Commentary by: Phil Gurski in Ottawa
Parliament Hill in Ottawa is one of those treasures found only in liberal democracies. Anyone can show up and lobby, protest, shout his lungs out or carry a placard peacefully and silently, no matter what the cause. It is also a great place to watch the fireworks on Canada Day as long as enjoying the sights and sounds with 50,000 strangers does not bother you.
Sometimes, the ‘Hill’ is the site of demonstrations by groups that are not entirely acceptable. At times, even listed terrorist entities have marched back and forth: a good example was the 2009 mass turnout by Tamil Canadians over the civil war in Sri Lanka at which Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) flags were seen. The LTTE is a banned terrorist organisation in this country.
On June 11, approximately 200 Sikhs gathered on Parliament Hill to commemorate the anniversary of the 1984 attack by Indian forces on the Sikhs’ holiest site, the Golden Temple or Darbar Sahib. Demonstrators chanted ‘Long live Khalistan’ and demanded that India allow a referendum on the creation of an independent Sikh state in the Punjab.
Khalistan is of course their word for this homeland and the 1984 siege led to the 1985 bombing of Air India flight 182 which killed 329 people off the coast of Ireland: the bomb was placed on the aircraft by Canadian Sikh extremists and was the single largest terrorist attack in history prior to 9/11.
We don’t hear a lot about Sikh extremism these days, which could lead some to believe that it is no longer an issue. It is fairly certain that Sikh extremist activity is at a nadir, the recent protest in Ottawa notwithstanding. As I have written before, however, it would be a mistake to assume that the movement is dead.
India for one does not think it is. During an April visit to his native Punjab province, Canadian Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan was accused by a high-ranking Indian official of being a ‘Khalistani’. That official, Amarinder Singh, said there were other ‘Khalistanis’ in the Trudeau cabinet and that he would refuse to meet with any of them.
This gets complicated as Minister Sajjan’s father was a senior official in the World Sikh Organisation the purpose of which was the pursuit of an independent Sikh state. It is not as if the Minister has not had enough problems of late, ranging from his exaggerated claim to have been the mastermind of a 2006 Canadian military operation in Afghanistan (codenamed "Medusa") to what he knew or didn’t know about the transfer of Afghan detainees to local authorities.
It is important to distinguish the desire for a national homeland from the desire to obtain that homeland through violence or terrorism. I know of no link between the Minister and banned terrorist organisations and, as a Sikh, he has every right to favour independence for his people through peaceful means.
There may very well be vestiges of Sikh extremism in Canada: the long-awaited "Khalistan" never materialised and no doubt some are not willing to allow the political process to unfold gradually. Yet, we also have to take into consideration the nature of the current Indian government. Whatever you think of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, you cannot deny he has ushered in a wave of xenophobic and hateful Hindu nationalism that has been responsible for some very violent acts in India.
It would not surprise me if some of these extremists were a little oversensitive to any whiff of Sikh independence.
We must be vigilant in Canada to the possibility that we harbour individuals willing to create a "Khalistan" at all costs. But we must be equally vigilant in subjecting accusations in this direction to careful scrutiny.
Phil Gurski is a 30-year intelligence veteran and the author of the forthcoming The Lesser Jihads: Bringing Islamist extremism to the world.
Commentary by Jagdeesh Mann in Vancouver
Anyone who has travelled to subcontinent knows it is not always such a salubrious destination. Incredible India, as the country sells itself in tourism brochures, can be incredibly chaotic, unwieldy, hot, dusty, venal, bovinely, and polluted – and then you accidently end up drinking the water.
Given his weakened state since returning to Canada, Canada's Defence Minister, Harjit Sajjan, has no doubt picked up a severe political bellyache from his recent week-long trip to the country.
In what should have been a soft PR exercise, Sajjan’s first trip to India as Canada’s Defense Minister, has gone from being an electoral victory lap in his birth country to a slog on Ottawa’s apology circuit.
The trip has brought into question his integrity as a leader, diminished his venerated standing before military personnel, and even dulled his image within the Sikh community.
During a speech at the Delhi based Observer Research Foundation security think-tank, Sajjan veered off script and deliberately inserted a line about being ‘the architect’ of Operation Medusa, a large-scale Canadian offensive in Afghanistan in 2006. It was a false statement: in Kandahar, where Sajjan served three tours while a reservist, he was as a mid-level officer providing intelligence to his commanders.
At his first sitting in the House of Commons on Monday, the minister, looked weary from repeating contrition for the battlefield boast, but failed to provide an explanation for it.
"I'm not here to make excuses," he said to the press gallery. "I'm here to acknowledge my mistake, apologize for it, learn from it and continue to serve."
Not since the cameras showed up at Premier Glen Clark’s house, had a BC politician seemed in such desperate need for a foxhole.
It's not unusual for Canadian immigrants to flash their success when they return to their homeland – Sajjan also made a visit to his birth village in the Punjab on this trip. These blingy displays however tend to be exhibited through heavy gold sets and brand name clothing, and not, as in the Minister case, through false claims of military prowess.
Had it been Sajjan’s only embellishment of his operational role, this errant speech could have been written off as typical politician’s self-aggrandizement. However, he also stated this alternative fact in an interview in 2015.
While this controversy has hogged the spotlight back in Canadian media this week, it was not the only trouble spot arising from his first visit back to India in 14 years.
The Minister’s tour, particularly of Punjab, was notably bumpy as the Chief Minister of the state, Captain Amarinder Singh and his cabinet, refused to meet with Sajjan.
Singh alleged that the minister and his father, Kundan Sajjan, a former executive of the World Sikh Organisation (WSO), are both Khalistan sympathisers. At the height of the Punjab conflict in the 1980’s, the WSO espoused the formation of an independent Sikh state.
The allegation against the minister is baseless and seems motivated by Singh’s bitterness at the Trudeau government. The Canadian government did not permit Singh to campaign last year among Canada’s one million-plus South Asians, forcing Singh to cancel the Canadian leg of his North American tour.
The Punjab Chief Minister’s rebuff, however, did little to help Sajjan’s mandate of advancing Canada-India relations, or of re-energising stalled Canada-India free trade talks which were first launched in 2010.
However, Sajjan’s most agonising moments during the week-long trip may have been in his circumspect responses to questions about the Ontario NDP provincial government recently passing legislation recognising the 1984 Delhi killings of Sikhs as an act of genocide. By some counts, as many as 30,000 Sikhs were killed by Hindu mobs in a four-day murderous frenzy.
In 2011, Surrey-Newton MP Sukh Dhaliwal was the first federal MP to petition for the recognition of the 1984 killings as an act of genocide, receiving support then from the current Minister of Innovation, Navdeep Bains. Dhaliwal was denied a visa to India in 2011, retribution for him spearheading this motion.
The failure of the Indian government to prosecute the government officials who organised the mobs has been a source of much pain for Sikhs worldwide for the past three decades. Sajjan however distanced himself from the motion.
In a stumbling response, he highlighted it was brought forward by a private member of the Ontario legislature (Harinder Malhi), insinuating the motion was politically motivated during an election year in the province. He further added that this was not his position as a member of the federal Liberal government.
Sikhs who were hopeful Canada’s most recognisable cabinet member would help resolve this long outstanding social justice issue were clearly disappointed in these answers. Left in the wake of Sajjan’s India trip are gnawing questions about how much of his cultivated image as Canada’s ‘badass’ minister, and a comic book hero for justice, is truth and how much is hyperbole.
Afterall, why would he distance himself from a social cause as glaring as the Delhi killings? And why would a veteran break the military code about boasting and take credit for the sacrifices of other soldiers?
After nearly 18 months in office, it seems all we have learned about the first term MP from Vancouver South is that it’s hard to gauge exactly where the soldier ends the politician begins.
Jagdeesh Mann is executive editor of the Asian Pacific Post. This article has been republished under arrangement with the Post.
by Renée Sylvestre-Williams
When Toronto-based lawyer Anjli Patel and her husband, Parambir Keila, were planning their Sikh wedding ceremony, they wanted to keep it simple and have it downtown. But they didn't look specifically for a South Asian planner familiar with their cultures.
