Prime Minister Justin Trudeau formally apologized Wednesday for the Komagata Maru incident that saw hundreds of mostly Indian immigrants turned away from the shores of Vancouver in 1914.
The apology comes just ahead of the incident’s 102nd anniversary on May 23. A total of 376 passengers of Sikh, Muslim, and Hindu origin were aboard the Komagata Maru ship, and discriminatory laws at the time prevented them from being able to set foot on Canadian soil.
“Canada’s government was, without question, responsible for the laws that prevented these passengers from immigrating peacefully and securely,” Trudeau said to the House of Commons Wednesday afternoon. “For that, and for every regrettable consequence that followed, we are sorry.”
Only a few passengers on board the ship were permitted to land in Canada. The rest were forced to remain in port for two months before turning around. Many others were jailed.
Upon arrival in Calcutta, 19 of the passengers aboard the Komagata Maru were shot dead.
“No words can fully erase the pain and suffering they experienced. Regrettably, the passage of time means that none are alive to hear our apology today,” Trudeau said. “Still, we offer it sincerely. For the laws that discriminated against you so senselessly. And for not formally apologizing sooner.”
Trudeau also directly addressed the descendants of those aboard the Komagata Maru, saying we will never know what their lives could have been like had their relatives been welcomed to Canada.
“Those possibilities are lost to history. For that – and to you – we apologize.”
He added that learning from past mistakes will be vital in moving forward.
Minister of National Defence Harjit Sajjan was acknowledged by the prime minister as being a key force in shining a light on the Komagata Maru incident.
“Before entering political life, the Minister was the commanding officer of The British Columbia Regiment Duke of Connaught’s Own – the same regiment that once forced out the Komagata Maru,” Trudeau said. “A century ago, the Minister’s family might well have been turned away from Canada. Today, the Minister sits beside us, here, in this House.”
Trudeau received multiple standing ovations from the House of Commons during his speech.