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Canada tries to rectify wrongs to ethnic groups

A $25mn package designed to rectify grievances of ethnic groups, including NRIs was unveiled recently.

india Updated: Nov 21, 2005 16:16 IST

The Canadian government has unveiled the first instalment of a $25 million package designed to rectify historic grievances of seven ethnic groups, including Indo-Canadians.

"The government of Canada is committed to learning from the past, and the agreement-in-principle (ACE) we are signing...demonstrates our shared commitment to learning from the past and celebrating our country's diversity," Prime Minister Paul Martin said announcing an initial amount of $2.5 million to the Italian community.

The ACE Programme would fund proposals that acknowledge the historical experiences of ethno-cultural communities impacted by wartime measures such as internment and immigration restrictions, according to a press release.

A part of the fund would go toward Indo-Canadian programmes for educational activities and plaques. This is in acknowledgement of the Komagata Maru incident, which took place in the summer of 1914.

Komagata Maru, a ship with 376 Punjabis, a majority of them Sikhs, was denied entry into Vancouver bay, even though the passengers were entitled to land in Canada as British subjects. Despite a court challenge by Bagga Singh who chartered the ship, along with 11 others called "Shore Committee", the ship was sent back to Kolkata two months later.

According to a government of Canada online source on the country's history and culture, an immigration law called The Bill of Direct Passage prevented these Indians from landing in Canada. The law stated that Indian immigrants had to come to Canada by continuous passage from India. But it was a known fact that steamship lines did not provide direct service from India to Canada, as it was technologically impossible those days. The ship docked en route in Hong Kong.

The agreement-in-principle however would not include an outright apology or financial compensation to descendants of survivors. This has been widely condemned by Indo-Canadians, including politicians, according to news reports.

In May, Conservative MP Gurmant Grewal presented a petition to parliament signed by 6,000 people seeking an apology. "The petitioners contend that this incident was a result of racist, discriminatory and exclusionist Canadian immigration policy," he said.

"They ask that parliament issue an apology to correct the wrong that remains a black scar on Canadian history, and hurts the community."

Film producer Harbhajan Gill, who is raising funds for a movie about the Komagata Maru, told a television interview that the recognition of the event is the beginning of what the government should do. He said many families want a proper memorial at the site where the ship tried to land.

First Published: Nov 19, 2005 15:53 IST