“We found our wedding planner through a listing on Wedluxe.com,” says Patel. It wasn't necessarily the norm for Patel to have a planner. She says traditionally South Asian weddings were organized by families and, in some cases, the entire village. But since her 2012 wedding, she says having a planner instead of relying on family has become more accepted in South Asian communities.
“There are South Asian wedding planners, like Sapna [Weddings], but we went with our planner [Melissa Haggerty from Spectacular Spectacular], even though ours was their first South Asian wedding, because we wanted to get married in a downtown venue, and our planner had a lot of experience planning events in downtown venues.” Spectacular Spectacular has planned a few South Asian weddings each year since.
That choice, and that distribution of knowledge, wasn’t available 10 or 15 years ago, when Vicki Singh was planning her wedding. She was inspired to start her own wedding planning business after trying to find suppliers who could cater to the South Asian market.
As more immigrants settle in Canada, they’re looking for planners who can help plan weddings that incorporate all aspects of their cultures. With the Canadian wedding industry worth $5 billion and catering to an average of 160,000 couples annually (according to a survey in Weddingbells magazine), the industry has evolved beyond the white dress. And while it's easy for many people to find a planner who understands their wishes in their countries of origin, it can be difficult to find planners in Canada who fully appreciate clients’ varied needs and cultural sensitivities.
“This year will be our 15th anniversary [of the business],” says Singh, who has published two books on the subject, Cultural Weddings and The South Asian Wedding Planner. “This issue kept coming up. Finding suppliers who wanted and could cater to Indian weddings was a challenge. Instagram wasn’t as prevalent, so there were fewer ways to find out about new services and ideas. We were counting a lot on word of mouth to find people to do video, makeup — and the referrals weren’t always of the best quality.”
“We helped plan a Sikh wedding last year where the photographer had never done this kind of wedding before,” Singh explains, describing one typical example. “She was adamant she knew what to do, but there are certain things you need to know beforehand that she never got to: in a Sikh wedding you remove your shoes, cover your head, et cetera, during the ceremony. She came to the venue not knowing any of that.”
Alison McGill, editor-in-chief of Weddingbells, says couples who've wanted a diverse wedding have been chronically underserved by the industry, but that is changing. “Diversity has always been a key factor in Canadian weddings, and with more and more couples wanting to incorporate their cultures into their celebration, there has definitely been a shift in the wedding marketplace … Offerings are more multicultural today than ever before, and it is now not as difficult to find a wedding planner specializing in specific cultural celebrations.” She also said that wedding shows — often the place where couples find vendors and suppliers — are becoming more varied, offering services specific to different cultural backgrounds.
Danielle Andrews, co-founder of the Wedding Planners Institute of Canada, has seen firsthand how the industry has changed. “I don’t know that multicultural weddings themselves have necessarily increased,” she says. “What I’m seeing is more wedding coordinators getting involved. We’re seeing a shift towards having a wedding coordinator handling the [culturally specific] details — and not necessarily always a wedding coordinator of the couple’s culture.”
What has changed, in other words, is that wedding coordinators are educating themselves about different cultures. They might have training in (and until recently, cultural familiarity with) western wedding mores, but now they’re expanding their expertise and range of services.
Andrews says they’re seeing more weddings that blend eastern and western traditions — “more western-style weddings with the Chinese tea ceremony included," for instance. "It’s not heavy on customs, but it’s definitely incorporating customs.” Couples are picking and choosing which customs they want incorporated into their wedding.
Patel and Keila chose not to include extravagant Sikh or Hindu traditions into their wedding, which often include a week of events leading up to the ceremony. Instead, she and her husband kept the wedding small, celebrating at the Art Gallery of Ontario with 150 people, and even skipping the cake. She says working with Haggerty might have sounded risky, but it worked out: “We had a South Asian officiant and we all met a number of times to review the ceremony in detail. We had many design meetings where we discussed the big-picture look and feel and details as well. Having said that, our vision was never beyond her comprehension because we have the same aesthetic sensibility. We were always on the same page.”
Singh, the one who started her own wedding planning business, may have had trouble finding suppliers who could help plan weddings, but now, people can get her books everywhere. “We have brides who get our books at the Bay or Bed Bath and Beyond. And [then they] will have their nieces use it — a progression of people.”
Renee Sylvestre-Williams is a writer living in Toronto. Her work has been published in The Globe and Mail, Canadian Living and Quartz.
This story is the product of a partnership between TVO.org and New Canadian Media.
A UK-based Sikh organization is coming to Canada to hold a free media workshop in Mississauga on August 17 at Dixie Gurdwara.
The Sikh Press Association – a facilitator between the Sikh community and international media – will be holding the interactive workshop from 6 to 8 p.m. in an attempt to help locals learn media skills directly from professionals.
MELBOURNE – A Sikh-Australian politician contesting the July 2 general election for the country’s Greens Party has been targeted with racist flyers.
Alexandra Kaur Bhathal, a candidate for the seat of Batman (Melbourne), today wrote on her Facebook page, “Yesterday and today, a flyer has been distributed among my electorate, targeting my background and beliefs. The leaflet contains vicious and racist statements about me and my heritage as a Sikh.”
By Jagdeesh Mann in Vancouver
One of the most celebrated veterans in Canada, Retired Lieutenant Colonel Pritam Singh Jauhal, passed away peacefully this past week with his family by his side.
He was 95 years old.
Lt. Col. Singh served in the British Indian military and lived through the 20th century's era of tremendous social and technological change. When witnessing the emergence of his native India's independence as a youth, he could not have envisioned that one day he himself would become an agent of change in post-colonial Commonwealth.
His courage in battle would serve him well, guiding his rise from humble origins to serving honourably as an officer in several wars including World War II.
In 1993 at the age of 73, Singh inadvertently found himself in the middle of media storm when he, along with four other Sikhs, were barred from entering the Royal Canadian Legion in Newton, Surrey. The club's members opposed the men's entry on the grounds they were 'wearing hats', thus turning away the war veterans.
As a Sikh, Singh politely declined the club's demand he remove his turban, which is an indelible part of his religious identity. It was also a sanctioned part of his military uniform which he wore when fighting against Nazi Germany on behalf of the Allies.
Singh's grace through the Legion incident sharply contrasted with the ugly threats of violence that took a heavy toll on his household. Sadly, his wife passed away at that time from a cardiac arrest.
Today Canada's Defense Minister and head of our Armed Forces wears a turban. Its inclusion as part of the Canadian military uniform is now taken as self-evident - as is its place in Royal Legion Halls across Canada.
Lt. Col. Singh's dignified stand over two decades ago is one of the many quiet but indispensable victories that has made Canada a beacon for tolerance and plurality. His grace under fire would lead him to being invited for tea with Queen Elizabeth II who took it upon herself to ask Singh about the incident. Ever an officer and a gentleman, Singh stated that was sorry to have troubled her with the matter.
In 2013, Singh published his memoir, A Soldier Remembers, in collaboration with the Centre for Indo-Canadian Studies at the University of the Fraser Valley.
The funeral will be held at Valley View Funeral Home & Cemetary -14644 72 Ave, Surrey, on Sunday, July 3, 2016 at 3PM. It will be followed by a prayer ceremony at 4:30PM at Canadian Singh Sabha Gurdwara, 8115 132 St, Surrey BC.
Jagdeesh Mann is a writer and media professional based in Vancouver.
Republished under arrangement with the South Asian Post
By Jagdeesh Mann in Vancouver
Though it can be criticised as lip service, the Canadian government’s ongoing ‘dialogue’ on human rights with China sometimes has a bite.
This was evident last week when China’s touchy foreign minister threw a temper tantrum at a press conference in Ottawa when questioned about Beijing’s dismal human rights record.
The current practice calls for Canadian ministers to confine human rights discussions to private meetings with their Chinese counterparts. But as much as Canada has failed at curbing Beijing’s habit of executing dissidents and suppressing minorities such as Tibetans and Uighurs, China has failed at trapping the issue to government chambers sealed behind closed doors.
Thus every time the world’s economic dragon fumes at being bridled by ‘Western’ values, the issue of human rights gains more ink in the Sino-Canada storyline.
