A. Plan of the Investigation

To what extent were East Indians living in or immigrating to Canada impacted by the anti-oriental movement’s influence?

This investigation seeks to evaluate the influence anti-oriental influence had on the Canadian government. This investigation will establish the origins of anti oriental sentiment in Canada, will examine laws passed in order to limit East Indians job opportunities and will use the Komagata Maru as the primary example. Two sources used in this paper, The Voyage of the Komagata Maru: the Sikh Challenge to Canada’s Colour Bar and White Canada Forever: Popular Attitudes and Public Policy towards Orientals in British Columbia will be evaluated will define their origins, purpose value and limitations. An analysis will indicate how anti-oriental sentiment was responsible for the enactment of laws that deprived East Indians of some of their basic human rights, on the basis of race.

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B. Summary of Evidence

1. Komagata Maru Incident

In May 1914, the 357 passengers aboard the charter ship Komagata Maru, left their last stop en route to Canada. The passengers were composed mostly of East Indians, all whom wanted to be able to send back money from Canada to help their impoverished families. However, despite the passenger’s confidence that they should be able to claim their rights as citizens of the British Empire, it was not to be. The ship finally landed at Vancouver, where it ended up being anchored for two months. The passengers were all processed by the immigration officer medical agent, who spent three days finding 73 cases of trachoma, which was considered standard grounds for disqualification.1 However, normally one medical agent could go through 300 people in one hour, when they were from Europe.

In Vancouver, several Sikhs raised $6,000 to hire J. Edward Bird, to be a lawyer for the passengers, in hope that they would be able to stay in Canada. The courts agreed to allow a test case, where one passenger served as a test subject. They lost, partially due to the ‘continuous passage law’ and partially because the test case had no proof in Canada of his wealth. Thus the brave and well meaning Sikhs on shore who had donated their money in hopes that if they won the case the passengers would be allowed to land efforts were in vain. This is because the passengers on the Komagata Maru had run out of food and water and eventually, out of desperation they agreed to leave in return for enough provisions to return to Calcutta.

2. Government Discrimination

The Canadian government required that Punjabi immigrants must have $200 in there possession on arrival, while immigrants of European extradition needed only $25.00. The government also required East Indians to come by continuous journey from India, which was impossible, because steamship companies, on instructions from the government did not provide the service.

2 These rules were added because of the public outcry at the increasing number of East Indian immigrants, which according to protestors were taking jobs from the white man, despite the fact they were actually just taking jobs previously employing Chinese and Japanese. In 1907 an act was passed by the British Columbia legislature which blocked Asians form entering professions, serving on juries, obtaining government contracts and buying property in certain parts of Vancouver.3 Then if that wasn’t bad enough, East Indians were denied the right to vote in British Columbia in 1907, and as a result of that they were denied the right to vote federally. The government basically made it impossible for the East Indians to better themselves, thus all they could do was work as cheap labour.

3. Chinese

From the time Chinese first came to Canada to work on the Canadian pacific railway, they were considered an ignorant and backwards people. Chinese men were willing to work for less then the going wage, which in their eyes was a fortune. This combined with stereotypes portraying Chinese women as prostitutes and Chinese men as Opium dealers, resulted in skewed ideas about Chinese people. In 1885 the Chinese immigration act was put in place, which forced Chinese immigrants to pay fifty dollars ‘head tax’ to enter the country. Later in 1900 this was increased to hundred dollars, then too five hundred dollars in 1903.

C. Evaluation of Sources

Two of the sources used were:

White Canada Forever: Popular Attitudes and Public Policy Towards Orientals in British Columbia, written by W. Peter Ward published in 1990. The purpose of this book is to have the reader understand the popular mind being the racist stereotypes that were popular at the time and its reaction to the Asian immigrant. The value of this book is that it talks about the Sikhs, Japanese and Chinese and what they had to go through because of their ethnic origin, religion etc. The east Indians were like the Chinese and the Japanese were protested against, and those who protested against them to prevent from having East Indians immigrant thought they were doing it out of kindness. This book was excellent as a reference due to the well organized content throughout the book

The Voyage of the Komagata Maru: the Sikh Challenge to Canada’s Colour Bar, written by Hugh Johnston published in 1989. The purpose of this book is that the author is taking many small stories that are related and connecting them into one large story. The value of this book is evident as this event which east Indians challenged white supremacy for the first time was documented. You look at its limitation; a limitation of this book is that if you just wanted the basic facts, this would not be a good source. However, this book would be recommended if you wanted depth knowledge about the Komagata Maru then this book would be a good source.

