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 apology.

Topics

Tabling of Government of Canada Apology for the Komagata Maru Incident
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

Edmonton—Sherwood Park
Alberta

Conservative

Tim Uppal Minister of State (Democratic Reform)

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to table, in both official languages, the Prime Minister's apology on behalf of the Government of Canada for the Komagata Maru incident of 1914.

[Member spoke in Punjabi]

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

Resumption of Debate on Opposition Motion
Business of Supply
Government Orders

May 18th, 2012 / 10:35 a.m.

Edmonton—Sherwood Park
Alberta

Conservative

Tim Uppal Minister of State (Democratic Reform)

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to the many actions our Conservative government has taken in regard to acknowledging, commemorating and educating Canadians about the Komagata Maru tragedy of 1914.

South Asian Canadians have contributed a great deal to our beautiful country. We have worked hard to build Canada. Things have not always been fair for us. For decades, South Asian Canadians were discriminated against. At no point was this discrimination more obvious than the very disgusting racist continuous journey policies of the early 1900s that led to the tragedy of the Komagata Maru.

I wonder if many of the travellers on the Komagata Maru ship imagined that one day their children or grandchildren would stand up as a proud Sikh to address the Canadian people from Canada's Parliament. In fact, it is easy to imagine that one of the passengers on the Komagata Maru would have a grandson about my age.

Today's motion asks for an apology for this tragic incident. I am very proud to remind the House that on August 3, 2008, almost four years ago, the Prime Minister already took the historic step of apologizing for the Komagata Maru incident on behalf of the Government of Canada.

[Member spoke in Punjabi]

Let me read exactly what the Prime Minister said on that historic day:

Good afternoon, Bonne après-midi, Sat Sri Akaal, Nameste, As-Salamu Alaykum. I'd like to begin today by thanking the president of the Mohan Singh Memorial Foundation, Sahib Thind, for inviting me once again to this spectacular showcase of Punjabi culture. The vibrant dance and musical traditions, exquisite art and timeless literature being celebrated here today are the fruits of a millennial old civilization whose influence spans the globe. Canada now shares this rich cultural legacy; it has become an integral part of our own cultural diversity. Today over one million Canadians are of South Asian descent. These hard working men and women passionately devoted to their families and communities are helping make our country even stronger for the generations yet to come, our country that afford opportunity to all, regardless of their background, our country that offers sanctuary to victims of violence and persecution, our country of freedom and democracy, of prosperity and peace, second to none in the world. As Canadians, we have before us, and before our children and grandchildren, a future of literally unlimited possibility. A lot of that promise stems from the confidence, the ideas and the energies brought here by successive waves of newcomers drawn to our shores by the promise of a new and better life. Canada is renowned the world over for its welcoming embrace of immigrants. But like all countries, our record isn't perfect. We haven't always lived up to our own ideals. One such failure, as has been mentioned, was the detention and turning away of the Komagata Maru in 1914, an event that caused much hardship for its passengers, 376 subjects of the British crown from Punjab, and which for many of them ended in terrible tragedy. Two years ago, I stood before you and made a commitment and [since] then we have acted on that.

This May the Government of Canada secured the passage of the unanimous motion in the House of Commons recognizing the Komagata Maru tragedy and apologizing to those who were directly affected. Today, on behalf of the Government of Canada, I am officially conveying as Prime Minister that apology. Now friends, many Canadians have worked long and hard to secure recognition for this historic event. I'd like to thank from this community, the Professor Mohan Singh Foundation, the Khalsa Diwan Society, the Komagata Maru Descendants Association, and Community Leader, Tarlok Sablok, for their persistent and passionate dedication to this issue over the years. I also wish to acknowledge my own colleagues...for the work they have done to help all Canadians come to terms with this sad chapter in our history. We cannot change the events of the past; we cannot undo the misdeeds committed against those long deceased. But we can bring Canadians together in the present to unite our country, and to set us on a course to accomplish greater things in the future....

That historic apology followed a previous speech the Prime Minister made in 2006 in which he stated that the Government of Canada acknowledged the Komagata Maru incident and announced the government's commitment to undertake consultations with the South Asian community on how best to recognize this sad moment in history. The apology delivered in 2008 was a direct result of these consultations.

It also followed a May 2008 motion by the government, which passed by unanimous consent in the House of Commons, recognizing the Komagata Maru tragedy and apologizing to those who were directly affected.

I believe that the apology was made by the Prime Minister with great respect. I know most people in the community appreciate that apology, agree with that apology, respect that apology, and feel we should move on.

Jack Uppal, who is no relation to me, is highly respected and one of the most recognized figures in Canada's South Asian community. This community leader and successful businessman came to Canada as an infant with his parents in 1926. They settled in British Columbia. Mr. Uppal was one of the first Sikh children to attend a Vancouver public school. He now owns a successful lumber company in South Vancouver.

Mr. Uppal is known for hiring new immigrants and supporting others looking to come to Canada. Mr. Uppal has received the B.C. Community Achievement Award. He was president of the Khalsa Diwan Society, where he helped new immigrant Sikhs to integrate into Canadian society. He helped to establish Ross Street Temple. He is a member of the Indo-Canadian advisory committee for the community historical recognition program.

In June of this year, Mr. Uppal is going to receive a much deserved honorary doctorate degree from Simon Fraser University at the spring convocation.

This is what Mr. Uppal had to say in response to the Prime Minister's historic apology:

“Under the leadership of this Prime Minister, this government apologized for the historic injustice of the Komagata Maru. That apology was given in my house, my backyard, the place where the incident took place. I accepted the apology; the matter of an apology is closed. For myself, I have accepted the apology.

“The Komagata Maru was a tragic incident in Canada's history, but this government has made remarkable efforts to right the wrong. From the Prime Minister's public apology, to the Minister of Immigration's establishment of the Komagata Maru Canadian historical recognition program, which has funded a significant number of educational projects, museums and memorials across the country, this government is to be commended for its approach to reconciling a dark stain in our history.”

There are countless others in the community that share Mr. Uppal's view.

The Komagata Maru incident took place almost 100 years ago now, and no government previously issued an apology. Our government and the Prime Minister are the first and only ones to make such a historic apology for this tragic event.

I want to refer to the response Mr. Uppal gave to the Prime Minister's apology, specifically the last point during which Mr. Uppal addressed the government's creation of and funding for the community historical recognition program, as this brings me to my next point.

In 2006, in direct response to calls for the Government of Canada to address historic wrongs involving immigration and wartime measures, our Conservative government created the community historical recognition program, otherwise known as CHRP. This program provides grants and contribution funding for community projects that are developed in partnership with various groups.

In May 2008, the immigration minister at the time, the secretary of state for multiculturalism and Canadian identity, announced that the Indo-Canadian community would be able to apply for up to $2.5 million in grants and contribution funding for projects that acknowledge, commemorate and educate current and future Canadians about the Komagata Maru incident.

I will list the projects related to the Komagata Maru incident that the NDP and Liberals voted against.

Our government has provided funding for the Komagata Maru incident online project. This funding has gone toward the creation of a comprehensive website about the Komagata Maru incident, including interactive tools and learning modules.

Our government has also provided funding for the creation of the first ever public museum dedicated to the Komagata Maru incident, which will be housed at the Khalsa Diwan Society in Vancouver.

We have helped fund the first ever public monument dedicated to the Komagata Maru incident in Vancouver's Harbour Green Park, the closest point to where the ship was anchored for two months.

We have funded several book projects on the Komagata Maru incident. One is an illustrated book that will include the societal, cultural, political and religious aspects of the story of the Komagata Maru. The text will be based on the transcript of the award-winning film, Continuous Journey. The second book project will include content that will be translated into Punjabi.

Our government has provided funding for a project which engages youth through creative writing and digital media on the history of the Komagata Maru incident and tragedy.

Unfortunately, time does not permit me to go through the several other projects our government has funded that acknowledge, commemorate and educate Canadians about this tragic event.

It is clear that our government has taken several steps in regard to the Komagata Maru incident. Unfortunately, we have not received the support of the NDP or the Liberals.

The South Asian community has contributed a great deal, both economically and culturally, to this great country.

The Prime Minister and our government have taken several historic steps to address the Komagata Maru incident through the Prime Minister's apology and the creation of the CHRP program among others.

I would remind this House that the Prime Minister took another historic step when he appointed the first ever turban-wearing Sikh to cabinet in Canada and in fact anywhere outside India. It is with great honour that I serve with the Prime Minister as part of a government that I truly believe continues to make our great country a better place for all Canadians.

Our Conservative government recognizes and appreciates the significant and important contributions of South Asian Canadians. Through our actions, our government has responded to the issues that are important to these communities across the country.

South Asian Canadians can count on our Conservative government to stand up for the values and issues that are important to them: family, hard work, culture, and respect, among others. We have shown through our actions that our government will not only listen, but also take action. We will continue to do so.

Resumption of Debate on Opposition Motion
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:45 a.m.

NDP

Jasbir Sandhu Surrey North, BC

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the speech. There is a lot of misinformation contained in it.

I was at the 2006 and 2008 consultations that the member talked. Every single one of the members who spoke at those consultations unequivocally said they wanted an apology in the House of Commons, yet when the report came out, it was slammed by the entire community, the very organizations the member talked about.

I was at the stage when the Prime Minister made the political statement in the park. At the same time, the very organizations that the Prime Minister thanked rejected the apology right at the stage at the time when the Prime Minister could not even wait to hear the “thank you” note from the president of the organization. Every single one of those people present at the event, when the so-called apology was made, rejected it with their arms up.

I want to know from the member why the government is not apologizing in the House of Commons in order to have a dignified closure to this tragic event in our Canadian history. Why Is it refusing to do it in the House--

Resumption of Debate on Opposition Motion
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:50 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

Order, please. I am sure there are other members who wish to pose questions. The time is limited.

The hon. Minister of State.

Resumption of Debate on Opposition Motion
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:50 a.m.

Conservative

Tim Uppal Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Mr. Speaker, it absolutely was a tragic event, a dark spot in our great Canadian history. That is why the Prime Minister did give an official apology in front of thousands of Punjabis and thousands of South Asians who had gathered at a cultural festival. The Prime Minister went there himself and delivered this official apology on behalf of the Government of Canada and on behalf of the people of Canada.

I am very proud of the fact this apology was given, not only because it was given in the area where the incident took place, where the ship was turned away, but also because it was in front of thousands of people, so that thousands of South Asians could share in that apology on behalf of the government instead of the apology being made here.

Resumption of Debate on Opposition Motion
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:50 a.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, the Liberal Party of Canada has recognized the Komagata Maru, a 1914 incident, for many years. We have called upon the government to apologize. In fact, the Prime Minister made reference to that when he made an apology out in British Columbia.

However, the party has gone further than that. We have indicated very clearly that the Prime Minister of Canada should stand inside the House of Commons and make that formal apology, because many members of the Indo-Canadian community would like to see the Prime Minister do just that.

My question for the member is this: why would the government not be sympathetic to having the Prime Minister of Canada stand in the House of Commons, as he did in British Columbia, and apologize on behalf of all members and, in fact, the Government of Canada for the--

Resumption of Debate on Opposition Motion
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:50 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

Order, please.

The hon. Minister of State for Democratic Reform.

Resumption of Debate on Opposition Motion
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:50 a.m.

Conservative

Tim Uppal Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Mr. Speaker, I find it a little rich for a Liberal member to stand and ask for an apology. First, the apology has already been made, with a great deal of respect, in front of thousands of people. It is a little rich for the Liberal Party to even talk about this when for the 13 years it was government it had an opportunity, over two prime ministers, to make this apology, and it chose not to.

It was this government and this Prime Minister who, very respectfully, in front of thousands of people, officially apologized for the Komagata Maru incident. I am proud of the fact that I am part of the first government to apologize for this incident.

Resumption of Debate on Opposition Motion
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:50 a.m.

Conservative

Parm Gill Brampton—Springdale, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. minister for his very passionate speech. It was, indeed, a very tragic moment in our history.

The minister mentioned in his speech that the Prime Minister apologized for this tragedy about four years ago, in front of thousands Indo-Canadians, South Asians, in British Columbia, where this tragic incident actually took place. He also mentioned that there was funding made available for historic recognition programs and so on to remember this tragic moment in our history.

I would like to ask the hon. member why he believes the NDP has introduced this motion today, after four years. Maybe he can shed some light as to the motives behind the motion.

Resumption of Debate on Opposition Motion
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

Conservative

Tim Uppal Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Mr. Speaker, I look back and see that the apology has been made by the Prime Minister on behalf of the government. It was made with very much respect and in front of thousands of people. Many people I speak to are very proud of the fact that their government has apologized. He is the first Prime Minister to do so.

It is time to move on. It is time to educate others about what happened in that incident. We have provided funding for a museum, for online projects, for books and for a monument.

I can only think that the NDP is bringing this up now as a political ploy. It is unfortunate that it would bring such an emotional issue up as a matter of politics.

The apology has been made, with respect, in front of thousands of people.

Resumption of Debate on Opposition Motion
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have a brief question and a comment first.

If my memory is right and if history is right, the bill or the order in council that prohibited the Komagata Maru from landing, resulting in all those people not only losing their lives but being treated in such a terrible manner as their ship docked in the harbour, was passed in Parliament. It was an official government action.

It is my belief that the Prime Minister going out to speak at an event and making a pronouncement was a political speech. Whenever we have apologized for the wrongs that we have done to others, as history shows, it has been done through an apology in this House.

My question to my hon. colleague is this: if the government is willing to acknowledge out on a stage that what Canada did was a historical wrong, why will it not apologize in here and let us close this chapter so that truth and reconciliation can proceed?

Resumption of Debate on Opposition Motion
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

Conservative

Tim Uppal Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Mr. Speaker, as I said, it is unfortunate that the NDP would bring this up as a political issue and misinform Canadians.

Apologies have been made outside of the House for other incidents as well, other government actions. Those apologies were made with respect, in the same way as this one.

I have been honoured to table in this House the apology that the Prime Minister delivered in front of thousands of people in British Columbia. The apology was official. It was made in front of thousands of people. It was made where the incident took place. I am proud to be a part of a government that has made that apology.

Resumption of Debate on Opposition Motion
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I look to the minister because there is a great deal of merit for the Prime Minister to stand in his place inside the House. I do not see the drawback as to why thePrime Minister would not want to do that. It is not a question of political partisanship.

The Komagata Maru is something that political parties of all stripes have recognized as an issue. The Prime Minister and even the minister himself have indicated that they are potentially prepared to apologize inside the House.

My question is this: when can we anticipate that we would see the Prime Minister make some sort of a formal apology inside the House? Does he see that happening any time in the future?

There are many members of the Indo-Canadian community who are happy that the Prime Minister did make the apology out in British Columbia, but there are many members who—

Resumption of Debate on Opposition Motion
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. member, but time is limited. We need to give some time to the Minister of State to respond.

The hon. Minister of State.