Killing of immigration inspector probed in new book by Gurpreet Singh

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      Surrey writer and Radio India broadcaster Gurpreet Singh has written a new book highlighting connections between the 1914 murder of a high-ranking government official and the forced removal of a vessel carrying Indian immigrants from Vancouver’s harbour.

      In Why Mewa Singh Killed William Hopkinson: Revisiting the Murder of a Canadian Immigration Inspector (Chetna Parkashan), Gurpreet Singh describes how the Komagata Maru incident played a pivotal role in the killing, which was retaliation for an earlier murder of a leader in the local Sikh community.

      Gurpreet Singh reports that because Hopkinson was born in Delhi and understood Indian languages, he was able to create a network of 50 to 60 South Asian supporters who could gather information on activists in the community.

      In 1913, Indian nationalists living on the Pacific Coast had formed the Ghadar party to agitate for India’s independence from Great Britain. Ghadar activists weren’t opposed to using violence to achieve their objective.

      In 1914, businessman Gurdit Singh chartered the Japanese steamship Komagata Maru to challenge Canada’s immigration laws, which had the effect of preventing immigration from South Asia. The Komagata Maru arrived in Vancouver’s harbour on May 23, 1914, with 376 passengers. More than 350 were not allowed to disembark before the vessel was forced to return to India on July 23.

      During the standoff, Sikh community leader Bhag Singh was arrested after he went to the United States to try to buy weapons, reportedly for those on the ship. According to the book, Mewa Singh accompanied Bhag Singh on that trip.

      Gurpreet Singh reveals that according to a document in the City of Vancouver Archives, a “confidential report” declared that Ghadar activists were eager to seek revenge against immigration officials, including Hopkinson, even before the Komagata Maru was forced to leave Vancouver.

      Conflict within the community between supporters and opponents of Hopkinson resulted in “a wave of murders”, the book notes. This led directly to the shooting of Bhag Singh and another man in the Vancouver Sikh temple on September 5, 1914.

      Mewa Singh plotted revenge for this murder, and gunned down Hopkinson in the provincial courthouse on October 21.

      “He openly admitted his crime,” Gurpreet Singh writes. “He revealed that he could not bear the personal tragedy of two small children of Bhag Singh who were left orphaned with his death.”

      Gurpreet Singh, also a contributor to the Georgia Straight, will hold a book launch in Surrey on July 28.



      Johann Veritas

      Jul 19, 2013 at 5:44pm

      I hope there is more to the book than what is said in the article. If the article says it all, there's nothing new. The threats against Hopkinson have been documented before. The same goes with Mewa Singh travelling to the US with Bhag Singh, the various killings in Vancouver and Mewa Singh's statement when convicted of killing Hopkinson. There is so much more to the story that has been missing. What role if any did German and Austrian intelligence agencies play with Ghadar activists at the time? Keep in mind WW1 started about two weeks after the Komagata Maru left Vancouver. How significant was Hopkinson's role as the prime British/Indian intelligence agent in North America in his killing as the British Raj cracked down on Ghadar members and supporters returning to India after the start of the War? I hope the author gives some insight into those issues.


      Jun 6, 2014 at 11:46pm

      Both Bhag Singh and Mewa Singh in their own ways served the cause of Indians in Canada. The fact that ,they indirectly worked for building a multi cultural Canada is indisputable. If today , Canada prides itself on being a Multi Cultural Society, then it is only logical that they recognize both Bhag Singh and Mewa Singh as National Hero. This will atleast partly ameliorate the justice done 100 years back