So what should Canada’s terms of engagement be with world’s next rising economic star, the current elephant-in-heat India?
Last year, India’s economy sprinted ahead to post a world-beating 7.6% GDP growth rate, though this result seems wind-aided thanks to some artful statistical spackling of poor data.
And as with China, this top-of-the-class economic report card has not spawned a halo effect to remove attention from the subcontinent’s own poor human rights record. In the foreground of the recently-stalled Canada-India free trade talks are ongoing protests by Canada’s politically influential South Asian community calling for protection of minorities in India.
These boiled at high heat last April when walls of protesters confronted India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi upon landing for his official state visit to Canada, dogging him from Ottawa to Toronto, and to Vancouver.
Human rights violations are again casting a shadow over Modi’s state visit this week to the United States where he will be addressing a joint session of the US Congress. Even though India is being feted by the West as a counterweight to rising Chinese assertiveness in Asia, US elected officials are also petitioning for change in how the Indian government treats minority Christians, Muslims, and Sikhs. This includes a group of 34 senators and congressmen penned a letter recently urging the Prime Minister to ‘hold perpetrators of this violence to account’.
These episodes of bloodshed include the infamous 2002 Gujarat riots in which hundreds of Muslims were killed by Hindu mobs and in which Modi was allegedly complicit – an event that led him to be denied a visa to the United States in 2005.
For Canada’s one million strong Sikh population, justice remains outstanding in the targeted killings of thousands of Sikhs in Delhi in 1984, along with the earlier attacks on the Golden Temple when hundreds of innocent worshippers on pilgrimage were shot down by Indian soldiers. The failure to convict the organisers of the Delhi mass killings and resolve this violent chapter against India’s Sikh minority – which like Christians in India form a mere 2% of the population – has allowed the wounds to grow toxic.
Although official reports record the killings of nearly 3,000 Sikhs, unofficial estimates are as high as 30,000. According to Barbara Crossette, a former New York Times bureau chief in New Delhi, “Almost as many Sikhs died in a few days in India in 1984 than all the deaths and disappearances in Chile during the 17-year military rule of Gen. Augusto Pinochet between 1973 and 1990,”
And so this past weekend on Saturday, Sikhs in Vancouver again gathered at the downtown Art Gallery to hold a vigil for victims of these events. This is the first of two annual commemorative events – the second, the annual Sikh Nation Blood Drive is held in November to mark the Delhi killings. It is the largest third party blood drive in the country for Canadian Blood Services.
Now in his early 20’s, Manveer Singh has worked as an organiser for the art gallery vigil. Like others of his generation, he was born outside of India and after the 1984 atrocities. Yet the horror of these events spared few – virtually every family knew of someone who was murdered or was a casualty of violence. These wounds have filtered into the current generation through emotional osmosis.
For Singh, Canada’s aspiration to expand its trade relationship with a state that refuses to account for the blood on its hands undermines Canadian values.
“At the political level, there is a reluctance to address these past events and press for convictions in the Delhi genocide as this would anger the Indian government,” said Singh in reference to the Canadian government averting its eyes from India’s record of violence towards minorities.
“What pains us most is that those from India’s Congress Party who were behind the killings still live free with impunity,” added Singh, who is currently a university student in Vancouver.
The future lies to the west over the Pacific for both Canada and the United States. North American companies have pivoted towards Asia – the next evolutionary step beyond NAFTA is the Trans Pacific Partnership, a free trade agreement between the US, Canada, Mexico and seven Asian nations that is looking to include India in its next stage.
In this ever unfettered global economy, uranium dug out from the Prairies is today shipped across the Pacific to power India’s nuclear power plants and feed its energy starved population. But in this same environment of capital and labour mobility, blood spilled in Delhi thirty years ago can stain the earth red in Canada today.
The Sikh community in Canada is politically potent, punches above its weight, and stands to be a key arbiter in the future of companies like Saskatchewan-based Cameco, which last year signed a $350 million deal in 2015 to provide uranium for India’s reactors. For Canadian resource companies seeking to reach India’s 1.2 billion consumers, they may find their caravans blocked by the ghosts of 1984 that haunt this new silk-road connecting cities like Vancouver, Saskatoon, and Toronto to Asia’s new El Dorado.
