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The Continuing Legacy of the Komagata Maru/May 23, 2014
A century ago on May 23rd in 1914, the Komagata Maru, a ship of migrants from India sailed into the western shores of what is now called British Columbia, Canada, in the traditional territories of the Coast Salish groups of First Nations Peoples. Upon the Komagata Maru’s arrival to Canadian shores, immigration and security officials intercepted the vessel and the 375 passengers on board were prohibited from disembarking. For months the passengers remained detained on board the ship, with dwindling supplies, while Canadian immigration officials plotted means to remove them from Canada for violating the continuous journey provision of the Immigration Act. The continuous journey provision, drafted with the specific intention to prevent “undesirable” migrants from India, required that all immigrants must come to Canada by a continuous journey from their country of birth or citizenship, an impossible feat from India.
The passengers of the Komagata Maru, led by Gurdit Singh, launched a legal challenge to be allowed to remain in Canada arguing that the continuous journey provisions were discriminatory. The case was heard by the British Colombia Court of Appeal, which ruled that the passengers aboard were inadmissible to Canada for violating the continuous journey regulation. This was the first instance in Canadian history where a boat of migrants was explicitly rejected from Canada’s shores. Decades later Canada would repeat this failure to uphold humanitarian ideals when it refused to allow the S.S. St. Louis, a ship of Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi persecution in Germany, to dock in Canadian shores.
The Komagata Maru is exemplary of Canada’s history of racism and exclusion in its social, political and legal institutions. In his reasoning, Justice McPhillips one of the three judges to hear the case, stated that it is “[b]etter that peoples of non-assimilative – and by nature properly non-assimilative – race should not come to Canada, but rather, that they should remain residence in their country of origin and there do their share, as they have in the past, in the preservation and development of the Empire.” Justice McPhillips attitude towards non-white migration was reflective of many white Canadians at the time, including both working class and organized labour movements as well as the capitalist classes.
Weeks after the court’s decision, the Komagata Maru, and its defeated passengers, were escorted out of Canada by a military warship. Two months later, when the Komagata Maru reached colonial British India, the ship was intercepted and police opened fire on the passengers as they disembarked in Budge Budge. Twenty-two people were massacred. The continuous journey provision remained a fixture in Canadian immigration law until1948 when it was removed by a government led by Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King, who ironically drafted the regulations in the first instance.
The Komagata Maru tragedy was not the first, nor was it the last, instance of exclusionary laws that targeted racialized migrants. The Chinese Head Tax and Exclusion laws, the internment of thousands of Japanese Canadians during World War II, and turning away the SS St. Louis, indicate that Canada has long and sordid history of racist migration laws designed to exclude and limit the arrival of migrants constructed to be undesirable.
Moreover, Canada’s history of racial exclusion through policies, practices and laws that continue to subjugate the First Nations peoples in Canada, as well as racialized groups, should not be overlooked or forgotten because of its present day diversity. Canada’s ethnic, racial, cultural and religious diversity is a result of resistance by those groups to legally instituted practices of exclusion and racism.
In fact, many of these exclusionary policies continue to persist in modern forms, such as the Temporary Foreign Workers Program, which creates a pool of low wage vulnerable workers who have limited avenues to achieve permanent residency or citizenship in Canada, while being separated from their families for years. The Temporary Foreign Workers Program largely exploits the labour of racialized workers by placing them in a perpetual state of temporariness, without adequate avenues for these workers to achieve permanent immigration status.
Canada has often straddled the spectrums between exclusion and inclusion in its migration policies largely shaped by economic and capital interests. Over the course of the last century this has not changed much as exemplified by the current debates and discourses around the Temporary Foreign Workers Program.
Let us not only reflect upon and actively remember our past injustices and closely examine our current practices, but also strive to ensure that vulnerable and marginalized migrants are given fair opportunities to achieve full citizenship rights.
Harini Sivalingam is a lawyer, community activist and a PhD student in Socio-Legal Studies at York University.
