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B.C. Liberal Ethnic Vote Plan Is 'Insulting' Lip Service To Historical Wrongs

03/12/2013 01:28 EDT | Updated 05/12/2013 05:12 EDT
Vancouver Public Library

The multicultural outreach strategy of the B.C. Liberals is an intriguing read. There are definite issues about the separation of public and political party time, and the issue of "quick wins." However I was struck by two related issues: the emphasis on apologizing for the Komagata Maru and the B.C. Liberals trying to find out if minorities use social media.

As a South Asian growing up in Vancouver, the history and story of the Komagata Maru was something I had to come to terms with.

The Komagata Maru was a ship carrying 376 passengers of Indian origin that was refused entry into Canada in 1914. It remained docked in Burrard Inlet as legal challenges and deliberate government inaction stalled the fate of the passengers.

After two months of facing starvation on multiple occasions, the Canadian Navy escorted the ship out of Burrard Inlet at gunpoint. Since then, it has become a reflection of the unjust laws created by the Canadian state to keep out those it considers "undesirables'"(see for instance Ali Kazmi's book of the same title).

I understand that the Komagata Maru is a complex issue. It stands out for me because it was one of the only times where I was taught non-White Canadian history in high school (in the same week dedicated to the Chinese head tax and Japanese internment, no less).

More than just a "one-off incident," the affects of 1914 are still with us; buildings, histories, and narratives associated with 1914 still fill our city. In many respects, it's a living story.

In fact, my work with Simon Fraser University on the Komagata Maru online exhibition allowed me to speak with some of the direct descendants of the Komagata Maru passengers. Many reside in Canada and the issue of an official apology by the federal government in the House of Commons is a sincere desire.

As a South Asian male, I can understand that the history of the Komagata Maru is nuanced and complex, but as a citizen, I also care about issues that are not necessarily based on my ethnicity. Housing, homelessness, the environment and climate change are just a few of these, and I can choose more than one political issue to care about.

My ancestry doesn't define what I feel is most important.

The essentialist logic that just because I'm South Asian an apology for the Komagata Maru incident is the paramount focus of my political identity -- and that its resolution would sway me to support a particular political party -- is insulting. I, like all Canadians, am more than just one thing.

Apologies need to come from a place of sincerity. While all political parties try to engage diverse communities, paying lip service to historical wrongs breeds cynicism that negatively impacts the individuals and groups working towards genuine reconciliation. It paints all acts of reconciliation as political opportunism rather than the outcome of years of hard work.

And also, yeah, minorities are on Facebook and Twitter. But trying to reach us through "multi-faith events" or translated name tags is outreach for the first stage of multiculturalism.

We're diverse, we're multi-generational, and a single issue can't define us. It's time to move beyond that thinking because we already have.

B.C. Liberals Ethnic Vote Timeline