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Komagata Maru

by Steve Schwinghamer, Historian

Time 0:02:32


On 23 May 1914, Komagata Maru arrived at Vancouver with 376 passengers from India seeking to immigrate to Canada. All but 20 passengers were denied entry to Canada based on two immigration rules. One required immigrants to come by continuous journey from their country of origin; the other demanded Asian immigrants have $200 instead of the normal $25 required of immigrants. Two months later, after many delays and a failed appeal, the ship and its passengers departed under escort of a Canadian warship.

This was not an isolated incident. The previous year, the Canadian government had refused 39 passengers from the ship Panama Maru under those same two rules – but the passengers challenged their refusal in court and won admission. The government responded by rewriting the rules even more tightly. By the time Komagata Maru arrived, the continuous journey and money regulations were back in place.

Besides these regulations, the Canadian government planned further steps to exclude racialized immigrants. The immigration branch even considered transporting East Indian immigrants in Canada to British Honduras (now Belize). This plan failed, the superintendent of immigration wrote, only “on account of local difficulties with the Hindus themselves.”[1]

The Komagata Maru incident is only the best-known piece of a much larger puzzle of racist and nativist acts and policies.

  1. W.D. Scott, Superintendent of Canadian Immigration, to J.H. Clark, US Commissioner of Immigration, Ottawa, 15 September 1913, in “Hindu Immigration”, Library and Archives Canada, RG 76 Vol 385 File 536999 Pt 6