On May 23, 1914, the Japanese steamship Komagata Maru arrived in Vancouver with 376 Indian immigrants, mostly Sikhs from Punjab, and all British subjects. The ship began its journey from Hong Kong and carried passengers from Hong Kong, China and Japan.
But Canadian authorities denied entry to the ship. After two months of standoff, authorities allowed only 24 passengers to disembark and forced the ship with 352 people aboard to return to India.
When it reached Kolkata, British troops opened fire when the passengers tried to disembark.
Britain suspected the passengers had links with the Indian independence movement. The troops killed 20, and arrested and jailed many others.
In 1907, Canada denied voting rights to Indian immigrants. In Vancouver, racial riots targeted Asians around the same time. Canada put a provision in its immigration law that anybody wanting to enter Canada must come through continuous journey from the country of origin and possess $200.
For Indians, meeting the conditions was nearly impossible because of the distance they needed to travel to reach Canada and the poor economic background they came from.
Around 1914, there were only 2,000 Indian immigrants, mostly Sikhs, in Canada. The size of Indo-Canadian population remained almost stagnant until the 1950s. Times have changed now.
After Canada transformed its race-based immigration preference to merit-based in the ’60s, the number of East Indian immigrants in Canada started growing.
The 2006 census put their number at 962,670; and Statistics Canada estimates their number to be well above 1.2 million in 2010.