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Police probing 'hate crime' at Komagata Maru memorial

The police are investigating a possible hate crime at the Coal Harbour Komagata Maru memorial.

chandigarh Updated: Dec 06, 2013 17:26 IST

The police are investigating a possible hate crime at the Coal Harbour Komagata Maru memorial.

According to Vancouver Police Department (VPD) spokesman, Randy Fincham, the hate crimes unit is looking into an incident that happened on Monday, where a man allegedly urinated on the monument dedicated to the more than 350 Punjabi passengers who were turned away from Canada under discriminatory laws in May 1914.

It was Surrey's Pargan Mattu who witnessed the incident while he was in Coal Harbour visiting the monument with a friend from Seattle. According to Mattu, as he was taking photos of it, a man in his 30s approached the pair and asked what they were doing.

When Mattu explained, the man threw a soccer ball at the memorial, walked up to it and urinated on it. Mattu snapped his picture, but the man still didn't stop. Mattu believes his actions are a hate crime. "If we were not there maybe he wouldn't do this," Mattu told Vancouver Desi. "I was very upset."

Mattu passed the photos onto the police on Monday afternoon and cops attended the scene, where they found "what they believed to be urine at the base of the memorial," according to Fincham.

"It's still an open ongoing investigation," he said. "We're trying to identify the person in those photographs we've been sent."

"We will attempt to track him down and have a conversation with him to try to determine why he did what he did - to determine whether this is possibly a hate crime."

According to the Vancouver Park Board, who issued a statement after the incident went public, the monument was created in partnership with the Khalsa Diwan Society "to embrace multiculturalism and remind people about the devastating impact that racial intolerance and discrimination have had upon our community."

"We are saddened and deeply offended by this disgraceful act," park board chair Sarah Blyth said in the statement, adding that park's staff have since cleaned the monument.

The Komagata Maru was a Japanese ship chartered by a Sikh entrepreneur to bring 376 hopeful Punjabi immigrants to Canada, only to be denied entry once it reached Vancouver by Canada's exclusion law.

The ship was anchored in Vancouver's harbour for more than two months in the summer of 1914 and is now known as one of the most infamous events in the early history of the city.

Only about 20 passengers were eventually able to prove residency and allowed to disembark before the ship was forced out of Vancouver and back to India on July 23, 1914.

Police are hopeful they'll be able to track down the suspect with the photos they've been provided.

First Published: Dec 06, 2013 10:34 IST