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City seeks to address historic injustice against South Asians with largely symbolic gesture

The City of Vancouver is trying to make amends for an ugly incident of historical racism that marks a dark chapter in the its history.

One of downtown’s most prominent streets will be getting a secondary name to commemorate the deadly Komagata Maru standoff that lasted over three months in Burrard Inlet in 1914.

"My grandfather was sent to five years in prison, along with the others,” said Jas Toor, president of the Descendants of the Komagata Maru Society. “Just for coming to Canada they were sent back to prison as political prisoners."

The Komagata Maru set sail from east Asia carrying 376 passengers originally from India.

When it arrived in Coal Harbour in Vancouver in April of 1914, Canadian officials would not allow the ship to dock and only let about 20 passengers disembark and enter the country.

After it sat anchored in the harbour for three months, a Canadian navy vessel forced the Komagata Maru to leave with the remaining passengers.

When they got back to India, British soldiers shot and killed 19 of them and arrested many others.

“It is evidence of intentional, exclusionary and deeply racist policies of the Canadian government, including the City of Vancouver,” a city staff member said through tears during an emotional session in council chambers.

Mayor Ken Sim offered the unnamed staffer tissues before returning to the mayor’s chair.

Council voted unanimously in favour of a motion to address the injustice with a largely symbolic gesture.

Canada Place, the two-block stretch of road in front of the Vancouver Convention Centre, will get a secondary name of Komagata Maru Place.

Some members of the public who signed up to speak to the motion took city council to task for failing to change the name of the street altogether.

"Council must ask itself, is a secondary honorary name an appropriate act of cultural redress for the city's role in the Komagata Maru incident?” said Vancouver resident Justin Thind.

For others, including some who had relatives aboard the ship, sharing the name is not as important a factor as the prominent location.

"When you walk on that street you can see 200 metres away the direct view of where the Komagata Maru was detained in 1914,” said Raj Singh Toor, vice president of the Descendants of the Komagata Maru Society.

Toor’s grandfather was one of the people stuck on the ship before being forced back to India.

The city says it will initiate a community process for the design of Komagata Maru street signs and educational materials to be unveiled at a ceremony later this year. Top Stories


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