External Affairs

Canada to Offer Formal Apology for 1914 Komagata Maru Tragedy

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (C) holds a ceremonial sword that was presented to him while taking part in a Baisakhi celebration on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. Credit: Reuters

Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (C) holds a ceremonial sword that was presented to him while taking part in a Baisakhi celebration on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. Credit: Reuters

Toronto: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said he will “formally apologise” for Canada’s refusal to allow entry to Komagata Maru, a ship carrying 376 immigrants, mostly Sikhs, from India in 1914 due to the “discriminatory laws of the time”.

Speaking at the Baisakhi celebration in Ottawa, Trudeau said that the Komagata Maru’s passengers were seeking refuge and better lives, “like millions of immigrants to Canada since”.

“With so much to contribute to their new home, they chose Canada. And we failed them utterly,” he said.

“As a nation, we should never forget the prejudice suffered by the Sikh community at the hands of the Canadian government of the day. We should not and we will not,” Trudeau said at the Gurdwara Sahib Ottawa Sikh Society.

He further said that he will “formally apologise” on May 18 in the House of Commons, 102 years after the infamous incident, Toronto Star reported.

The Japanese steamship Komagata Maru, carrying 376 immigrants, mostly Sikhs, from India was denied entry by the Canadian government in May 1914 and was forced to return to India. Two months later, the ship arrived in Calcutta where British soldiers fired upon the disembarking passengers, killing 19.

A painful chapter in the history of Sikhs in Canada, the incident also highlighted the discriminatory immigration policies Canada had followed against Asian immigrants in the 19th century.

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.

The Trudeau-led Liberal Party, which has four Sikh ministers in the cabinet, had promised a formal apology during the election campaign last year.