Some Sikhs Demand An Apology and Compensation From Canada

May 25, 2006: Some Sikhs Demand An Apology and Compensation From Canada


As Canadians have recently heard, Sikhs are the latest group to have demanded that our federal government apologize and compensate them for alleged past wrongs. Some Sikhs have recently stated that they want the same restitution from the federal government that the federal government has recently promised to the Chinese.

Canadians have been told that “restitution” could come in the form of changes to school curricula so that significant attention is paid to the Komagata Maru incident of 1914. Or it could come in the form of a Komagata Maru Chair at a B.C. or other provincial university.

One of the purposes of these two moves would be to give academic legitimacy to the Sikh version of the story. The other would be to suppress any of the incident's context and to declare as illegitimate any of the reasons the British Columbia or Canadian governments might have given for stopping the Komagata Maru's passengers from landing.

For example, the Komagata Maru incident followed the 1907 Vancouver Riot which thoroughly embarrassed our federal government in front of the Japanese and Chinese governments. In particular, it shamed Canada in front of the British government which, until the Statute of Westminster in 1931, administered Canada's foreign affairs.

But as far as B.C. workers were concerned, the Canadian government needed to be shamed in order to do its duty. The 1907 riot effectively caused the federal government to pay attention to B.C. workers' complaints that Chinese and Japanese labourers were displacing them from their jobs or causing wage depression. It caused our federal government to require that any ship carrying potential immigrants to Canada had to come directly from the country of origin of the immigrants.

This meant that the Komagata Maru (actually a Japanese ship with a Japanese crew, but chartered by a group from India) had to have begun its trip in India. This law (a follow-up to an earlier agreement between Japan and Canada) had been enacted after the 1907 Vancouver Riot to restrict Japanese immigration to Canada. After the passing of this law, Chinese, Japanese and Indian immigrants all had to travel on a ship that originated in China, Japan or India respectively. The organizers of the Komagata Maru voyage deliberately intended to challenge and break Canadian law.

The law that Canada's government used to prevent the Komagata Maru's passengers from disembarking was one way to prevent British Columbia and other parts of Canada from being flooded with cheap labour.

This law had its origins partly in the 1901 “Royal Commission on Chinese and Japanese Immigration” which was intended to investigate the whole issue of Asian immigration. One particular purpose was to determine whether the economic arguments made by Canadian workers against Chinese and Japanese immigrants were valid.

Specific testimony to the commission revealed that an unskilled Chinese labourer received 7 cents a day for his work in China. (P. 9) If he had been employed as a railway labourer for $1.25 a day in Canada, he received 18 times the wage that he would have earned for one day's labour in his native China.

The purchasing power of the wages Chinese labourers earned in Canada would have been very large in China. Witnesses testified that a house of the type these labourers lived in could be purchased for $5 to $15 in that part of China. Furnishings “would not exceed $5 and a man supports a family on $2 or $3 a month”. (P. 8)

Living in the very frugal way they had been accustomed to living in China (a meagre diet and extremely cramped shelter), Chinese labourers were able to compete with Canadian labourers for scarce employment. As many people of the time observed, the Chinese labourer's awareness of the future purchasing power of Canadian dollars in China and his willingness to accept much lower wages gave the Chinese labourer (through the Chinese contractor) a great advantage over the Canadian labourer. A number of employers such as coal mine owners and railway managers employed these Chinese labourers (and, later, Japanese labourers) because the employers had to pay only a fraction of the wage they paid to Canadian labourers.

The Japanese labourers, who began to arrive in large numbers to replace the Chinese after the $500 Chinese Head Tax was imposed in 1904, received similar wages. There were not a large number of East Indians in Canada at the time of the 1901 Royal Commission, but it is probably correct to assume that they too worked for low wages. Thus, B.C. workers repeatedly made the legitimate point to B.C. legislators and to members of the Royal Commission that Asian workers presented a threat to the economic well-being of B.C. workers. In fact, a strong case could be made that foreign labour created genuine hardship for a number of resident workers and that the so-called “mistakes of the past” (the Head Taxes and arrangements with both Chinese and Japanese governments to restrict immigration to Canada) were not mistakes at all.

In the announcement recently made by Sikhs, Sikh descendants demanded an apology for the treatment of the passengers on the Komagata Maru. In fact, a strong case could probably be made by the descendants of Canadian workers of the late 1800's and early 1900's for restitution from the Canadian government for the hardship that cheap Oriental labour precipitated in the lives of their grandfathers and great-grandfathers.

Canadians also have to look at other motives behind the recent Sikh demands. The real intent of this demand for an apology and possible compensation is to maintain or increase Canada's high “Family Class” intake and the country's general high immigration levels. In other words, the point in making the Komagata Maru claim is to induce guilt and to “obligate” Canadians to walk down Absolution Avenue. As Canadians know, this avenue has no end and is bordered on both sides by senseless high immigration policies.

Ironically, the Sikh claim has been made during the last part of “Asian Heritage Month”. During this time, Canadians are told that they should look appreciatively at the contributions made to Canada by people of Asian origin. Undoubtedly, there are some good things there. But some Sikhs are obviously using “Asian Heritage Month” for ulterior motives. Their celebration of “Asian Heritage Month” has little to do with examining the distant past. Its main purpose is to use a distorted view of the past to promote their own interests.

For Canadians, this means more and more destruction of Canada's urban physical environment, its cultural heritage, and its economic well-being. There never was, nor will there ever be, a reason for capitulating to these ethnic demands.