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Context: A diplomatic stand-off erupted between Canada and India after the Canadian government alleged a “potential link” between the Indian government and the killing of a Khalistan leader in Canada earlier this year.
More on News:
- The fallout once again brought the Sikh diaspora in Canada under the spotlight.
- According to the 2021 Canadian census, Sikhs account for 2.1% of the country’s population.
- Moreover, Canada is home to the largest Sikh population outside India.
History of Sikh Migration to Canada:
The history of Sikh Migration to Canada can be understood under the following subheadings:
- Sikhs’ Migration Overseas in the Late 19th Century
- Sikh Arrival in Canada (1897)
- First Wave of Sikh Migration to Canada (Early 1900s): Labourers in British Columbia and Ontario
- Early Sikh Immigrants: Small Numbers and Sojourner Mentality
Sikhs’ Migration Overseas in the Late 19th Century:
- Sikhs began to migrate overseas in the late 19th century as they were involved in the armed services for the British Empire.
- “Wherever the Empire expanded, especially in the Far East—China, Singapore, Fiji, and Malaysia—and East Africa, the Sikhs went there.
Sikh Arrival in Canada (1897):
- Sikhs’ arrival in Canada began with Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897.
- Kesur Singh, a Risaldar Major in the British India Army (25th Cavalry, Frontier Force), is considered the first Sikh settler to come to the country that year.
- He was amongst the first group of Sikh soldiers who arrived in Vancouver as part of the Hong Kong Regiment, which included Chinese and Japanese soldiers en route to celebrate the jubilee.
First Wave of Sikh Migration to Canada (Early 1900s):
- The first wave of Sikh migration to Canada, however, was triggered in the initial years of the 1900s.
- Most of the migrant Sikhs moved to the country as labourers of logging in British Columbia and manufacturing in Ontario.
Early Sikh Immigrants:
- The original immigration was small, a little over 5,000, and comprised men looking for overseas employment but not intent on settling.
- The immigrants were classic sojourners, who intended on staying no more than three to five years to save as much as possible and send remittances home.
Hostility and Racial Prejudice:
- Although the migrants easily found work, they encountered hostility based on the perception that they were taking away jobs from localities.
- They also faced racial and cultural prejudices. The situation kept deteriorating as more and more Sikhs arrived in the country.
Stringent Government Regulations: With the mounting public pressure, the Canadian government finally put an end to the Sikh migration by introducing stringent regulations.
- As per the regulations, it was mandatory for Asian immigrants to possess a “sum of $200, and that they had to arrive in Canada only by means of a continuous journey from their country of origin.
- As a result, immigration from India into Canada declined drastically after 1908, from 2,500 during 1907-08, to only a few dozen per year, she added.
Komagata Maru (1914):
- In 1914, a Japanese steamship, known as Komagata Maru, reached the shores of Vancouver.
- It was carrying 376 South Asian passengers, most of whom were Sikhs.
- Upon arrival in Canada, the immigrants were detained onboard the ship for about two months, and then escorted out of Canadian waters, sending it back to Asia.
- When the Komagata Maru arrived in India, disagreement and friction between British authorities and passengers erupted.
- The British officials suspected the passengers of being revolutionaries, which led to confrontations that resulted in casualties, with 22 people dead, including 16 passengers.
Immigration Policy (Post-WWII):
- After World War II, Canada’s immigration policy began to relax, driven by several factors.
- The country found it increasingly challenging to uphold an immigration policy based on racial preferences after joining the United Nations and committing to anti-racial discrimination principles.
- The country’s growing economy required labourers, leading to a demand for immigrant workers.
- Additionally, there was a decline in European immigration, prompting Canada to seek human capital from third-world countries.
- In 1967, the Canadian government introduced the ‘points system’ as a new criteria for admission.
- This system emphasised skills as the primary criteria for admitting non-dependent relatives, effectively eliminating racial preferences in immigration.
Areas of Cooperation between India and Canada
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