Canada is home to a large and thriving Punjabi and predominantly Sikh diaspora from India. But probably you did not know that even as almost half a million Sikhs of Indian origin have found a better life in Canada, the story did not have such a pleasant beginning.

A hundred years ago, Canada turned away hundreds of Sikhs entering the country, which led to the death of many.

At a time when Canada is showing the way to European and American nations by letting in refugees, its Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has announced that he will apologise for the tragedy.

On the day of Baisakhi, Trudeau said in a heartfelt speech that those people chose Canada with hopes of a better life and “we failed them utterly“. He added that the prejudice suffered by the Sikh community due to discriminatory laws of those times should not be forgotten. He announced that on May 18, he “will stand in the house of commons, and offer a full apology for the Komagata Maru incident,” DNA reported.

Watch his speech here:

He also tweeted this:

Here’s all about the tragedy:

  • In 1914, a steamship named the Komagata Maru reached Vancouver in Canada with 376 Indian, mostly Sikh, passengers. 
  • Of 376, only 24 were allowed to enter Canada, while 352 others were turned away and forced to return to India.
  • Among the passengers were 340 Sikhs, 24 Muslims, and 12 Hindus.
  • When the ship returned to Calcutta (now Kolkata), it was stopped by the British who considered the passengers as law-breakers and dangerous political agitators.
  • The British tried to arrest 20 people whom they considered as ring leaders, and a riot broke out in which 19 passengers were killed.

The move has been welcomed by many, including Canada’s defense minister who is a Sikh: