Gurpreet Singh: Vancouver police mishandled vandalism of Komagata Maru memorial
The response to the desecration of the Komagata Maru memorial reflects very badly on the Vancouver Police Department.
Last month, an unidentified individual urinated at the memorial in the presence of the South Asian visitors. Not only that, he was very abusive when he was challenged for slamming a ball on the picture at the site in Harbour Green Park.
The memorial, which is near the Vancouver Convention Centre, has a wall bearing the names of passengers aboard the Komagata Maru vessel. Canadian authorities forced it to return to India in July 1914 under the discriminatory continuous-journey law that prevented the South Asian immigrants from coming indirectly to Vancouver from the country of their birth.
A picture of the South Asian ship passengers also greets visitors at the memorial, which was built by the City of Vancouver. Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologized in 2008 for the episode, and this is the centenary year of the incident.
One of the witnesses of the sacrilegious act, Pargan Mattu, took pictures and reported the matter to the VPD and the media.
Initially, a section of the mainstream media and the VPD ignored the incident only to wake up after the story was picked by Punjabi media outlets. Following angry reaction from the Punjabi community, police finally swung into action.
But to the dismay of the community it declined to recommend charges, saying that the criteria for such action has not been established. The police stated that prior to charges being laid, investigators need to establish that a criminal offence has occurred, that these charges are in the public interest, and that there was a substantial likelihood of a conviction.
Apparently, the VPD has also turned into a moral police, announcing that it has identified the man and has explained to him the cultural significance of the memorial.
Apologists for the establishment in the South Asian community separately claimed that the individual involved has mental-health issues and that the police can’t do anything. But the community was not impressed. Angry calls to Punjabi radio stations forced community leaders, the VPD, and Mayor Gregor Robertson to come out together to make a joint statement saying that the individual has apologized for his behaviour.
Whereas police and community gatekeepers think the controversy has died once and for all, the attitude of the VPD reflects very badly on our law enforcers.
Activists in the South Asian community never showed any hatred or vindictiveness. All they were seeking was an honest apology from the individual involved.
If the police knew that there was a mental-health situation, why weren't they more forthcoming about it? The community is kind-hearted enough and would have forgiven this guy anyway.
Why such flip-flop then? It appears that the VPD has treated South Asians as bunch of foolish people who can be silenced by cooking up stories.
The three grounds initially given by the police were not convincing at all. How could police claim that it could not establish a criminal offence having been committed despite the fact that there was a witness and pictures to corroborate his claim?
On what basis did the VPD decide that it was not in the public interest? Does that mean that the concerns of the South Asian community do not represent the public interest?
And under what authority did the VPD decide that there was no chance of conviction? Is the VPD above the Crown or the court?
Let’s call spade a spade: the police department is indulging in damage control with the connivance of community gatekeepers, but this won’t help to win over public confidence.
Whereas Harper has made an apology for the Komagata Maru episode, the Canadian establishment has done very little to change the attitudes of its police forces toward visible minorities.
Such insensitivity has not been shown for the first time. The mishandling of the Air India investigation, the missing women's inquiry, and other instances of under policing in situations in which oppressed or marginalized groups are on the receiving end show more needs to be done to end systemic racism.