House of Commons Hansard #127 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was seniors.

Topics

Opposition Motion--Komagata Maru Incident
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:45 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Madam Speaker, there are many from within the Indo-Canadian community today who believe it would be a wonderful thing to see the Prime Minister of Canada stand in his place here in the House of Commons where the problem originated when we passed some of the laws many years ago. So, to bring some conclusion to it, making the effort would go a long way and would put the issue to rest.

Opposition Motion--Komagata Maru Incident
Business of Supply
Government Orders

May 18th, 2012 / 12:50 p.m.

NDP

Rathika Sitsabaiesan Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Madam Speaker, on May 23, 1914, the ship, Komagata Maru, arrived in Burrard Inlet near Vancouver with 376 passengers aboard from British India. At that time, Canadian immigration officials enacted regulations to block immigrants from India from being admitted to Canada. Immigrants were required to come by continuous journey from their country of birth and enter with at least $200 cash each. This continuous journey regulation did not mention race or nationality and, on the surface, seemed fair and applicable to all immigrants. However, it was an open secret that the regulation was intended to be applied primarily to people from British India.

When the Komagata Maru arrived onshore, Canadian immigration authorities did not permit passengers to leave the boat, claiming that they could not be admitted until officials had determined if they met the requirements of the continuous journey regulation. Since they were refused permission to land, the passengers lived aboard the ship for two months, like prisoners, continuously threatened by famine and disease. For the entire two months, the passengers of the Komagata Maru, the Indian community in British Columbia and Canadian immigration authorities were engaged in a heated legal battle about the passengers' right to enter Canada.

At the end of the two months, only 20 passengers were given permission to stay in Canada and, on July 23, 1914, the Komagata Maru was forced to leave Canadian waters. When it returned to Calcutta, India, 19 passengers were shot by the British Raj.

This tragedy was a major embarrassment for the Canadian government of the day, and even today it reminds all Canadians and particularly Canadians of South Asian heritage of past injustices.

The Komagata Maru tragedy is a reminder of a policy of exclusion for immigrants based on the unjust basis of culture, religious belief and skin colour.

Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Newton—North Delta.

Despite the prejudice and hostility in Canada that the Komagata Maru story exemplified, the South Asian community has survived and prospered in Canada. The community emerged in the 1980s with a positive and confident outlook, and today in a more tolerant and compassionate Canada, the Komagata Maru remains a powerful symbol of unjust discrimination.

Despite Canada's proud tradition of protecting refugees, the country has not always been generous toward those in need of protection. However, we have learned painful lessons from our history and, since then, Canada has set an international gold standard for how we treat and welcome asylum seekers and refugee claimants.

This was our reputation until the current government began to reform our refugee and immigration system and change the way we treat asylum seekers to a regressive level similar to what was seen at the time of the Komagata Maru. By ramming through Bill C-31, people who flee a country and arrive by boat, like the Komagata Maru, would not be permitted to land in Canada. However, once they step foot on Canadian soil, they would be detained, some in provincial prisons, and treated like common criminals.

This tragedy of the Komagata Maru shows us where we went wrong and where we should never return. However, as we are witnessing with Bill C-31, it is becoming yet another example of Canada failing to learn from the mistakes of the past. This is one perfect example of immigration laws gone wrong and resulting in the unnecessary loss of human life.

As a country, we need to ensure that immigration reform will not result in any more loss of human life. Unfortunately, I do not think this will be the case should Bill C-31 pass.

The tragedy of the Komagata Maru is a dark chapter in Canadian history and this dark chapter must finally be closed. The people of the South Asian community deserve closure for this trauma so that the process of healing and reconciliation can begin. What better time to acknowledge this fact than during the month of May, Asian Heritage Month, and mere days before the anniversary of this tragic event?

In 2008, the Prime Minister attended an outdoor cultural festival in Surrey, B.C. where people were led to believe that he would announce the date of a formal apology. Rather than listening to the festival organizers who advised that an apology from the state would be ill-received at this park, the Prime Minister chose to issue an apology anyway. This apology was widely regarded as rude, insincere and disrespectful.

A dignified official apology for the Komagata Maru tragedy is long overdue. By refusing to formally apologize for the Komagata Maru incident, the Conservatives have essentially created two different levels of apologies for historic wrongs. This is wrong.

Without an apology in Parliament, there is no official acknowledgement that what Canada did was wrong. The South Asian community in Canada deserves a respectful acknowledgement of this historic wrong.

Today, as we remember how Canada treated the Komagata Maru in 1914 and we commit to learning from our past, we ask the government to officially apologize in the House of Commons to the South Asian community and to the individuals impacted in the Komagata Maru incident.

Opposition Motion--Komagata Maru Incident
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

NDP

Randall Garrison Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased today to rise and add my voice to those who call for an official apology for the Komagata Maru incident and to begin on real reconciliation among all Canadians as a result of this tragic incident in our past.

At the same time I want to acknowledge how pleased I will be this Sunday to be attending the 100th anniversary celebration of the Khalsa Diwan Society in my own riding, along with, I assume, the Deputy Speaker who will also be helping to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the temple on that site, and the great contributions, despite the Komagata Maru incident, that the Sikh community has made in my community.

I think we all need to acknowledge those contributions, despite this lack of an apology.

Opposition Motion--Komagata Maru Incident
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

NDP

Rathika Sitsabaiesan Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Madam Speaker, my colleague's comments show how much commitment the South Asian community has shown to Canadian communities.

Since the Komagata Maru, we have given so much to the economic well-being, the cultural well-being and the growth of this country, and have contributed so much to what this country is known and cherished for around the world, which is diversity and inclusion of all immigrants to this country.

That is why the members of the South Asian community and the people who were affected by the Komagata Maru deserve an official apology in this House of Commons, not just a public political speech in a park.

Opposition Motion--Komagata Maru Incident
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

Conservative

Parm Gill Brampton—Springdale, ON

Madam Speaker, I understand that the members of the opposition are trying to make this a political issue, which it is not.

They need to understand that they are playing with the emotions of people who were affected by it, a community that is trying to put this tragic moment behind them. They have accepted the apology of the Prime Minister delivered in 2008 and yet members of the opposition are trying to bring this back again and it hurts feelings.

I am also a member of the Sikh family. I was also born in India. I also came here as an immigrant. I have thousands of friends and family members who live here who were affected and who feel the pain that all South Asians felt with regard to the Komagata Maru. I believe it is the opposition members who are playing with the feelings of people.

Even if the Prime Minister had apologized in the House at the time, I think the opposition would still have criticized the Prime Minister for not apologizing in B.C. in front of thousands of Indo-Canadians where the apology took place.

Once again, I urge all opposition members to stop this game and move on.

Opposition Motion--Komagata Maru Incident
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

NDP

Rathika Sitsabaiesan Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Madam Speaker, it saddens me that the member, who is also a member of the South Asian community, speaks along the same lines of the current Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism. He said, ”This was a single incident that affected about 350 non-Canadians of some 90 years ago”. He said that we should forget about it and move on.

That is very hurtful. I would like to quote the editor of the Asian Journal who said:

No matter how much money any government spends on monuments and other projects, it is all MEANINGLESS if the government fails to apologize in Parliament for the Komagata Maru incident.

This is what the South Asian community wants, not this new creation of a two-tier apology system for official wrongdoings by a government. Because this was an official wrongdoing by the Canadian government, it t needs an official apology, and that can only be done if it is officially done by the House, which is recognized as a place for official apologies in this country.

Opposition Motion--Komagata Maru Incident
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1 p.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims Newton—North Delta, BC

Madam Speaker, I sat here today listening to the debates and questions. At times it has been hurtful and emotional for me. I, too, am an immigrant with roots in the Indian subcontinent.

I want to remind everybody that the people who were on the Komagata Maru that was turned away were not only Sikhs, they were Hindus and they were Muslims. If we all remember our history, at that time the Indian subcontinent was one country and it was under British rule.

All of those citizens on that ship were British citizens. They were just coming to another part of the British Empire. An order in council prevented them from coming here for no other reason than the colour of their skin and their religious background. I would say that is a shameful aspect of our history, and because it is part of our official history, nobody is denying it, not the Conservatives, not the Liberals, not the NDP. We all accept that it was a shameful part of our history. Therefore, I believe that we must also accept that if the wrong was done by a government through orders in council, then the apology must also be in the hallowed halls of Parliament today.

If the Prime Minister has already acknowledged, in a speech on a platform in a park, that it was wrong, I would say it would not be a big step for him to sit in his seat on the Monday after we come back and to read out a statement in this House. The fact of the matter is, this is the House.

I want to just reflect a minute, and I would really appreciate it, Madam Speaker, if some of the chatter to the right of me could stop. It is interfering with my train of thought. It is very disrespectful, because I really try to pay attention when other people are speaking.

I have to be honest that because I grew up in England my knowledge of the Komagata Maru was not that great. I have learned more about this incident. Being a social studies teacher, I tried to reflect the cultural diversity of our communities and tried to teach a little bit about the Komagata Maru.

I only became personally attached to some of the stories once I was running to be a member of Parliament. During that time, I had many members of the riding come up and speak to me about this incident. The emotions that were involved were really overwhelming. I had read about it, so I had the historical aspect, but I did not appreciate at that time, as I do today, the emotional baggage people were carrying as a result of this.

I had a gentleman in my riding, whose name is Jasbir. He is the grandson of a Komagata Maru passenger. He asked if he could have a meeting with me before he would decide who he was going to be supporting. He told me of the struggles he has had with the Liberal government and the Conservative government, getting them to apologize.

He said that he had a great deal of respect for Jack Layton, because Jack Layton said that when the NDP formed a government, it would apologize. This motion is here today. Our party is saying that when we form government, there will be an apology. We will not be like the Liberals, who sat with majority governments, year in and year out, and it just was not an issue then. They did not issue an apology when they had the chance.

Why is this so important when there are so many other critical issues surrounding us right now? As a counsellor, I know the importance of truth and reconciliation. The families I have met personally will not find closure, nor will the community, unless and until there is an apology in this Parliament.

I also beg to disagree with my respected colleague from Brampton—Springdale when he says that this is not an issue in the community. I invite him to come with me to my riding, have a debate and discussion and hear from the people.

The Prime Minister talked about the consultations that occurred with the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism. I just finished a conversation during the break with a gentleman who helped to facilitate the consultations. He was at both consultations, Toronto and Vancouver, He said that not one person at either of those well-attended consultation meetings said anything other than the apology has to be in Parliament.

There are some things that overwhelm us. I know how important it has been for other communities. I am very proud that the government apologized to the Japanese for the internment and to the Chinese for the head tax. It was my privilege the other day to read a statement. This is the wonderful thing about our communities. There was a comment made by a small business owner, Gabriel Yiu, in Vancouver, who stated, “I believe that with solidarity among the ethnic groups there is hope that a dignified apology could be issued before the centennial of the Komagata Maru incident”. This is the country we have built. Canadians from other cultures absolutely recognize the need for this apology.

There are other comments. For example, in B.C. the Liberal-Conservative coalition government apologized in the legislature. I will read what Carole Taylor said in Hansard, not in some public park announcement. She apologized on behalf of the province and stated:

It is a shame for all of us to remember that our country did this, but I think that part of the healing process is to go through this, where we apologize for it. To those individuals who have been affected directly or indirectly, to those in India whose future was determined by this policy of discrimination and to the world who watched Canada with dismay as we perpetuated this whites-only policy — to everyone — we say: “We apologize.”

I have only one plea to my colleagues on every side of the House. It would take a nanosecond for the Prime Minister to stand in his place on Monday morning or any other day in the near future to say we apologize. One thing I have taught my children is that saying sorry means a lot. It sends a message. There are hundreds of thousands of South Asians, Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus who are looking to for us to make that apology in these hallowed halls.

It was just over a year ago when I first sat in my seat in Parliament that I was overwhelmed with emotion. I was born in India, grew up in England, now live in Canada. I am sitting in a seat where other people sat before me and made motions to keep people from my ancestry out of this country and to keep women from the vote. I was very proud that we are moving forward. This apology is a necessary step for truth and reconciliation.

Opposition Motion--Komagata Maru Incident
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

Conservative

Parm Gill Brampton—Springdale, ON

Madam Speaker, I would like to point out that while the NDP only talks, our government has already taken action. On August 3, 2008, the Prime Minister took the historic step of recognizing and apologizing on behalf of the Government of Canada for the Komagata Maru incident of 1914.

Jack Uppal, who is a very prominent member and one of the most recognized figures in the South Asian Canadian community, has commended the apology and accepted it. Is the hon. member saying that Mr. Uppal is not a member of the South Asian community?

Opposition Motion--Komagata Maru Incident
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims Newton—North Delta, BC

Madam Speaker, it is not my place to say whether Mr. Uppal is a member of any community or not. We are not here debating who is more Indian, who is more Sikh, who is more Hindu, who is more Muslim. We are debating here today a wrong that was done by the government. All we are asking is that the government make an apology in this House.

If the Prime Minister can say he is sorry out there, then surely it would not be that much more difficult to stand up in this House and apologize, put an end to this story so we could all move on, so the residents in my riding and across Canada could say there has been closure.

Opposition Motion--Komagata Maru Incident
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Madam Speaker, we need to recognize that sometimes our greatest enemy is from within. I believe, in the case of the Prime Minister, that this might be an issue of pride. Sometimes pride will prevent one from doing the honourable thing.

The Prime Minister has made an apology outside the House and the current Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism has said the government is not going to reopen the issue. It has apologized once, it does not feel it has to apologize again. The government wants to keep that door shut.

There are people even beyond the Indo Canadian community who are aware of this particular issue. They understand and appreciate that what caused the issue in part was legislation that had passed many years ago here, on the floor of the House of Commons. They would see closure to the issue by having the Prime Minister or the government of the day stand up and apologize in the place where a previous government had originally passed the law.

Opposition Motion--Komagata Maru Incident
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims Newton—North Delta, BC

Madam Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for his support of an apology. I always welcome people who have a change of mind. He has deep roots and connections with people in the South Asian community.

This is a very simple request that is coming to this House from hundreds and thousands of people of South Asian descent. All they are asking for is an apology in the House. An announcement in a park does not cut it. An apology in the House will go a long way to heal.

Opposition Motion--Komagata Maru Incident
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Madam Speaker, we have asked the Conservative government to make an apology in the House of Commons. It refused.

When the NDP forms the government in 2015, what would an NDP government do with respect to this issue, if and when it is in power?

Opposition Motion--Komagata Maru Incident
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims Newton—North Delta, BC

Madam Speaker, when the NDP forms government in 2015, we will issue an official apology from this House, if the Prime Minister does not have the courage to do it.

Opposition Motion--Komagata Maru Incident
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Denise Savoie

It being 1:15 p.m., it is my duty to interrupt the proceedings and put forthwith every question necessary to dispose of the business of supply.

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Opposition Motion--Komagata Maru Incident
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.