Komagata Maru: Name of anti-immigrant MP removed from Vancouver office building
The federal government has removed the name of former member of parliament from a Vancouver building over his "instrumental" role in the Komagata Maru incident of 1914.
Harry Stevens was a controversial Conservative MP for nearly 30 years during the first half of the 1900s. Until Friday, the government building at 125 East 10th Ave. was named after him.
"Canadians from all walks of life are welcomed here in this building regardless of background or national origin, but at one time in Canadian history, the laws in place discriminated on these very grounds," Minister of Public Services Carla Qualtrough told attendees outside the building.
When the Komagata Maru, a ship carrying emigrants from India, arrived in Vancouver's harbour in 1914, passengers were denied entry into Canada because of a law at the time that prohibited immigrants arriving by ship from disembarking if the vessel had stopped at any point along the way.
Passengers were stranded on board without sufficient food or water for more than two months, and when the ship eventually returned to India, 19 passengers were killed and others imprisoned.
When it came to the Komagata Maru, The Khalsa Diwan Society of Abbotsford says Stevens, who represented the Vancouver City riding at the time, "was the main speaker representing … Canadians opposing the rights of the Indians."
"Removing the name can't, of course, erase in the injustices that took place, but it can help lead us along a new path towards reconciling past wrongs and building a more inclusive and diverse Canada," Qualtrough said.
For the descendants of those affected by the tragedy, Friday's announcement represents a step towards building a more diverse and inclusive country.
"We are all richer when we remember how special it is to have so many different ethnic communities living together," said Raj Singh Toor, vice-president of the Descendants of the Komagata Maru Society.
"While we can't right past wrongs, I hope that it will help to connect Canadians with their past in order to build a more peaceful and more tolerant tomorrow."
The announcement coincides with the unveiling of a new mural painted on one side of the building as part of the 2019 Vancouver Mural Festival.
The artwork, which was a joint effort by artist Keerat Kaur, Alicia Point and Cyler Sparrow-Point, depicts the Komagata Maru tragedy and recognizes the efforts of Indigenous Peoples in providing food and water for stranded passengers.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau did issue a formal apology about the incident back in 2016.
There are no plans to rename the building, which will simply be referred to by its street address moving forward.