Ottawa : Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sits with members of the Sikh community and government caucus during a Vaisakhi celebration on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Monday, April 11, 2016. AP/PTI(AP4_12_2016_000001B)
Ottawa : Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sits with members of the Sikh community and government caucus during a Vaisakhi celebration on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Monday, April 11, 2016. AP/PTI(AP4_12_2016_000001B)

Toronto: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau today said he will “formally apologise” for Canada’s refusal to allow entry to Komagata Maru, a ship carrying 376 immigrants, mostly Sikhs, from India in 1914 due to “discriminatory laws of the time”.

Speaking at the Baisakhi celebration in Ottawa, Trudeau said that the Komagata Maru’s passengers were seeking refuge and better lives, “like millions of immigrants to Canada since”.

“With so much to contribute to their new home, they chose Canada. And we failed them utterly,” the prime minister said, adding that the passengers were refused entry to Canada due to “discriminatory laws of the time”.

“As a nation, we should never forget the prejudice suffered by the Sikh community at the hands of the Canadian government of the day. We should not and we will not,” Trudeau said at the Gurdwara Sahib Ottawa Sikh Society. He further said that he will “formally apologise” on May 18 in the House of Commons, 102 years after the infamous incident, Toronto Star reported.

The Japanese steamship Komagata Maru, carrying 376 immigrants, mostly Sikhs, from India was denied entry by the Canadian government in May 1914 and was forced to return to India. Two months later, the ship arrived in Calcutta where British soldiers fired upon the disembarking passengers in which 19 people died.

A painful chapter in the history of Sikhs in Canada, the incident also highlighted the discriminatory immigration policies Canada had followed against Asian immigrants in the 19th century. Former prime minister Stephen Harper did apologise for the incident at a public event in British Columbia in 2008, but the Sikh- Canadians were demanding a formal statement in the Parliament.

Trudeau-led Liberal Party, which has four Sikh ministers in the cabinet, has promised a formal apology during the election campaign last year.

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