Raj Singh Toor Speech

– Given to Vancouver City Council on June 10, 2020

Hello Respected Mayor and Council City of Vancouver,

My name is Raj Singh Toor. I am the grandson of one of the passengers on the Komagata Maru, and vice president and spokesperson for the non-profit Descendants of the Komagata Maru Society.  

I represent the Komagata Maru Society, in which there are 15 families all over Canada who are direct descendants of the passengers (children, grandchildren or great grandchildren). The South Asian community supports us because we are the ones who suffered in losing loved ones and deeply shared the pain of our parents, grandparents, or great grandparents being rejected by Canada in 1914.  

I would like to say thank you to respected Councillor Jean Swanson for bringing forward the Komagata Maru apology and Komagata Maru proclamation motion on behalf of a request by the Descendants of the Komagata Maru Society.

The Komagata Maru arrived in Vancouver on May 23, 1914 with 376 passengers, one of which was my grandfather. His name was Baba Puran Singh Janetpura. The other passengers were British subjects from India of Sikh, Muslim and Hindu origin, seeking to enter Canada.

No food, water or medication was provided by the government, even though it was the government’s discriminatory law that prevented the passengers from disembarking. Only the local South Asian community provided the passengers with food and water and medication. Furthermore, this help was limited by the Canadian government, because it restricted the South Asian community from accessing the ship. Often the passengers went for 24 hours without food and water, and  sometimes 2 or 3 days or more. Passengers were getting sick.

On June 23, 1914, Vancouver Mayor Truman Baxter organized an anti-Asian rally, and the first speaker was the prominent politician H. H. Stevens. “I have no ill-feeling against people coming from Asia personally,” he told the crowd, “but I reaffirm that the national life of Canada will not permit any large degree of immigration from Asia . . . I intend to stand up absolutely on all occasions on this one great principle—of a white country and a white British Columbia” 

The overflow crowd of 2,000 unanimously adopted a resolution proposed by Vancouver Alderman Frank E. Woodside to immediately deport the passengers. The body of the motion declared,  “And whereas it is the universal opinion of all citizens resident upon the Pacific Coast of the Dominion of Canada, that the influx of Asiatics is detrimental and hurtful to the best interests of the Dominion, from the standpoint of citizenship, public morals and labor conditions:” Alderman Woodside further declared at this meeting, “We have here now about 4000 Hindoos, which is more than we want…”  (The Vancouver World, June 24, 1914).

 On the night of June 29, 1914, Vancouver City Council unanimously passed a resolution moved by Alderman William R. Hamilton, and seconded by Alderman Malcolm McBeath, protesting the ship’s landing in Canada, and stating that Vancouver City Council was “unalterably opposed to the admittance of Hindus and other Asiatic races into this country.” The motion further stated that “… these people would prove a serious menace to our civilization, both economically and socially …” Alderman McBeath was later to become Vancouver Mayor from 1916 – 1917.

 On July 23, 1914, the Komagata Maru was forced to leave by the Government of Canada, without allowing the passengers to disembark.  

The British were ruling India at that time, and when the Komagata Maru arrived in India, British troops shot at the passengers. Around 20 people were killed on the spot. Many were injured, and the rest of them were put in jail for a long period of time.

On May 23, 2008, at the request of the Descendants of the Komagata Maru Society, the BC government apologized for the events of 1914, stating that “The House deeply regrets that the passengers, who sought refuge in our country and our province, were turned away without benefit of the fair and impartial treatment befitting a society where people of all cultures are welcomed and accepted.”

On May 18, 2016, at the request of the Descendants of the Komagata Maru Society, the Canadian government apologized for its handling of the Komagata Maru, stating that it was sorry for its indifference and discriminatory laws, and that it was committed “to positive action – to learning from the mistakes of the past, and to making sure that we never repeat them.”

I am requesting:

1.     The City of Vancouver declare by proclamation that May 23rd shall be known as “Komagata Maru Remembrance Day” in Vancouver; and

2.     The Council formally apologize in the Council Chambers at City Hall for previous councils’ racist statements and their cruel actions towards individuals and families impacted by the Komagata Maru incident, and for supporting the federal government’s discriminatory law.

The Descendants of the Komagata Maru families, the South Asian Community, and every Canadian who believes that all human should be treated with dignity and respect, look forward to the City Council approving these requests.


Raj Singh Toor

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