Justin Trudeau chooses the week of Vaisakhi to announce upcoming Komagata Maru apology

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      The arrival of Vaisakhi every April invariably attracts politicians' attention.

      The annual celebration commemorates the birth of the Khalsa in 1699. This was a Sikh military order created to stop the ruling Moguls from forcing Punjabis to convert to Islam. As well, Vaisakhi traditionally follows the spring harvest.

      The Vancouver parade takes place this Saturday (April 16) on the southeast side of town and may attract up to 100,000 people. Along with regular folks will be hordes of politicians from all levels of government.

      It's no coincidence that in advance of the festivities, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has revealed that he'll apologize in Parliament for an infamous racist act against South Asians more than a century ago. Elected officials occasionally time positive announcements concerning the South Asian community to coincide with Vaisakhi.

      In 1914, the Komagata Maru vessel was turned away from Vancouver's Coal Harbour with more than 350 passengers onboard. They were refused entry into the country because of Canada's discriminatory immigration legislation; the boat languished within sight of the shore for two months. (For more on that, see this article.)

      Most Komagata Maru passengers weren't allowed to step foot on Canadian soil
      Vancouver Public Library

      Trudeau's speech will be delivered in Parliament in May, which is the same month that the Komagata Maru put down its anchor in Coal Harbour. 

      This news has been welcomed by the Professor Mohan Singh Memorial Foundation, which has long advocated for an apology in Parliament. Former prime minister Stephen Harper issued a 2008 apology in a Surrey park, which bothered many community activists at the time.

      "Today’s announcement is the announcement of a date our organization has been working towards for decades," foundation president Sahib Thind said in a news release. "We never asked for any compensation, and singlemindedly kept the goal to be the official apology made in Parliament, and written into Hansard. To the tens of thousands of South Asian Canadians across the land who we represent in this cause, and the many who have worked with us to seek this apology, we say 'thank you' for your resolve."

      One highlight of Vaisakhi is free Indian food. This year, more leftovers will be recycled.
      Charlie Smith

      Meanwhile, the Khalsa Diwan Society and Vancity have announced that this year's Vaisakhi parade will be the greenest in history. The society operates the Ross Street gurdwara and organizes the parade. One of its charms is all the Indian food prepared by local families and handed out for free along the route.

      This year's plan calls for the diversion of 90 percent of the waste from landfills. It will be accomplished by the placement of City of Vancouver and Green Chair Recycling stations along the route.

      “Since receiving civic status in 2013, the Vaisakhi parade has been a great partner and asset to the city that enhances our community spirit,” Mayor Gregor Robertson said in the news release. “I congratulate the Khalsa Diwan Society for taking initiative in setting a model to become the greenest Vaisakhi parade ever at the same time Vancouver works toward becoming the greenest city in the world.”

      Mayor Gregor Robertson (with former councillor Ellen Woodsworth) is a regular at the parade.
      Charlie Smith

      Last year, Indian prime minister Narendra Modi timed his visit to Surrey to precede annual parade.

      That's because Vaisakhi is also when the movement for an independent Sikh homeland called Khalistan reaches its zenith in Surrey. Modi wanted to whip up patriotism for a united India in advance.

      Unlike the Surrey event that's put on by a pro-Khalistan gurdwara, the Vancouver celebration does not commemorate "martyrs" linked to the 1985 Air India bombings or the 1984 assassination of Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi. That's because the Khalsa Diwan Society does not promote radicalism and has turned the Vancouver event into a festival that brings together people of different racial and religious backgrounds. 

      In fact, a former Khalsa Diwan Society vice president, Major Singh Sidhu, lost three close family members when Air India Flight 182 was bombed. And for more than two decades, he's been an outspoken critic of religious fundamentalism.