The Asian Canadian Labour Alliance (ACLA) stands in solidarity with Marie Clarke Walker and all trade unionists in our on-going struggle for a society free of all forms of oppression.
Unfortunately, sometimes the organizations meant to affect positive social change, such as the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC), instead replicate and reinforce the inequalities we stand against.
Systemic oppression is a daily reality for many of us both outside and inside our own unions. It is also a reality that has been well-documented by the CLC itself (see its 1997 report: Challenging Racism: Going Beyond Recommendations).
On April 23, 2014 Marie Clarke Walker, CLC Executive Vice-President, sent an open letter to the CLC Executive and her own union the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE).
She outlines the abuse and history of sexism and racism she and others have experienced at the hands of CLC President Ken Georgetti. Ken Georgetti`s responded to this letter on April 25th, 2014. While individuals must be held accountable for their actions, we must also recognize the organizational culture that allows such behaviour to be tolerated. Regardless of who wins the CLC Presidency at our upcoming convention, these concerns need to be addressed so that our movement is inclusive of all workers.
ACLA wants to seize this opportunity for the labour movement to address the systemic forms of oppression at play, regardless of who wins the CLC Presidency because this is a systemic issue and it goes beyond individuals.
Ken Georgetti’s Response Letter:
Asian Canadian Labour Alliance
Sisters and brothers,
The Asian Canadian Labour Alliance (ACLA) strongly endorses the candidacy of Brother Hussan Husseini for president of the Canadian Labour Congress.
ACLA is impressed by the vision that brother Husseini has outlined for transforming the labour movement away from today’s stays quo to an a activist oriented working class movement.
Today’s assault on workers needs to be countered through both creative and militant manifestations. For ACLA this means that our strategies should not be premised solely on public relations gimmicks and electoral campaigns; our work should be directed towards developing an independent political voice that is not beholden to a political and economic system that is contrary to the aspirations of workers.
April 4, 2014 is the 79th anniversary of the unemployed relief camp strikes in BC where thousands of unemployed workers demanded that basic rights be accorded to them. The walkout resulted in thousands of unemployed workers organizing the ‘On to Ottawa trek’ to demand protections for the unemployed.
The ghosts of the past continue to haunt us today. The unemployed, the underemployed, the disabled, those on social assistance and those such as migrant workers with precarious immigration status continue to be attacked by subsequent governments at both the Federal and Provincial levels.
Our demand for dignity is a struggle for the working class in its entirety whether they are organized in the house of labour or not. Brother Husseini’s election speaks to a common vision that many demand: a labour movement that is inclusive and representative of the interests of all members of our community.
ACLA commits to working towards the transformation of the CLC and strongly endorses the campaign to elect Hussan Husseini.
Asian Canadian Labour Alliance
Sisters and Brothers,
The Asian Canadian Labour Alliance is urgently requesting financial support for the family of freelance journalist Ali Mustafa. Mustafa, the Canadian born freelance journalist was recently killed in Syria while reporting from Aleppo. The family has taken out a loan to cover the approximately $20,000 it will cost to have his body repatriated to Canada. We are requesting support from your union so that Ali can be returned to his family.
Ali travelled to Syria to document the lives and struggles of the Syrian people who he described as “the best of people I could ever know, the worst of fates I could ever imagine.” His commitment and solidarity continue to inspire all of us. Now it’s our turn to honour Ali’s memory and stand in solidarity with his family. Please donate to bring Ali home to rest in peace and power.
HOW TO DONATE
Here are the details on how to Donate:
(1) If you already have a PayPal account, you can send the money to the email email@example.com. In the subject heading of the email, please indicate it is for Ali Mustafa.
(2) Anyone can send money online using the following link:
C449 Student Centre, York University
4700 Keele St.
You can also link the site below to view the amazing photos and articles written by Ali
November 12, 2013 at 7pm
School of Image Arts Ryerson University
122 Bond Street
Toronto, ON M5B 1E9
This is a free screening open to the public with admission on a first-come, first-served basis.
