Tue. May 17th, 2022

UPDATE, August 23, 2021: The Vancouver Police Department said it is investigating the vandalism as a possible hate crime.

A memorial in Vancouver aimed to recognize a racist chapter in Canada’s history has been smashed with white paint.

Nearly 400 people were aboard the Komagata Maru in 1914 when it was rejected from Canada due to racist laws at the time. Raj Singh Toor, whose grandfather was one of them, speaks for descendants of the Komagata Maru Society.

“It’s a very, very horrible incident, and it’s very sad,” Toor said Sunday night from the memorial, where white paint was scattered on a list of names of people who had been on board the ship.

“This should not happen here.”

The Komagata Maru Memorial was installed in 2013 in Vancouver’s Coal Harbor neighborhood, near where the boat arrived in 1914 with 376 passengers on board. (Martin Diotte / CBC News)

The city of Vancouver said Sunday in a statement that it was “sorry” to be told the memorial had been destroyed, noting that workers will be dispatched to remove the paint.

“While it is not clear what the motivation was, it shows disrespect for those who traveled and suffered on the ship and for their families,” the statement said of the vandalism.

Toor hopes police will investigate the vandalism. Calls to Vancouver police were not immediately returned.

People on social media started posting pictures, video and expressions of horror during the vandalism on Sunday afternoon.

Later Sunday, a man at the memorial, who did not want to be identified, arrived with brushes and detergents and began scrubbing the paint away.

“This is not my Vancouver,” he said.

A man who did not want to be identified worked Sunday cleaning paint from the Komagata Maru Memorial in Vancouver after it was vandalized. (Chad Pawson / CBC News)

The Komagata Maru Memorial was installed in 2013 along the waterfront in Vancouver’s Coal Harbor neighborhood.

A century earlier, in 1914, the steamship of the same name arrived at Vancouver’s Burrard Inlet with hundreds of people on board, mostly from the Punjab region of India, planning a new life in Canada.

After two months in port, however, the vessel was forced to return to India with everyone on board. There were 340 Sikhs, 24 Muslims and 12 Hindus who were never released from the boat in Vancouver. They did not have adequate medical care, food or water.

On May 23, 1914, Komagata Maru sailed into Vancouver’s Coal Harbor with 376 passengers from Punjab, India seeking asylum. (CBC)

The vessel, which was a Japanese charter ship, was forced to return due to racist laws aimed at restricting Asian immigration to Canada at the time.

When it returned to India, 19 passengers were shot and killed. Others were injured or imprisoned after being considered political agitators.

In 2008 and 2016, the province and Ottawa each apologized formally for the act of discrimination.

In June 2020, the Vancouver City Council unanimously adopted a proposal to formally apologize for actions by city council members in 1914 regarding the Komagata Maru incident and to declare May 23 as “Komagata Maru Memorial Day.”

The city said the apology was part of a broader ongoing effort to educate decision-makers and the public about human rights violations against people of South Asian descent.

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