House of Commons Hansard #96 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was first.

Topics

Tsawwassen First Nation Final Agreement Act
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

Questions and comments. The hon. member for Delta—Richmond East for a short question.

Tsawwassen First Nation Final Agreement Act
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

John Cummins Delta—Richmond East, BC

Mr. Speaker, the previous member mentioned a land base. I should remind her that the existing land base for the Tsawwassen is roughly 600 acres. The band actually sold off about 70 acres on its own volition in 1950 and after that it developed a stake in properties on long term leases. A land base has not been an issue.

I appreciate the earnestness of the member's comments and it is okay to justify the need for a treaty, but the issue today is to evaluate this particular treaty that is before us. It is a large document. There are over 460 pages in two volumes and there are seven side agreements. She said very little about that. There are a number of issues that I am curious about. Let me ask her two questions.

One has to do with the issue of competing claims. In clause 49, chapter 2, it provides:

If Canada or British Columbia enters into a treaty or a land claims agreement...and that treaty or land claims agreement adversely affects the Section 35 Rights of Tsawwassen First Nation...Canada or British Columbia,...will provide...additional or replacement rights or other appropriate remedies;--

Does she have any idea of the expense and foofaraw that is going to be involved with that kind of an open-ended process? The other question is, does she think--

Tsawwassen First Nation Final Agreement Act
Government Orders

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

Order. I am very sorry, but the hon. member does not have time for another question. I had been very precise that I wanted a short question. The clock has now run out. I will pretend that I am not seeing the clock and ask the hon. member for Nanaimo—Cowichan to give a short reply.

Tsawwassen First Nation Final Agreement Act
Government Orders

5:30 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, the issue around competing claims is an enormous one that the B.C. Treaty Commission and the Auditor General have identified as a problem. In the agreement there is a provision where there are overlapping claims. I wish I had a crystal ball to forecast what expenses would be, but there is a provision to deal with it in here and we will have to let this agreement play itself out.

Tsawwassen First Nation Final Agreement Act
Government Orders

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

It being 5:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

When the House returns to the study of Bill C-34, there will be three minutes left for the hon. member for Nanaimo—Cowichan and I would hope that the Speaker at that time would recognize again the hon. member for Delta—Richmond East so that he could ask his second question.

The House resumed from April 2 consideration of the motion.

Komagata Maru Incident
Private Members' Business

5:30 p.m.

Bloc

Raymond Gravel Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Motion M-469 introduced by my Liberal colleague, which calls on the Conservative government to officially apologize to the Indo-Canadian community and to the individuals impacted in the 1914 Komagata Maru incident, in which passengers were prevented from landing in Canada.

Although some progress has been made, most notably the acknowledgement of this incident by the Prime Minister, the federal government still has not made an official apology. Canada should therefore apologize officially in order to close this sad chapter in Canadian history. In so doing, Canada would recognize the important contribution Indians have made to society in Canada and Quebec. In addition to official recognition, Canada could consider other means of acknowledging this incident, such as a commemorative monument or a museum, because of the tragic outcome.

The federal government has officially apologized for the head tax imposed on Chinese immigrants. Since the Komagata Maru incident is similar, we believe that the government can take the same approach.

Considered in the light of our modern values, the Canadian government's actions in 1914 were reprehensible. For that reason, the Bloc Québécois believes that an apology is warranted. However, other equally tragic events require official apologies. I will mention these events at the end of my speech, but I am thinking in particular of the native residential schools and the 1918 suppression of anti-conscription demonstrators. The Bloc Québécois has always called on the government to officially apologize for these two events.

Let us place this particular event in its historical context. First, in 1908, Canada passed a law that seriously restricted immigration from certain parts of the world. The Canadian government had ordered that immigrants who did not come to Canada by continuous journey—meaning that they did not come directly to Canada from their country of origin—were prohibited from immigrating to Canada. The law also prohibited Asian immigrants from entering Canada unless they were carrying at least $200.

