Komagata Maru Kin Want Amends: Descendants of Passengers On Ill-Fated Ship Call On Ottawa

May 23, 2006: Komagata Maru Kin Want Amends: Descendants of Passengers On Ill-Fated Ship Call On Ottawa

Komagata Maru kin want amends
Descendants of passengers on ill-fated ship call on Ottawa

Kim Bolan
Vancouver Sun

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

(Photograph) Members of the Sikh community (from left) Tarlochan Singh Randhawa, Balbir Singh Saggu and Swarn Singh Gill, are calling for compensation for decendants of Komagata Maru passengers denied entry in Vancouver in 1914.

VANCOUVER – Descendants of passengers aboard the ill-fated Komagata Maru want to open discussions with the federal government about a formal apology and possible compensation over Canada's racist immigration laws early this century.

Three grandsons and a great-grandson of some of those aboard the infamous ship that tried to land in Vancouver in 1914 gathered in Richmond Monday to address community leaders and the media about a coordinated strategy on the issue.

Jas Toor said his grandfather was arrested as an independence leader after he was forced back to India with the other 375 on the chartered vessel.

“My grandfather and other passengers on that ship were jailed for at least two years,” Toor said. “We are looking for the help of all our politicians…. An official apology we expect from the government.”

Tejpal Singh Sandhu was at Monday's meeting representing his great-grandfather Gurdit Singh, who chartered the ship to travel from India to Canada.

Sandhu said the South Asian community in Canada must unite and come up with a common plan before entering into formal discussions with the government.

“This meeting is the first initiative taken by us,” said Sandhu, who was recently accepted as an immigrant to Canada — 92 years after his relative sought to come here. “We will try to find more and more families and we will form a committee.”

The Komagata Maru arrived in Vancouver Harbour in May 1914, but immigration officials refused to allow the passengers, mostly Sikhs, to disembark. Local community leaders with the Khalsa Diwan Society lobbied on their behalf for two months and raised more than $7,000 for a legal challenge, but in the end the vessel was forced back to Calcutta.

Because many aboard were leaders or sympathizers of the Ghadr party, which was fighting for independence, the British opened fire when the ship docked, killing several aboard and taking others prisoner.
Suki Badh, of Sher-E-Punjab Radio, organized the meeting, saying Monday that the time has come to begin a dialogue with the Canadian government.

“We feel this is a timely event,” Badh said to about 50 gathered at his radio station's offices.

He said the Conservative government's recent decision to formally apologize for the Chinese head tax paid by early immigrants from that community has many Indo-Canadians asking about the same for the Komagata Maru incident.

“There is a groundswell of support,” he said.
Three NDP MLAs attended Monday's meeting, as did Liberal MP Sukh Dhaliwal and former Conservative MP Gurmant Grewal, who said his MP wife Nina was unable to attend.

Sohan Singh Deo, a former president of the Khalsa Diwan Society, noted how much work has already been done to commemorate the Komagata Maru by community leaders over the years.

He urged the descendants to build on the lobbying and research that now exists to forge a united community approach.

Many at the meeting suggested the government might want to fund an educational program or a Komagata Maru chair at a B.C. university instead of a compensation package aimed at individuals.

Burnaby Edmonds NDP MLA Raj Chouhan said that whatever is demanded must reflect the wishes of the whole community.

“We want a clear and unequivocal apology from the government of Canada,” Chouhan said. “We have an apology for the Chinese head tax.
We have an apology for Japanese internment. Why not an apology for the Komagata Maru?”

Dhaliwal said the issue is not just for the Indo-Canadian community, but is of importance to all Canadians.

“The government cannot pit one community against another,” Dhaliwal said, adding that South Asians should also support the struggles of other minority communities with similar issues.

Grewal said Prime Minister Stephen Harper is willing to meet with Indo-Canadians on the issue.

This story can be heard online after 10:30 a.m. today at www.vancouversun.com/readaloud.
The Vancouver Sun 2006

Two Letters To The Editor on The Komagata Maru Article:

(1) It's time to move on and forget past mistakes (Letter)

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Re: Komagata Maru kin want amends, May 23
Everyone involved in the Komagata Maru incident is dead. When will it be time to forget the issues of the past that have now been corrected?

Following the logic being used by those claiming compensation, should the coal miners who were bound to their jobs during the war years not be entitled to some redress for the opportunities they lost for higher paying and safer jobs?

Do women who were not allowed to vote not deserve redress for their loss of dignity? Do the men who were sent to work camps to build roads and parks during the Great Depression, for room and board only, not deserve redress for the true value of their labour? The list can be endless.

At the time my father immigrated to Canada, a friend was denied entry because he had a lisp, which was deemed to be a medical deterrent. Does he not deserve redress?

Canadians have corrected many of the bad laws of the past and we are a stronger nation for it. But the fact the laws have changed should be payment enough.

If redress is truly the issue, have the descendants of the passengers on the Komagata Maru demanded reparations from India, the country they tried to free themselves from and where they were subsequently shot or jailed?

Edith Harper
The Vancouver Sun 2006

(2)It's time to move on and forget past mistakes (Letter)

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Hey, I want an apology and compensation from Ottawa. I deserve it.

In the 1940s, the federal government ordered me to report to an army base. There I was given a medical, inducted into the Canadian Army, given some training and sent overseas. I was forced to be in this army for nearly three years.

The girls in my high school class were not subjected to this cruel and harsh treatment. Clearly, there was gender discrimination involved as well as a violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms — which wasn't passed until much later.

This discrimination applied only to Canadian citizens. Immigrants were not forced into the armed services and, while native people could volunteer, they were not conscripted. So an apology in Parliament and a cheque for $300,000 are clearly in order.

Harold Mahood
The Vancouver Sun 2006