There are plenty of controversies that riddle a nation’s history, even for a country as young as Canada. The Komagata Maru incident, in which hundreds of immigrants from Punjab were turned away from our shores on July 23, 1914, marks one of those shameful moments.
The boat had sat for two months in Burrard Inlet while officials scrambled to find a way to say “go home” to the 376 immigrant-hopefuls aboard, and the federal government’s eventual rejection was cause for international re-examination of immigration policies in Commonwealth countries.
So it is with a progressive lens that members of the India Canada Cultural Association of Victoria are joining forces with Saanich South MLA Lana Popham to mark that “dark day” in Canada’s history.
Popham and Saanich residents like Sabba Sal will break bread and pay homage to the courage of Gurdit Singh, the wealthy Sikh with a British passport who chartered the Komagata Maru with the intent of challenging the racist immigration policies of the time.
Modern immigration policy is still a bit of a mess, as illustrated by the recent outrage over the Temporary Foreign Worker Program and more widely accessed International Experience Canada program.
But these issues are at least subject to public checks and balances and not dominated by old-world, closed-door mentalities.
In Wednesday’s Saanich News, the optimism expressed by India Canada Cultural Association of Victoria member Sabba Sal is contagious, as he looks not to harp on the failures of the past but to instead strive for better outcomes in the future.
As Sal rightly states, “The challenge now is to work the next 100 years to include everyone, no matter their colour, language or country.”
Multiculturalism wasn’t always so ingrained in our daily perception of Canada, so take a moment to reflect on just how far we’ve come.