A number of Canadian elected officials have attempted to lay these spirits to rest by seeking official recognition of the Delhi killings as a genocide in order to close the chapter and move forward.
In 2011, MP Sukh Dhaliwal was the first to raise this topic at an official federal level. The member from Surrey-Newton put forward a petition in the House of Commons for official recognition of the 1984 killings as an act of genocide, plowing ahead with the convictions of his constituents despite a rebuke from then Liberal party leader Michael Ignatieff, as well as the Indian consulate in Vancouver. Dhaliwal received support from current Minister of Innovation, Navdeep Bains.
When asked if he would re-submit a proposal, Dhaliwal stated, “I was happy to forward petitions on behalf of my constituents, and now with e-petitions as a new way to facilitate grassroots democracy, I will continue to advance the petitions that are submitted by Surrey-Newton residents.”
NDP leader, Tom Mulcair has also issued an official release on the matter, stating that he and the federal NDP “firmly stand in solidarity with the community, independent human rights organizations and Canadians across the country, in seeking justice”.
And just this past week a motion for recognition of the Delhi killings as a genocidal act was voted on in the Ontario house. Put forward by Ontario NDP MLA Jagmeet Singh, it was defeated by the Liberal majority.
Singh tweeted afterwards, “By voting against the Sikh Genocide Recognition motion the Liberals turned their back on human rights, justice, reconciliation & healing. They not only turned their backs on the Sikhs but all the Hindu & Muslim families who risked their lives to save their Sikh neighbours.”
The World Sikh Organisation (WSO), the activist organisation that contributed mightily to Justin Trudeau’s victory, also expressed its disappointment at the defeat of MLA Jagmeet Singh’s bill. “We also call for justice for the victims of 1984, and that those who were behind the attacks need to be brought to justice instead of being allowed to live free with impunity,” said WSO legal counsel Balpreet Singh, adding the organisation supported Sukh Dhaliwal’s petition.
With 16 MP’s of Sikh heritage in the House of Commons, this matter will not fade into the recesses of the past. The recent recognition of the Armenian genocide by the German government as well as the apology for the Komagata Maru incident have bolstered confidence of achieving genocide recognition from Canada’s Sikh community.
Even the Government of India's Nanavati Commission Report acknowledges "but for the backing and help of influential and resourceful persons, killing of Sikhs so swiftly and in large numbers could not have happened.”
Despite such a damning statement, the Indian government has yet to move on convictions against the senior Congress Party members who organised the attacks.
Last year, Canada’s then-Conservative government’s Minister of Foreign Affairs issued a statement on the anniversary of China sending in the tanks against the protesters in Tiananmen Square, “Canada urges China to break its silence on the events of 26 years ago by openly accounting for the people who were killed, detained or went missing and by launching a process of national healing and reconciliation.”
The Canadian government has yet to make an equivalent request to India for its Tiananmen moment, when its tanks crackled over the marble promenade of the Golden Temple in 1984 and when senior Congress Party officials ordered police to stand down while sword-wielding mobs cut down thousands of innocent people.
With discussions of free trade in the air, the timing is right for that statement. It stands to be a rare moment where investing in the fight for human rights would provide a good return for business.
This commentary was republished with permission from the South Asian Post
THE World Sikh Organization of Canada said on Thursday that it is deeply disappointed by the Ontario Liberal Government’s vote against a motion recognizing the November 1984 attacks on Sikhs as a genocide. NDP Deputy Leader Jagmeet Singh had introduced a Private Members’ Motion reading, “That, in the opinion of this House, the Government of […]
THE World Sikh Organization of Canada welcomed Wednesday’s apology by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on behalf of the Canadian government for its decision in 1914 to refuse entry to the Komagata Maru. The ship, carrying 376 mostly Sikh passengers from Punjab was turned away after two months of being refused entry at the Vancouver ports. […]
by Samaah Jaffer in Vancouver
Nearly two years after the 100 year anniversary of the Komagata Maru arriving in the Burrard Inlet, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will offer an official apology in the House of Commons on May 18 for Canada’s discriminatory conduct in turning away over 300 potential immigrants.
