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.