Sikh migration to Canada – The Core IAS

Sikh migration to Canada

The arrival

  • 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, that’s where the Sikhs went.
  • Sikhs’ arrival in Canada began with Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897.
  • 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 — logging in British Columbia and manufacturing in Ontario.
  • The original immigration was small, a little over 5,000, and made up of men looking for overseas employment but not intent on settling. The immigrants were classic sojourners, intent on staying no more than three to five years and on remitting home as much of their savings as possible.

The pushback

  • Although the migrants easily found work, they encountered hostility based on the perception that they were taking away jobs from localities. Not only this, the Sikhs also faced racial and cultural prejudices. The situation kept deteriorating as more and more Sikhs arrived in the country.
  • With the mounting public pressure, the Canadian government finally put an end to the migration by introducing stringent regulations. It made it mandatory for Asian immigrants to possess a “sum of $200, considered high enough to serve as a distinctive, and 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.
  • It was during this time the Komagata Maru incident took place. 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. The immigrants were detained onboard the ship for about two months, and then escorted out of Canadian waters, sending it back to Asia.

The turnaround

  • The Canadian immigration policy relaxed after the end of World War II. It happened for three main reasons.
  • First, it became difficult for Canada to maintain an immigration policy and practice based on racial preferences after it joined the United Nations and its declaration against racial discrimination, and membership in a multi-racial Commonwealth of equal partners, according to Jha.
  • Second, post WWII, Canada started to expand its economy for which it required labourers.
  • Third, there was a “decline in the immigration of people from Europe and the Canadian government turned to the third world countries for ‘the import of human capital’. 
  • The factors ultimately led to the introduction of the ‘points system’ in 1967 by the Canadian government that made skill alone as criteria for admission of non-dependent relatives into the country and eliminated any preferences given to one particular race.