Canada apologises for 'great injustice' to Indians in 1914

Former prime minister Stephen Harper did apologise for the incident at a public event in British Columbia in 2008, but the Sikh-Canadians were demanding a formal statement in the Parliament.

PTI| Last Updated: May 19, 2016, 13:47 PM IST

Toronto: Almost 102 years after Canada turned away over 376 migrants, mostly Sikhs from India, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has formally apologised in Parliament for the "great injustice" that happened due to discriminatory laws of the time.

Trudeau apologised in the House of Commons yesterday for 1914 decision by the then Canadian government to turn away 376 Indian migrants onboard the ship 'Komagata Maru' after their arrival in Vancouver.

Standing in the Commons, Trudeau apologised to the descendants of those who were onboard and the broader Sikh community for what he called a "great injustice".

"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," Trudeau said.

"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.

The prime minister got no further before MPs and invited onlookers in the packed galleries rose in their seats in a standing ovation, The Star reported.

Komagata Maru sailed into Vancouver harbour on May 23, 1914 from Hong Kong, carrying 376 passengers but most of the passengers were eventually turned away on the grounds of the "continuous journey clause" that allowed only travellers on a trip without interruption to land in Canada.

As Trudeau said, the law effectively eliminated immigrants from India because there was no direct service to Canada.

After two months in limbo in the harbour, the ship was escorted out of the harbour by the military. It returned to India and on its arrival, at least 19 people were killed in a skirmish with British soldiers, while others were jailed.

Trudeau said Canada alone cannot be blamed for every "tragic mistake" that occurred with the ship and its passengers. But Canada's government was, without question, responsible for the laws that prevented these passengers from immigrating peacefully and securely".

"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," he said.

Former prime minister Stephen Harper did apologise for the incident at a public event in British Columbia in 2008, but the Sikh-Canadians were demanding a formal statement in the Parliament.

Trudeau-led Liberal Party, which has four Sikh ministers in the cabinet, had promised a formal apology during the election campaign last year. The prime minister has said that the passengers were refused entry to Canada due to "discriminatory laws of the time".