The Komagata Maru was a chartered Japanese steamship that sailed from Hong Kong to Vancouver with 376 passengers, most being immigrants from the province of Punjab, India. For two months, the ship was not allowed to dock and the passengers were not allowed to disembark.
Eventually, only 24 returning residents were allowed onto Vancouver’s shores. The rest were turned away for failure to arrive in Canada by way of a “continuous passage.” The Continuous Passage Act was passed in 1908 in response to a slow increase of immigration from India, which was referred to as “the Indian invasion” or “the Hindu invasion,” and remained in effect until 1947.
When the Komagata Maru returned to Budge Budge, India, 19 of the passengers were shot to death.
Apologies from the government
In the week leading up to the annual Sikh celebration of Vaisaki — a commemoration of the birth of the Khalsa and the spring harvest — Trudeau announced that he would be offering an official apology for the incident in Parliament on May 18.
"The passengers of the Komagata Maru, like millions of immigrants to Canada since, were seeking refuge, and better lives for their families,” said Trudeau. “With so much to contribute to their new home, they chose Canada and we failed them utterly.”
The Professor Mohan Singh Memorial Foundation, nonpartisan advocacy organization based in British Columbia, has been actively petitioning the federal government for an official apology since 2002.
Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper offered an apology for the incident in 2008 at a gathering in Surrey, BC. However, many members of the audience immediately expressed that the informal gesture was inadequate. The secretary of state for Multiculturalism and Canadian Identity at the time, Jason Kenny, was accompanying the Prime Minister and stated, "The apology has been given and it won't be repeated."
Vancouver-based activist Manveer Singh believes Harper’s apology “did not deliver justice, as it did not acknowledge the fact that the event happened as a result of the racist attitudes in Canada's federal and provincial legislative houses.”
Significance of the apology
“The significance of this apology is one of closure and one of accountability. There seems to be an idea — a myth — that Canada's formative years were set on concepts of equality and oneness, when the reality is that there was rampant discrimination in place,” explained Singh.
“This apology will be a step towards mending Canada's race relations, because we do still have problems with racism. However, the apology itself is only words if we do not address the racism that still occurs today.”
His sentiments were echoed by Naveen Girn, cultural researcher and digitization specialist of the Komagata Maru Memorial Project at the Simon Fraser University Library, and curator of a number of other commemorative exhibitions around Metro Vancouver. Girn said to the Globe and Mail, “The apology being given in Parliament is a circling back to rectify that original wrong,” referring to the discriminatory laws passed in Parliament.
Girn expressed that he hopes Trudeau’s statement addresses the history of wrongdoing against South Asians in Canada, and pointed to the “living legacy” of the Komagata Maru in relation to the lack of security offered for temporary foreign workers today.
Professor of Cinema and Media Arts at York University, Ali Kazimi, believes Prime Minister Trudeau’s apology needs to thoroughly address and recognize Canada’s history of systemic racism, not simply as a “closed chapter.”
Kazimi, who produced “Continuous Journey,” a film about the Komagata Maru, and subsequently authored “Undesirables: White Canada and the Komagata Maru,” told The Star the apology should recognize that “that Canada for the first 100 years of its existence had what was effectively a ‘White Canada’ policy.”
“Trauma and pain are passed down generation to generation,” added Singh, who believes further to the apology, the immediate family members of Komagata Maru survivors should be given reparations.
Commemorating the Komagata Maru
Coinciding with the Prime Minister’s official apology on Wednesday, Carleton University’s Canada-India Centre for Excellence will be hosting the grand opening of the Komagata Maru Exhibition.
Through the depiction of the plight of the passengers, the exhibit attempts to represent “a quest for truth and justice.”
On May 23, Girn will be hosting the annual Komagata Anniversary Maru Walking Tour, which enables participants, accompanied historians, artists, and community members, to learn about the incident by visiting historical landmarks in downtown Vancouver.
Simon Fraser University, which developed and launched an interactive digital archive for the one-hundredth anniversary of the Komagata Maru, will also be opening the doors of its Surrey campus to the community for a live webcast of the Prime Minister’s apology.
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-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit