On Monday morning, Jaswinder Toor received the call he’d been waiting for since last fall: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will offer a “full apology” for the Komagata Maru incident in the House of Commons.
During the federal election, Toor and his brother Raj, both spokespersons for the Descendants of Komagata Maru Society, met with Trudeau when he campaigned in Surrey and Vancouver.
“I asked if an apology would be made,” said Toor.
It would, Trudeau replied.
The apology will take place May 18 in a more formal setting than Bear Creek Park, where former prime minister Stephen Harper offered a similar apology in 2008.
“We are very proud that the prime minister has kept his promise,” said Toor, 55, who came to Canada more than 40 years ago.
The incident is a dark chapter in Canadian history.
In 1914, the ship Komagata Maru, carrying 376 Indian immigrants – mostly Sikh and all British subjects – was turned away from Vancouver and sent back to India.
Local officials cited the Continuous Passage Regulation, which stated that all immigrants must come directly from their country of origin.
Due to the great distance between India and Canada, this was impossible, as ships required a stopover. The Komagata Maru had stopped in Hong Kong.
The voyage home meant the exiled passengers had been confined to the ship for six months. As they became increasingly agitated, they were hit by British gunfire when they returned to India. Twenty were killed, and scores were wounded.
Toor’s grandfather, Puran Singh Janetpura, was 30 years old at the time and one of the passengers on the ship. He survived.
Nearly 50 years later, although he was offered a chance by his family to join them in Canada from his native Punjab, he refused to come. He was still bitter about the incident.
“They were not illegal immigrants,” Toor said.
Toor said in the last few months, several emails were exchanged with the Office of the Prime Minster about the details of the apology.
“Everything is covered… there is no stone left unturned,” he said, adding he was asked to keep the news to himself that the apology would in fact soon take place. Ottawa needed a few more months to hammer out the details.
Descendants of Komagata Maru Society asked for no financial compensation from the Canadian government for the 1914 event.
The Komagata Maru descendant said he’s thrilled with the news and thankful for the help in keeping the story alive.
“All of my Canadian brothers and sisters supported us.”