What does it mean to be an American revolutionary today? Grace Lee Boggs is a 98-year-old Chinese-American woman in Detroit whose vision of revolution may surprise you.
USA 2013 | 82:00 | Rated G | Canadian Premiere
grace lee boggs• Grace Lee (in attendance)
• Grace Lee, Caroline Libresco, Austin Wilkin
• Joan Huang
• Eurie Chung
• Winner—LA Film Fest Audience Award & Best Documentary 2013
• Winner—Best of the Fest at AFI Docs 2013
Grace Lee Boggs is a 98-year-old Chinese American writer, activist, and philosopher. The documentary carries us through Boggs’s lifelong involvement with many of the major American social movements of the last century, including labour and civil rights, Black Power, feminism, the oppression of Asian Americans, and the issues facing the environment.
Boggs is always dynamic, and has a strategic disposition that drives changes in her approach according to the world around her. Indeed, it’s this aspect of her character that drives the story forward. Angela Davis, Bill Moyers, Bill Ayers, Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis, Danny Glover, Boggs’s late husband, James, and a host of Detroit comrades from three generations help shape this uniquely American story.
As she wrestles with a Detroit in an ongoing state of transition, the inherent tension between violence and non-violence, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, the 1967 rebellions, and non-linear notions of time and history, Boggs emerges with a sensibility that is radical in its simplicity and clarity: revolution is not an act of aggression or merely a protest. Revolution, Boggs says, is about something deeper within the human experience—the ability to transform oneself in order to transform the world.
Grace Lee is a Los Angeles-based filmmaker well known for her films Janeane From Des Moines (2012) and American Zombie (2007). Her film The Grace Lee Project screened at Reel Asian in 2005.
PRESENTED IN PARTNERSHIP WITH
Immigrants come to Canada to secure a future for themselves and their families. Yet a recent study undertaken by Ryerson University has painted a gloomy picture of the long lasting impact that the 2008 recession has had on immigrant workers.
The study followed hundreds of former employees of Progressive Mould Products (PMP) over a five year period to determine whether or not they were able to achieve any semblance of a middle class life after their plant declared bankruptcy in 2008. Sadly those interviewed reported that they were much worse off now as compared to when they arrived in Canada. The reported entitled “An Immigrant All Over Again? Recession, Plant Closures, and Older racialized immigrant workers: A case study of the workers of Progressive Moulded Products” profiles the experiences of immigrant workers who arrived in Canada in the ’70s and ’80s. The researchers found that:
– Only one third (34 per cent) of participants secured permanent full time employment, two thirds of former workers were either precariously employed or unemployed;
– 77 per cent of workers wages were worse off than what they earned from PMP;
– 36 per cent of male workers and 37 per cent of women workers reported a wage drop of $5 an hour or more;
– 52 per cent or women workers and 42 per cent of men reported that it was difficult to make ends meet since PMP went bankrupt;
– 49.4 per cent of workers felt their health worsened after the plant closures;
– 85 per cent of workers felt age barriers was the primary reason while they could not find permanent work;
– and 67 per cent felt that they were racially discriminated in the labour market. Continue reading
Thank you to the event organizers for inviting ACLA to bring greetings and for organizing this annual gathering to recognize the contribution of Chinese railroad workers.
In the Chinese community, Canada is known as “Gold Mountain” meaning land of opportunity and prosperity.
Generations of Chinese have looked to Canada as a place of hope and good fortune.
For Chinese railroad workers, their story is bittersweet.
It is a story of hope and resilience, but it is also a story about hardship, sacrifice, and racial exclusion.
The first Prime Minister of Canada, Sir John A. MacDonald, insisted on cutting costs in building the Canadian Pacific Railway and campaigned to bring in Chinese workers to lower labour costs.
This was the less expensive, alternative option which overshadowed a more elaborate immigration/settlement proposal aimed at bringing in the preferred white Anglo-Saxon workers from British colonies.
In 2006, Canada formally apologized to the Chinese community for it unfortunate treatment of these workers and their families.
