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'A lot of work to do' when it comes to racism: Komagata Maru descendants on charge against memorial vandal

"The memorials we build for those who have suffered from racism are very special places that should be treated with respect by all Canadians."
One man is facing charges for vandalism of the Komagata Maru memorial.

With a charge of mischief approved and warrant issued following vandalism of the memorial to the Komagata Maru last summer, descendants of those on the ship are thanking police for their work.

"We are grateful to the Vancouver Police for taking this vandalism very seriously, and investing their time and energy into bringing about charges against the person they feel is responsible for the vandalism," states Raj Singh Toor, president of the Descendants of the Komagata Maru Society, in a press release.

However, the attack on the memorial is a sign that the racism that led to passengers on the Komagata Maru being prohibited from entering Canada still exists, he notes.

"For the last century, our families have had to live with the experience of being rejected from Canada because of our race, and it is memorials such as these that help us deal with the pain and damage of racism," Toor writes. "When these memorials are defaced, the painful memories of intolerance and racism come back."

The Komagata Maru was a Japanese ship that arrived off Vancouver in May of 1914 with 376 passengers from India looking to immigrate to Canada. At the time Canadians and Indians were both British subjects.

"To admit Orientals in large numbers would mean the end, the extinction of the white people. And we always have in mind the necessity of keeping this a white man’s country," said then-premier Richard McBride.

For two months the ship was anchored offshore before the group was officially prohibited from immigrating to Canada. They were forced to return to India where they were punished for trying to leave. Around 20 were killed, while many others were injured or jailed.

In recent years a number of memorials to the incident and the people on the ship have been created in the area.

"We wish to think about the great success we have had these last few years in getting memorials and displays acknowledging the Komagata Maru incident throughout many cities in the Metro Vancouver area," writes Toor. "These memorials serve to heal the wounds of the families of the victims and help to educate Canadians about the importance of creating a more tolerant society."

"The defacing of the Komagata Maru Memorial is a reminder that we still have a lot of work to do, but the diligent work of the Vancouver Police does give us hope that even in the dark days we are still making progress to building a more tolerant Canada." 

A B.C. wide warrant has been issued for 39-year-old Yuniar Kurniawan in regards to the vandalism in August of 2021.

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