened fire on a demonstration.

“Those passengers, like millions of immigrants to Canada before and 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.”

Trudeau cited “discriminatory” laws that effectively barred migrants from Asia.

“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,” he said, “we are sorry.”

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