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June 3, 2021

Vancouver City Council Remembers and Forgets in Komagata Maru Apology

By Zool Suleman
 
 
People standing on the deck of deck of the Komagata Maru

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To the Mayor and City Councillors:

Vancouver City Council issued an apology on May 18, 2021 for the historical discrimination against the 376 passengers aboard the Komagata Maru steamship in 1914. It declared Sunday, May 23, 2021 as the “first Komagata Maru Remembrance Day to be marked in our city”. This apology is a part of the City of Vancouver’s anti-racism and cultural redress efforts.

As Vancouver City Council now knows, concerns raised by Rungh magazine have resulted in a City media officer confirming that on May 23, 2005, former Councillor Jim Green read a proclamation, on then Mayor Larry Campbell’s behalf, on the opening night of the DOXA documentary film festival before the screening of Continuous Journey, proclaiming a “Komagata Maru Commemoration Day”. The 2005 proclamation is recorded on a list in City of Vancouver records, but the contents of the proclamation cannot be found.

Rungh has written to Mayor Kennedy Stewart and to each of the City Councillors requesting that this oversight be corrected by an amending motion by Vancouver City Council. Or, at a minimum, by the City of Vancouver including this previous proclamation by Mayor Larry Campbell in 2005, on the City of Vancouver website. By the set deadline, Rungh magazine had only heard back from Councillor Jean Swanson who noted that she would bring it up with Mayor Stewart when she next met him. After repeated requests, Mayor Stewart’s Director of Communications has replied that he is still looking for information.

Vancouver City Council is trying to come to terms with a racist history by apologizing. In the process, it cannot keep track of its own recent history of apologies. Overtures made by Rungh to Vancouver City Council to correct the record, have not yet been addressed.

Rungh has been documenting parts of the Komagata Maru’s history and contemporary attempts at apology and redress since 1992. We urge you to visit Rungh’s Komagata Maru: Pasts, Presents, Futures initiative. On its Komagata Maru initiatives page, Rungh has published articles which raise concerns about the Vancouver Mural Festival’s Taike-sye ye mural. Some of these same claims, are being repeated in the Remembering Komagata Maru video (at the 7:10 mark) posted on the City of Vancouver site and being screened at City Hall as a part of the redress.

This note to Vancouver City Council will be added to Rungh’s Komagata Maru documentation. It will be a memorial of how Vancouver City Council remembers and forgets, both at the same time.

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Disclosure: I was involved in the organizing of the film screening and in urging Mayor Larry Campbell to issue a proclamation in 2005.