Before the Komagata Maru, there was an incident with the Panama Maru on October 17, 1913. This Japanese ship, with 56 Indians aboard, docked in British Columbia. Seventeen of the Indians were already Canadian residents, but the other 39 Indians were detained in a Canadian immigration hall. This case was brought before the Supreme Court of British Columbia, and a decision was rendered on October 27, 1913. The judgment declared the orders in council relating to the requirement for the possession of $200 invalid because they did not conform to the precise wording of the Immigration Act. The 39 Indian passengers were released from the immigration hall and allowed entry into Canada.

Following this incident, the federal government ensured that the orders in council conformed to the Immigration Act. The government was then able to limit immigration from Asian countries. In short, the government found a legal way to uphold the orders in council on continuous journey and the requirement for the possession of $200 on arrival.

This was the context in which the Komagata Maru incident took place. On May 23, 1914, the passenger ship Komagata Maru arrived in Canadian waters on the British Columbia coast. It was carrying approximately 376 immigrants of Indian origin. Of these 376 immigrants, 340 were Sikh, 12 were Hindu, and 24 were Muslim. The Komagata Maru did not make a continuous journey to Canada. It was chartered out of Hong Kong and stopped in Shanghai, Moji, and Yokohama. Because it did not make a continuous journey to Canada, it was in violation of the existing Immigration Act. Twenty-two of the passengers were considered to be Canadian residents and were allowed to disembark. The remaining passengers had to remain on the ship.

The Conservative government at the time cited legal grounds to deny permission to land to the remainder of the passengers: they had not come by continuous journey from India; they did not possess the specified minimum amount of money—$200; and they were subject to recent immigration regulations prohibiting the landing of labourers at Pacific ports of entry. Although the Conservative government prohibited them from entering Canada, it did not deport them.

In other words, the status of migrant was not defined. A few weeks later, the case of a single passenger was chosen to serve as a test case for all other passengers on board. Ultimately, on July 6, 1914, five judges of the British Columbia Court of Appeal unanimously found that the immigration regulations were legal and valid and, in effect, maintained an earlier deportation order.

After this decision, and after almost three weeks to negotiate the ship’s departure, the Komagata Maru was escorted into international waters by a Canadian warship on July 23, 1914.

In September of that year, the vessel delivered the passengers to Budge Budge, near Calcutta, India, where British officials intended to transport the passengers to the Punjab. The passengers did not want to go to the Punjab region, and a riot ensued; 29 passengers were shot by British soldiers, and 20 of these passengers died. That is what is so tragic about this story.

In the past 50 years, the Indian community has been very active in Canada. In 1951, there were about 2,000 people of Indian origin in Canada. Now, there are some 750,000. According to the 2001 census, there were more than 34,000 people of Indian origin in Quebec, most of them—94%—in the greater Montreal area.

This event is important to the Indian community in Canada. Members of the community now feel that the incident showed that they were second-class Commonwealth citizens. In some families, the story has been passed down from generation to generation, while others heard about it once they came to live in Canada.

Indo-Canadians believe that with an official apology, Canada could right a historic wrong and emphasize the importance of their community's contribution to Canada and Quebec. An official apology would be one way to proclaim that such incidents must never happen again. Things have certainly improved. The Canadian government created the community historical recognition program on June 22, 2006, but neither the Prime Minister nor the government has apologized for this incident. Although an apology has a merely symbolic value, it would be greatly appreciated by the Indian community in Canada.

There have been other times when the government offered an apology, as in the case of the Chinese, for example, as I mentioned earlier. The federal government recently offered a formal apology to the Chinese community for the head tax, because at the beginning of the last century, Chinese immigrants were employed in western Canada, to a large extent in mining, but especially in the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway. These immigrants were not necessarily voluntary immigrants, but were cheap labour brought over from Asia. The government apologized for this situation. Thus, we do have a precedent for situations like this. The government could offer an apology to the Indo-Canadian community.

Other apologies are also in order, and the Bloc Québécois recognizes that the government should apologize for the Komagata Maru incident. That is why we support Motion M-469, which seeks to offer a formal apology to the immigrants who tried to enter Canada.

We are delighted to see this willingness to address the worst examples of human rights violations in Canadian history, and to clean up Canada's shameful past.

There are other examples of incidents for which Canada should apologize. In 1918, under a Conservative government, the same government responsible for the Komagata Maru incident, some Canadian soldiers opened fire on a crowd that was protesting conscription. Four people were killed and many were injured. After reviewing the events, the coroner's inquest concluded that the individuals shot by the soldiers on this occasion were innocent victims in no way involved in the riot. It is therefore the government's duty to pay fair and reasonable compensation to the victims' families, but this has yet to be done.

To commemorate this tragic event, a work of art was erected at the very location where these tragic events took place in Quebec City's lower town.

Another example is residential schools. As everyone knows, nearly 150,000 aboriginals suffered through the hell of residential schools.

Many victims have sadly already passed away but an estimated 87,000 survivors are left. It would also be nice if the House of Commons—

Komagata Maru Incident
Private Members' Business

5:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. member. I did warn him about the time.

The hon. member for Vaughan.

Komagata Maru Incident
Private Members' Business

5:40 p.m.

Liberal

Maurizio Bevilacqua Vaughan, ON

Mr. Speaker, on Wednesday, April 2, my colleague, the member for Brampton—Springdale, tabled a motion:

That, in the opinion of the House, the government should officially apologize to the Indo-Canadian community and to the individuals impacted in the 1914 Komagata Maru incident, in which passengers were prevented from landing in Canada.

Over the years, immigrants in our society have consistently been faced with many challenges and struggles that they have had to overcome. As elected representatives, it is critical that we acknowledge the hardships and obstacles that immigrants have encountered in their journey of hope for a brighter future in Canada.

Today I would like to speak about the great injustice that took place within our own nation in the year 1914. It is time that the government recognize and apologize for the incident of the Komagata Maru.

On May 23, 1914, the Komagata Maru, a passenger ship, arrived in Vancouver at the Burrard Inlet with 376 passengers from India. On board were 340 Sikhs, 12 Hindus and 24 Muslims. Many of them had fought alongside the British in wars and gave their lives to the Commonwealth. They were British citizens coming to a Commonwealth country, yet upon their arrival, they were shocked to learn that they would be denied the opportunity to disembark and enter Canada. The grounds for their rejection were part of the exclusionary, discriminatory and racist laws passed in the 1900s and designed to select immigrants based on race and country of origin.

When the passenger ship arrived in Vancouver, passengers of the Komagata Maru were not permitted to leave the ship. According to the legislation of the day, to be admitted into Canada, immigrants were required to have $200 and arrive by continuous journey from their country of birth. It was no secret that the regulation, although it did not have any mention of race or nationality, was intended to target individuals immigrating from India or China.

As a result, the passengers of the Komagata Maru were forced to spend two months under very poor conditions. They experienced famine, starvation and many of them fell victim to disease. At that time, the Indo-Canadian community, in particular those from the Khalsa Diwan Society, struggled to assist them by negotiating on their behalf their stay in Canada.

Sadly, despite determined efforts and struggles, at the end of the two months only 24 of the 376 passengers were given permission to stay in Canada. The rest were ordered deported. On July 23, 1914, supporters and friends of the passengers on the Komagata Maru watched the great injustice occur as the Canadian navy used a ship for aggression for the first time. The Canadian government of the day brought in the cruiser HMCS Rainbow. It aimed its guns at the Komagata Maru and escorted it out of Canadian waters.

After this terrible journey that began on April 4, 1914, and that ended on September 29, 1914, the Komagata Maru returned to Calcutta, India. Upon its return, the passengers experienced further anguish and distress. Some of them were arrested and others were killed.

Here we are 94 years later and the tragedy of the Komagata Maru remains an open and dark chapter in our nation's history.

As other members of the House have rightly indicated, the Canadian government must apologize to both the Indo-Canadian community and any other individuals who were affected by this tragic event, which has brought much sadness to many and left a black mark in our nation's history.

Despite all the efforts, including those of the Indo-Canadian community, other municipal, provincial and federal politicians, a formal apology has yet to be expressed.

It is important that we are reminded of the injustices of the past, injustices like the Komagata Maru incident, the time from 1885 to 1923, when there was a head tax for the Chinese, the period of 1923 to 1945, where strict immigration rules prohibited the Jews from entering our country or the internment of Italian Canadians. These moments are not proud moments in the history of our nation, and it is important that we recognize that fact.

We acknowledge that this issue is being raised nearly a century after its occurrence, but it must be addressed. We need to communicate compassion, understanding and hope to all those who still, 90 years later, are touched by this tragedy.

As a nation, we must refrain from the politics of exclusion, discrimination or racism. We must do now what should have been done years ago. We need to apologize for the Komagata Maru incident.

The community and all those affected by this tragedy patiently await a formal apology from the government. The painful memories still live on in their minds and in their hearts. Their healing process must now begin. While it should never be forgotten, we must close this sad chapter of Canadian history.

Today, I ask that the Prime Minister and the Conservative government express through words and deeds their apology for a wrong of the past. Let us be driven by the sound values of fairness, justice, respect, compassion and understanding. Let us never forget to be vigilant and safeguard the fundamental principles of a democracy and that of an open society, which prides itself on treating people with respect and dignity.

Today I would urge all the members sitting on this side and the other side to support the motion put forth by the member for Brampton—Springdale, who has for many years championed this important cause with persistence and determination.

Canada is recognized by many as a country of opportunity, of fairness, of hope, of justice. Canada's national wealth, prosperity, cultural, social riches have been fueled by the imagination, work and ingenuity of new Canadians. We are a nation in which, despite events like the Komagata Maru, individuals from the Indo-Canadian community have been able to succeed, to achieve, to prosper, to contribute to the building of a better and brighter future of our nation.

As responsible and committed individuals, we must accept our errors. We must acknowledge the challenges and the struggles of others, and we must humbly apologize.

Komagata Maru Incident
Private Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate on the motion by the member for Brampton—Springdale:

That, in the opinion of the House, the government should officially apologize to the Indo-Canadian community and to the individuals impacted in the 1914 Komagata Maru incident, in which passengers were prevented from landing in Canada.

New Democrats will be supporting the motion because we believe it is the right thing to do and because we believe it is long overdue.

Many folks in this corner of the House would have liked the opportunity to speak to the motion today. I know that I speak for my colleagues from Surrey North, Burnaby—New Westminster, New Westminster—Coquitlam, Vancouver East, and Nanaimo—Cowichan.

All of us have a longstanding interest in this issue, the Komagata Maru incident, and have worked on this issue for many years with people from our communities. We have often taken initiatives and we have called for action on this important apology many times over.

It is important that we acknowledge the injustices committed by Canada in the past. We need to remember and we need to apologize as we commit to working to ensure that we never again make the same mistakes. The Komagata Maru exists as a dark moment in Canadian history, a dark moment that we vow we should never repeat.

We have heard the story many times and it is a story that we must continue to tell. Back on May 23, 1914, the Komagata Maru arrived at English Bay in Vancouver. On board were 376 passengers from India: 340 Sikhs, 12 Hindus and 24 Muslims. The Komagata Maru had been chartered for the voyage to Canada. It was actually a coal freighter that had been modified to accommodate passengers.

The purpose of the voyage was political in nature. The intent was to test the colour bar that was part of Canada's immigration policy of the day. The organizer of the trip, Gurdit Singh, was intent on showing the injustice of that policy. All of the people on board were citizens of the British Empire, as were Canadians of that day.

Canada's policy at the time was designed to prevent Asian immigration. The policy stated that those who did not arrive on a continuous journey and who had less than $200 were denied entry to Canada. It is pretty clear that such a non-stop journey was virtually impossible from India and most of Asia at that time. Also, $200 was a huge amount of money by the standards of the time.

Debate in the House of Commons made it clear that the intent was explicitly racist. We have heard other speakers comment on it and quote directly from that debate.

It was also clear that the government intended to make it even more difficult to have a continuous voyage from India to Canada. It imposed on Canadian Pacific, its steamship line, to change the patterns of its voyages to make that impossible.

When the Komagata Maru arrived and the passengers were forbidden from disembarking, it was held for two months while court challenges were heard. In the end, the law was upheld, although 24 of the passengers were allowed to land.

On July 23, 1914, the Komagata Maru was forced to leave Vancouver harbour by the warship HMCS Rainbow. It arrived back in Calcutta, India, in September 1914, but the story continues to be one of tragedy. The British colonial authorities would not allow the passengers to disembark. In fact, they wanted to force them onto a special train going directly to Punjab. A riot ensued and 20 of the passengers were killed at that time.

Thus, the tragedy of the Komagata Maru was not just a story that happened on this side of the Pacific. It happened back in India as well.

At the time, there were Canadians who were prepared to extend a welcome to the passengers on the Komagata Maru. Members of the local Vancouver Sikh community, for instance, supported the legal challenges, held meetings at local gurdwaras and raised significant amounts of money. I think reports are that they raised $20,000. Again, that was a huge sum of money at the time.

They also collected provisions for the passengers, who were forbidden from disembarking. The Komagata Maru situation invoked a very strong sense of unity in the Sikh community in Vancouver at the time, along with widespread involvement.

I must say I am thankful that such compassion existed in the community at the time. I am also thankful that some members of the community were prepared to challenge that unjust law in a very direct way.

It is clear from the accounts of what happened that two things occurred. There were people who were directly involved in seeking justice and overturning an unjust and racist policy. There also were people who were acting out of compassion for those being held on the Komagata Maru.

The local media of the day were not so kind. They often whipped up racist sentiments against those who were on the Komagata Maru and they sensationalized the situation. The sentiments the media evoked inflamed less than honourable actions and statements by others in the community.

Most of us here in the House of Commons, and in fact most Canadians, are descended from immigrants, other than those who are from first nations. Our families came to Canada with high hopes for a better life. That was true of my family when they emigrated some time ago from Germany, Ireland and Scotland, but also more recently when family members came from Hungary.

That is one of the tragedies of the Komagata Maru incident: the tragedy of dashing the hopes of those people on board the Komagata Maru, who were never able to realize that dream. They were never able to make a contribution to the building of Canada and to the success of this country.

That is part of the reason why Canada must apologize to those who were on the Komagata Maru and to the Indo Canadian community. As a Canadian, I should offer a personal apology, and I do.

Part of my family lived in Canada at the time. While they lived in eastern Canada, I am sure they did nothing to see the law changed, to challenge the policies or to challenge those attitudes. I think we all have to bear responsibility for the actions of our democratically elected governments. I bear some of that responsibility in the inaction of my ancestors here in Canada.

New Democrats support this motion. We hope the government acts without further delay. However, I also have to say that discussion of this motion comes at a time when we are also discussing new changes to the Canadian immigration act.

Many people in Canada are concerned about the proposals from the government. They are concerned about the additional discretion that would be given to the minister. They are concerned about the change in the immigration law that would allow the requirement of processing of applications to be passed over. I think we have to always maintain our vigilance about the impact of changes to our immigration law.

Canada can be proud of its record on human rights. We are not perfect, and the Komagata Maru incident is just one example, but we have learned from our mistakes and we continue to learn from our mistakes. Sadly, we continue to make them with first nations women, temporary foreign workers, racial and ethnic minorities, and people caught up in national security concerns. Transsexual and transgender people still know prejudice and discrimination in Canada and are still denied full human rights and full participation in our society.

We should speak humbly when we call for action on human rights concerns. We should speak strongly and clearly but with humility and grace. We should never back away from seeing justice for those who are oppressed, but we should always do so in the knowledge of our own history and our own failings. We should always acknowledge our failings and pledge that they never be repeated.

Just the other day in the Globe and Mail, Gurcharan Singh Gill, who is a descendant of one of the individuals who was on the Komagata Maru, Daljit Singh, spoke about his hopes in this whole regard. There is only a handful of people in Canada who are descended from Komagata Maru passengers and Mr. Gill is one of them. He said from his home in Surrey, British Columbia, that if the government does it “with a full heart, it is all right”.

It is indeed right to offer this apology and it would be right to do it with a full heart.

Komagata Maru Incident
Private Members' Business

6 p.m.

Conservative

Nina Grewal Fleetwood—Port Kells, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today on behalf of the constituents of Fleetwood--Port Kells to participate in the debate on Motion No. 469.

Although the member for Brampton—Springdale is now aggressively working to have her motion passed, during her first term she was part of a Liberal government that refused to apologize for the Komagata Maru tragedy. Now, along with a couple of other MPs, including one from the NDP, she seems to have suddenly woken up, and they are racing before one another to take credit after our Prime Minister had already announced in August 2006 that this government would consult with the community on redressing this issue.

The current Prime Minister is the first prime minister to acknowledge the Komagata Maru tragedy. For years, Liberal leaders have rejected our calls for justice and fair treatment.

The issue of a Komagata Maru apology was first brought to the floor of the House in October 1997 and many times after by then MP Gurmant Grewal. He also tabled a petition in 2002 asking for the government to apologize. The petition was signed by thousands at the Gadri Babiyian Da Mela and organized by Sahib Thind, president of the Professor Mohan Singh Memorial Foundation.

I commend the Conservative government and our Prime Minister, who has been working on redressing Komagata Maru since 2006. Last weekend in Surrey, B.C., the Secretary of State for Multiculturalism and Canadian Identity laid out the policy of our government when he said:

Our government is working toward an official apology for the Komagata Maru incident. [The apology] will flow directly from the Prime Minister's historic recognition of the tragic nature of the Komagata Maru incident, as well as the spirit of the Historical Recognition Programs, whose goal is to ensure that immigration restrictions are properly recognized and commemorated.

This government has already kept its promise and has apologized to the Chinese Canadian community for the discriminatory head tax.

Canada's history is filled with tales of racism. No one is proud of the expulsion of the Acadians, residential schools for aboriginal children, the wartime internment of Japanese Canadians, or the turning away of the Komagata Maru.

On May 23, 1914, the Komagata Maru arrived in Vancouver harbour with 376 passengers who were British subjects from India. They were not allowed to land on Canadian soil because they did not comply with the continuous journey requirement.

They were marooned on board the ship in the harbour for two months, in virtually a floating prison. The passengers were denied their legal rights and access to justice. They were denied basic necessities like food, water and medicines. This was inhuman treatment. Excessive force was finally used to evict them from Canadian waters.

Then, after the departure, Canadian authorities conspired with the British government of India. Twenty-six returning passengers were shot dead upon return to India. Twenty remained missing and the remaining were jailed and their properties confiscated.

The Komagata Maru incident is one of the most poignant moments in Canadian history and illustrates the extreme racism that once existed in Canada. Upon arriving in British Columbia, early East Indians encountered hate, ostracism and negative stereotyping that resulted in discriminatory immigration restrictions, social and economic deprivation, and political disenfranchisement.

Discrimination was legislated, legal and official. Injustices, humiliation, prejudice and exploitation were rampant. The Komagata Maru incident was not an error but rather an intended, deliberate action of the divisive, exclusionist and racist policies of the provincial and federal governments of the day.

These policies included: a head tax on Chinese immigrants; keeping families separated; and threats to expel legitimate Canadian Sikh immigrants to the British Honduras. As well, the requirement to possess unusually high amounts of cash as a precondition for the South Asians to arrive in Canada was nothing short of a head tax.

The normal fee for the European immigrants was $50, and they were offered free land and travel subsidies to immigrate to Canada, while south Asians were required to have $200. Denying the right to vote stopped south Asians from serving on juries, school boards or in the military. They were denied access to provincial and federal jobs including informal denial of access to public facilities, housing, education, and professional jobs such as law, pharmacy positions and medicine as well as other high-status employment.

In 1913, 36 British subjects who came from India in a Japanese ship, the Panama Maru, were refused admission by the immigration department. They challenged the two orders in council. The B.C. Supreme Court's Chief Justice Hunter accepted their contention and held both orders in council ultra vires of the Immigration Act. They won their case in court and their deportation was stopped.

The government, determined not to give in, redrafted the orders to get around the chief justice's opinion and yet another order in council was introduced which made it illegal for artisans or labourers to enter Canada. The total exclusion of Indians was achieved by passing a series of orders in council.

Historical wrongs can never be undone, but they need to be acknowledged, confessed and corrected. There can never be enough compensation or compassion expressed and there is no way, now, that complete justice can be served.

The consensus in the south Asian community is that a sincere official apology is sufficient and it is not demanding any compensation.

Redressing a historical wrong is difficult and controversial, but it is important to do the right thing to heal the wounds, restore community pride, and console the descendants of the victims. It will help in serving as a caution and preventing such incidents, actions and behaviour from happening in the future.

It will help in the healing process and clear the air. The oppressed remain oppressed until redressed.

With redress, future generations and new Canadians will be able to raise their head in pride as their dignity is restored. They will salute their forefathers, provide loyalty, dedication and commitment, and contribute and move forward as equal and patriotic citizens of Canada.

The painful memory of the Komagata Maru inspires us all to continue to build on our nation's reputation as a land that embraces tolerance above intolerance, diversity above discrimination, and openness above exclusion.

The Komagata Maru tragedy is a reminder of just how far we have come as a society since that incident. We are a stronger and better country than we were 94 years ago. We are better and stronger precisely because of the contribution of all those who have crossed oceans to share this land.

Today, there are more than one million people of Indian descent living in Canada. They have worked hard and prospered, and Canada has prospered because of them. Our society is richer and more inclusive today because of the different waves of new immigrants.

Successive governments have failed to offer redress for the Komagata Maru for nearly a century. It is this Conservative government that has stood and addressed this issue. The Prime Minister has acknowledged the Komagata Maru incident. He announced that the government would consult with the community to re-address the issue, and he has kept his promise. Last month, at the Vaisakhi celebration hosted by me on Parliament Hill, the Prime Minister commended the contribution of the Sikhs to Canada. He said, “As Canadians we believe we learn from history, but we are not enslaved by it. We put old arguments behind us, in order to focus on the opportunities that lie before us and I especially know that Canadians of Sikh faith will always be leaders in moving our country forward unified, strong and free.

He was absolutely correct.

Komagata Maru Incident
Private Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Fast Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is a special privilege for me to add my comments to the debate on Motion No. 469. The motion calls for Canada to formally apologize for the Komagata Maru incident which took place many years ago.

The proposed apology is of great importance to many of my constituents in Abbotsford. As you know, Mr. Speaker, Abbotsford is home to some 26,000 residents of Indian origin, the majority of them from the province of Punjab in India. Most of them are recent immigrants or are the children and grandchildren of immigrants from India. They are hard-working, creative and entrepreneurial, and place a high value on caring for their extended families.

Canada has a well deserved reputation as being one of the world's most inclusive societies. We value our multicultural fabric and vigorously defend our personal freedoms, democratic traditions, basic human rights and, of course, the rule of law. However, this was not always so.

Today, our government is called upon to acknowledge and apologize for a grievous wrong inflicted on a group of would be immigrants, whose only desire was to build a better life for themselves and their families. I speak, of course, of the Komagata Maru incident. That tragic event represents one of the few dark chapters in Canada's otherwise illustrious history.

The Komagata Maru was a Japanese steamship that, in 1914, sailed from Hong Kong to Vancouver carrying 376 passengers from the Punjab in India. When the ship arrived in Canada, only 24 of the passengers were allowed to disembark. The remainder, although they were all British subjects, were not allowed to land because of Canada's racist exclusion laws and rules intended to keep Asians from entering Canada.

Although the decision to turn away this group of immigrants may have been technically legal at the time, in hindsight, most of us would agree that the decision was discriminatory. It was common knowledge that these exclusion laws were only applied to Indian immigrants.

However, that is not the end of the story. The refusal by Canadian authorities to allow the passengers of that ship to land had tragic consequences for the passengers. In fact, 20 of the passengers were killed and 9 injured during a riot that followed the ship's return to India.

Despite this tragic affair, what is remarkable is that hundreds of thousands of people from the Indian subcontinent have continued to make Canada their adoptive home. Today, Canada's Indo-Canadian community has grown to about three-quarters of a million people. They have been instrumental in helping us build a vibrant economy and an immensely tolerant society. They have become an important part of the multicultural mosaic that we as Canadians are so proud of today.

It has been said that those who ignore the lessons of history are bound to repeat them. Let this not be the experience of our great country. It is for that reason that I am pleased to say that our government is taking action to address this stain upon our national history. Last week, the hon. Jason Kenney, Secretary of State for Multiculturalism and Canadian Identity--

Komagata Maru Incident
Private Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

Order. The hon. member for Abbotsford, as gentle as he is, should not refer to other members of the House by name, except by their titles.

Komagata Maru Incident
Private Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Fast Abbotsford, BC

Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for that correction.

The Secretary of State for Multiculturalism and Canadian Identity announced that our government would issue a formal apology to at long last address a regrettable act that happened nearly 100 years ago.

This notice to deliver a formal apology represents the product of an ongoing process of dialogue with the Indo-Canadian community. In 2006 at the Gadri Babiyian Da Mela festival in Surrey, B.C. the Prime Minister acknowledged the lasting contribution that Indo-Canadians have made to our national prosperity and cultural diversity.

In that speech the Prime Minister acknowledged the Komagata Maru incident. He announced that our Conservative government would consult with the Indo-Canadian community on the best way to commemorate the sad chapter in our history. Shortly thereafter my colleague, the member Kootenay—Columbia, led public and private consultations on the infamous Komagata Maru incident.

These consultations included a total of 41 meetings with community leaders and organizations representing a broad cross-section of the Indo-Canadian community: professionals, community and business leaders, journalists and academics. Even descendants of passengers from the Komagata Maru were involved in the discussions.

The result was a strong call for the recognition of the hardships associated with the Komagata Maru incident. There was also a healthy discussion on the subject of what an appropriate official statement from the government might include. Most importantly, this process of dialogue led to one thing that has been lacking for almost 100 years: action to right a historical wrong.

At this point I need to ask a hard question: why did it take so long for us to get to where we are today?

The previous Liberal government had 13 long years to provide a meaningful response to the Komagata Maru incident, yet did absolutely nothing but raise false hopes and expectations, and disappoint the Indo-Canadian community. The hard truth is that on this vital issue of historical injustice the former Liberal government had the chance to do the right thing and simply did not get the job done.

I know that this could be said about many issues on which the previous government dithered, delayed and did nothing, yet on an issue of historical injustice, one would expect an expedited response. None was forthcoming from previous Liberal governments.

Komagata Maru Incident
Private Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

Order. It is with regret that I must interrupt the hon. member for Abbotsford. The hon. member for Hull--Aylmer is rising on a point of order.