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Surrey commemorates Komagata Maru, explores systemic racism

Council agrees to investigate alleged systemic racism through consultation process
From left: Raj Singh Toor, vice-president of the Descendants of the Komagata Maru Society, Surrey; Coun. Mandeep Nagra; and Mayor Doug McCallum honour victims of Komagata Maru with the new heritage storyboard. Photo by City of Surrey

The City of Surrey took another step to commemorate the SS Komagata Maru incident this week, just as its city council voted in favour of investigating alleged systemic racism at city hall.

At R.A. Nicholson Park Mayor Doug McCallum and Coun. Mandeep Nagra unveiled a new heritage storyboard on the Komagata Maru, alongside Raj Singh Toor, representing the Descendants of the Komagata Maru Society.

In 1914, Canadian officials turned away Indian migrants on the SS Komagata Maru and sent them back to British-ruled India, where many died in a violent clash with colonial officials. The event is now widely perceived as a symbol of racial discrimination in Canada and the British Empire at the time. Surrey is now home to the province’s largest South Asian population (32.4% in 2016).

“This storyboard is an important reflection on a significant moment in Canadian history,” said McCallum in a statement Tuesday. “Surrey is a diverse City, and we embrace people from all over the world. This permanent storyboard reinforces that we will learn from, and not forget the injustices of the past. Racism has no place in our City.”

The storyboard – one of over 50 in the city – adds to a nearby Komagata Maru mural and commemorative street signs on 75A Avenue.

Meanwhile, on Monday, city council unanimously passed a motion to hire an outside consultant for $40,000 to investigate systemic racism in city hall.

Coun. Brenda Locke, chair of the Social Equity and Diversity committee, brought forward the council motion after, according to July 8 meeting minutes, the citizens' committee “acknowledged that systemic racism exists in Surrey and its civic institutions.”

The committee had heard from Tarun Nayar and Harpreet Mander, of the 5X Festival, an annual, global South Asian arts and music event, and Ezeadi Patrick Onukwulu, of the African Heritage Festival of Music and Dance

“The delegation provided personal examples of systemic racism and discrimination and expressed disappointment regarding the City's statement with respect to racism in response to current civil rights protests,” the committee noted.

“The delegation questioned the actions and policies the City is employing towards anti-racism and systemic racism and the percentage of the leadership of the City that is diverse. Individuals who are being discriminated against must be part of the leadership in order to affect meaningful change.”

On Monday, McCallum first asked staff if a report was due to justify the expense. Staff responded to McCallum that the city did not have in-house expertise and, in fact, it had drafted terms of reference for the consultation.

The motion passed unanimously.

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