Jason Kenney shows up at unveiling of Komagata Maru memorial
Federal Immigration MinisterJason Kenney paid a surprise visit to a public ceremony today, but that has not swayed former Vancouver park board chair Raj Hundal from his conviction that Kenney's boss should offer a repeat apology.
Speaking to the Georgia Straight today (July 23) at the official downtown unveiling of a monument to the Komagata Maru passengers from 1914, Hundal said he still believes that Prime Minister Stephen Harper should apologize in the House of Commons for the infamous incident and not think his 2008 apology in a Surrey park was sufficient.
“I think this is a really important first step,” Hundal said following the unveiling at Harbour Green Park near Coal Harbour. “I want to stress that I was there at Bear Creek Park when the apology was given. [But] it’s really important that we have that apology in the House of Commons, so we have it on official record. I want to [emphasize] the importance of today’s event…But much more work needs to be done as well.”
More than 100 people were in attendance at the event. According to a release from the office of Nina Grewal, Conservative MP for Fleetwood–Port Kells, the federal government provided more than $82,000 for the location and design of the monument, which honours the memories of 376 Indian passengers (all British subjects) aboard the Komagata Maru.
Jason Kenney lifts the curtain on the memorial.
Due to immigration policies of the time, these passengers were not allowed to leave their ship and enter Canada, being forced to exist on donated food and water for two months in the spring and summer while moored offshore in Burrard Inlet . (Nineteen of the passengers were shot and killed by police on their return to India.)
Former MP Gurmant Grewal, Nina’s husband, told the Straight at the event that he was not going to ask for an apology in the House.
“My opinion is, why did the community not say it at the event when they had the opportunity to say it?” Gurmant said, referring to the August 2008 apology at a community gathering in Surrey. “It is individual opinions, but we need to move forward.”
By way of explanation, Gurmant said that when a mistake has happened, the first step is to acknowledge it, the second is to apologize for it, and the last step is to ensure it never happens again.
“In the South Asian communities…when you have to say sorry, you go to the other person or victim’s house…and you say, ‘I have come to apologize,’ ” Gurmant told the Straight. “You never say, ‘Please come to my house at three o’clock; I want to apologize.’ Keeping that tradition alive, the prime minister did stand up and say sorry.”
Two of Surrey’s established NDP MLAs differed with Gurmant.
“I think it has a different standing when it’s a formal apology in the Parliament,” Bruce Ralston, Surrey-Whalley MLA, told the Straight at the event. “I was there in the park when he made the statement, and I think it carries a different political weight when you say it in the Parliament.”
Harry Bains, NDP MLA for Surrey-Newton, told the Straight: “I think the community appreciates this type of initiative, but there is still a big majority that would like to see a formal apology inside the Parliament, just like other apologies that were made on behalf of many other communities. That will put an end to this movement, as far as looking for redress and looking at healing the wounds. I think that is one area the prime minister should seriously consider, then we can move on to the next chapter.”
Earlier on in the proceedings, Kenney made a point of being there to unveil the plaque showing an archive photo of the Komagata Maru’s passengers jammed on the ship’s deck while temporarily tied up at the docks that used to exist close to the modern event in Coal Harbour.
“Welcome to this historic moment as we commemorate permanently here at Burrard Inlet the tragically unjust voyage of 1914,” Kenney told the crowd. “Everyone who is here knows this story, and we know that the policy that resulted in the refusal of the passengers of the Komagata Maru was the ‘continuous journey’ policy that was designed specifically to prevent people, Canadians, of South Asian origin—excuse me, people of South Asian origin—from migrating to Canada. These brave people sought to challenge that injustice and they were not welcome.”
Many other community leaders and politicians of all stripes and levels of government were present at the event.
Raj Hundal thanks those who worked to make the monument a reality.