The Komagatu Maru – A Personal Reflection / by Jagmeet Singh

To me, the Komagata Maru, represents a poignant example of the intolerance that has existed and continues to exist in Canada.

Canada is a country founded on immigration.

I find it very ironic that a country founded on immigration, built by immigrants, would have so many examples of mistreatment of immigrants and unjust immigration policies.

Though the Komagata Maru is an example of historic prejudice, xenophobia and inhumane treatment of our fellow humans, similar acts continue to occur, not just in Canada but around the world.

We all know the famous line: if we do not learn from our past we are condemned to repeat it. That is why I am interested in the Komagata Maru story. It caused harm to members of the South Asian community represented on that ship – Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs.

By denying the passengers permission to walk on Canadian soil, it sent the message that the passengers were unwanted, undesirable and simply, less-than human.

I believe, that without rectifying these past actions, without a formal apology from the state recognizing the wrong committed, Canada is only continuing the injustice.

To heal from trauma one must first acknowledge that the trauma occurred in the first place; that there was negative harm and innocent people suffered. To do that, in this case, means that Canada must acknowledge that there was a historic mistreatment of the passengers on the Komagata Maru ship.

Without apologizing for the Komagata Maru, Canada sends a message to the world, that their actions were acceptable and right.

An apology, admitting wrong and sincerely regretting it happened, would also suggest that in recognizing the harm committed, Canada would pledge to not allowing the same type of practices and action to occur again.  An apology also acts as a commitment to never repeat that wrong again.

Looking at recent legislation by the federal government, we are seeing that it is harder and harder to for refugees to find sanctuary in Canada. Under the guise of budget cuts, essential services and programs to refugees and immigrants is further marginalizing the most vulnerable people in our society. For example, look at the current treatment of Eelam Tamils fleeing the persecution of the Sri Lankan government.

Not only must we commit to recognizing the harms done in the past and apologizing for them we must also commit to never letting them happen again. 

Jagmeet Singh is a Member of Provincial Parliament in Ontario, representing the riding of Bramalea-Gore-Malton.