MP Invokes Memory of the Komagata Maru

12 08 2010

News that a shipload of Tamil refugees is steaming towards Canada’s Pacific coast has generated a big debate in Ottawa over what to do with these would-be asylum seekers. Participants are making comparisons to past incidents of this nature.  Olivia Chow, an NDP MP, invoked the memory of the Komagata Maru:

“Ms. Chow pointed out that when Canadian officials have turned away a ship with passengers seeking asylum in the past, the results have been tragic. After the Komagata Maru was turned away from Canada in 1914, British soldiers shot 26 of the vessel’s passengers upon its return to India.”

Whether this argument involves the use of history or the abuse of history is a matter of opinion.  I’m pleased to see that the Komagata Maru incident is now famous enough for an MP from Toronto to refer to it when speaking to a journalist. That’s very encouraging to me, since the Komagata Maru incident is an important chapter in Canadian history. This news item caught my eye, since I’m currently putting the finishing touchs on a book that, among other things, looks at early Sikh immigration into Canada, with a particular focus on war veterans. The voyage of the Komagata Maru was, in all likelihood, funded by German intelligence agents  as a way of weakening the British Empire.



2 responses

13 08 2010

I heard about this boat, and have been wondering what the Canadian response would be. As you probably know, Australia is facing an election next week, and “the boats” are an emotional issue here. The Liberal (i.e. conservative) party proclaims that it will “stop the boats”; the Labor party proposes a return to off-shore processing in East Timor this time, instead of Nauru as previously. A boatload of 400 refugees would send them into meltdown at the moment, I suspect!

14 08 2010

Off-shore processing isn’t a possibility in Canada for practical and political reasons. There simply aren’t islands on the Pacific approaches to Canada that we could use for Nauru-style detention camps. The US would never let us use the Aleutian Islands. Moreover, I think that the political culture of Canada when it comes to immigration is diferent from that of Australia due to our location. Australia is south of Indonesia. Canada is south of lots of ice and snow. Canada’s birth rate is lower than that of Australia, if I recall correctly, and even our racists know that we need immigrants to shore up the pension system.

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