While there is recognition of mistreatment on this front, the Canadian government has not learned from past mistakes.
Today, we continue to see Canada use migrant labour.
Not much has changed, except the workers are coming from all over the world now, mainly from the global south.
What is disheartening is Canada has continued to implement similar exclusionary practices.
Instead of the Chinese Immigration Act or the Chinese Exclusion Act, it is now repackaged as the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.
These programs allow workers to come into Canada to do work that Canadians are not lining up to do.
They are recruited to work in the fields in rain or shine harvesting the food that we eat. They are the private caregivers for our children and elders because our country lacks a national strategy to properly care for our young and old.
As a country, we heavily rely on these workers.
However, they are not treated equally and they lack the same protections and rights as Canadian workers.
They are welcomed to labour in Canada for low wages, but they are not allowed to stay.
History is repeating itself and this is wrong.
For ACLA, events such at this one are particularly important.
First, it is an opportunity to help us remember the past struggles of Asian workers.
Second, it reminds us about the links to the issues we are currently dealing with today.
Lastly and most importantly, it can inform and inspire us to chart the path forward.
Asian workers have come along way in Canada, but more work lies ahead.
冠軍得獎者是來自西門菲莎大學藝術及經濟系學生Anysley Wong Meldrum﹐其可獲得500元獎學金﹔亞軍則是紐芬藺省紀念大學工程系學生Dmitry Kosarev﹐季軍為溫尼辟大學的Lynnette Van Bruggen﹐他們分別獲300元及200元獎金。
June 27, 2013
Via Email: Jeanfirstname.lastname@example.org
Chairman and Chief Executive Office
Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission
Les Terrasses de la Chaudière
1 Promenade du Portage
Gatineau, Quebec J8X 4B1
Dear Mr. Blais:
Re: Cuts to OMNI Television’s Multilanguage Programming by
The Asian Canadian Labour Alliance is a multi-racial alliance of community and labour activists
who advocate for the rights of racialized workers in Canada. We are very concerned with the
recent cutbacks to the multicultural programming at OMNI Television (OMNI TV).
OMNI TV is one of the primary sources of information for members of the Asian Canadian
community. OMNI TV has played a critical role in bringing forth stories of interest for our
collective communities. Without OMNI TV, many important issues that are relevant would never
get reported. OMNI news has played a critical role in community campaigns such as the
Campaign for the Redress for Chinese Head Tax and Exclusion Act, the demand for reforms to
the Temporary Foreign Worker Program and raising awareness of the precarious labour force
and its impact on racialized communities. OMNI TV has also represented a diversity of
viewpoints, something that has been absent from most mainstream reporting. The elimination of
these programs will be a significant loss for journalism where the diversity of reporting is
significant in the ever increasing presence of racialized communities across this country.
We urge CRTC to consider the impact that this decision will have on racialized communities
across Canada, and to direct Rogers to restore the cuts to these essential news programs.
Anna Liu Chris Ramsaroop
Asian Canadian Labour Alliance Asian Canadian Labour Alliance
Friday June 28th, 2013
9:30 am to 4:30pm (Tribunal hearing) 12:30 Noon time Rally
655 Bay St, 14th Floor (intersection Bay and Elm St.)
OHRT Final Hearing for Ned Peart June 28-2013
Justicia for Migrant Workers (J4MW) invites the community to attend the closing day of the historic Human Rights Tribunal examining the workplace death of Ned Livingston Peart, a Jamaican migrant farm worker who was killed working in a tobacco farm in rural Ontario. This case is intended to bring forward changes to prevent workplace deaths and injuries and to improve working and living conditions of migrant farmworkers in the province. There has never been an inquest into the death of a migrant worker under the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program in Ontario or anywhere in Canada.
We need you to help us fill the Human Rights Tribunal for the last day of the hearing and raise your voices with us at 12:30 to demand justice for Ned at a rally outside the Tribunal!
twitter: @j4mw, #justice4peart