D. Analysis

The origins of the racial attitudes that resulted in the passing of the continuous passage law are long and twisted. Before 1800, people of oriental origin were respected, to a point, because their countries had made major contributions to the evolution of technology. After 1800, a strong note of contempt began to creep into the western thought. In the mid 19th century, a commonly held stereotype emphasized “Chinese deceit, idolatry, despotism, xenophobia, cruelty, infanticide and sexual perversity.

4″ In British Columbia, the ‘oriental’ was considered extremely unhygienic and was thought of as a carrier of disease, so oriental were frequently blamed when there was an outbreak of a contagious disease. White Canadians seemed to have been afraid of the unknown and to them Orientals were unknown. Widespread stereotypes frequently confirmed their beliefs and the fact that oriental physical appearance was different seemed to make them feel superior. Canada had been almost solely white for 250 of the 300 years Europeans had been there. In 1900, Canada was considered a white mans land, despite the existence of some minority groups.

When East Indians first started to immigrate to Canada, they were largely ignored, as the Canadian population was at that time attempting to halt Chinese immigration, with the head tax of five hundred dollars imposed by the Chinese immigration act of 1903. However, a few years after East Indians first started immigrating to Canada, the numbers of East Indians immigrating increased and they began to be noticed.

Anti-Oriental groups began to protest and put pressure on the government. many people believed that East Indians were not suited to Canada’s northern climate because they hailed from warm tropical one and that passing laws to prevent East Indian immigration would be a kindness. In fact Mackenzie King took this stand on his report on Indian immigration in 1908 and basically stated that East Indian would not be suited to life in Canada because they would supposedly not be able to adapt to the different culture. Later that year, the rule the Mackenzie Kings report had paved the way for, the continuous passage law was adopted in January 1908.5

When the Komagata Maru anchored at the Vancouver harbor, its passengers anticipating landing and sending money back to their families, yet it would never be. The passengers, even if they had sufficient funds would nit have been able to win their test case. The case was doomed to the start because everyone except other East Indians was against them. The Canadian government hadn’t really wanted to pass the continuous passage act six years before yet, the public pressure was so great they hadn’t choice, for the odds were pilled against them.

The federal government couldn’t afford to alienate the western provinces, so even if there had been a fair equal trial, there was absolutely no way the passenger would have been able to land at Vancouver and be treated like any other ship full of immigrant. During the whole trial the passengers if the Komagata Maru ran out of food and their leader asked immigration officials for more food, which was finally delivered several days after the initial request. After the repetition odd this pattern several more times, the passengers agreed to take there ship and sail make to where they came from.

E. Conclusion

In conclusion, anti-oriental groups were the main reason that East Indians lost so many of their human rights, such as the right to vote and the right to chose where to live. They lost them because not only did they not have the assets of their white compatriots, but the majority of East Indians in Canada could not speak English which created major difficulties. Some might say that whites were right in

F. List of Sources

Boyko, John “Last Steps to Freedom: The Evolution of Canadian Racism” (2nd edition revised Manitoba: J. Gordon Shillingford Publishing Co. 1998)

Johnston, Hugh “The Voyage of the Komagata Maru: The Sikh Challenge to Canada’s Colour Bar” (2nd edition, Vancouver: University of British Columbia press, 1989)

Johnston, Hugh “The East Indians in Canada,” (Ottawa: Canadian Historical Association, 1984)

Singh, Kesar “Canadian Sikhs (part one) and the Komagata Maru Massacre” (Vancouver: publisher Kesar Singh 1989)

Singh, Narindar “Canadian Sikhs: History, Religion and Culture of Sikhs in North America” (Nepean: Canadian Sikh Studies Institute 1994)

Singh, Saint Nihal, and J. Barclay Williams “Canada’s New Immigrant: The Hindu” Canadian magazine, 28, 4(1907), pp. 383-91

Singh Saint N. “The Sikhs in Canada or Grievances of East Indians” the Canadian magazine Toronto: 30 (November 1907) pp.57-60

Smith, Ralph E. “The Sikhs” Canadian Magazine volume 38 (1911)

Thompson, John Herd. “Ethnic Minorities During Two World Wars” (Ottawa: Canada Historical Association, 1991)

Ward, W. Peter “White Canada Forever: Popular Attitudes and Public Policy Towards Orientals in British Columbia” (2nd edition, Toronto, McGill-Queens University Press, 1990)

1 Hugh Johnston. The Voyage of the Komagata Maru: The Sikh Challenge to Canada’s Colour Bar (Vancouver, 1989), p. 39.

2 Narindar Singh. Canadian Sikhs: History, Religon and Culture of Sikhs in North America(Ottawa, 1994) , p. 34.

3 Ibid, p. 33.

4 W. Peter Ward. White Canada Forever: popular attitudes and public policy towards Orientals in British Columbia.(Kingston 1990), p.4

5 Ibid, p.28.


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