Professor Audrey Macklin is a leading immigration and refugee legal scholar, who has written and commented extensively on the Komagata Maru Episode and its place in Canada's migration history. As part of Komagata Maru Week, Professor Macklin delivered a lecture entitled Getting to We: The Komagata Maru, The Unmaking of Empire and the Making of a Settler Society. An audio recording of the lecture is found below.
The 1914 Komagata Maru Incident was a transformative moment in the evolution of Canadian citizenship. Canadian citizenship did not formally emerge until 1947 -- the same year as India achieved independence. Until then, all inhabitants of the British Empire shared a common status, namely British subject. The British proclaimed that all British subjects were equal, and free mobility throughout the Empire was one manifestation of that equality. The vehemence with which Canadian officials sought to exclude the Indian passengers aboard the Komagata Maru belied the alleged equality of British Subjects, yet the means by which the exclusion was accomplished also demonstrated the need to conceal the government's motive behind an apparently neutral regulation. The first part of the lecture places the Komagata Maru in national and imperial context.
That the Canadian government formally apologized for the Komagata Maru incident suggests that the impact and meaning of the event is safely sequestered in the past. The second part of lecture identifies the traces of the Komagata Maru incident in present-day Canada. The moral panic surrounding the arrival of people on boats, the transnational security discourse, the racialization of Canadian citizenship, the reliance on low-visibility, highly discretionary tools, and easily manipulated tools for regulating migration, remain significant features of contemporary Canadian migration law, policy and discourse.