Award-winning filmmaker and author Ali Kazimi, a York film professor, will discuss his new book, Undesirables: White Canada and the Komagata Maru, with law Professor Audrey Macklin of the University of Toronto at its launch this month.
The launch, including an illustrated presentation about one of the most infamous episodes in Canadian history, will take place Tuesday, May 29, in the Main Ballroom of the Gladstone Hotel, 1214 Queen St. W., Toronto. The doors will open at 7pm with the event beginning at 7:30pm. Admission is $5 or free with the purchase of a book. A Q&A and book signing will follow.
Undesirables looks at the some of the issues and questions raised when the Komagata Maru, a ship carrying 376 immigrants from British India, was turned away in May 1914 when it tried to land in Vancouver Harbour.
Many of the men on board, veterans of the British Indian Army, believed it was their right to settle anywhere in the empire they had fought to defend. They were wrong. Enforcing the “continuous journey” regulation, immigration boats surrounded the ship a half-mile off shore, making the passengers virtual prisoners. Thus began a dramatic stand-off that would escalate over the next two months, becoming one of the most infamous events in Canadian history.
Why would Canada turn away these South Asian migrants when it had accepted more than 400,000 immigrants the previous year? How do the events of 1914 relate to current immigration policy? Does Canadian law create “winners” and “losers” based on race and economic status?
These are just some of the questions Kazimi and Macklin will discuss, along with how they impact present and future Canadian immigration policy.
These are also some of the questions Kazimi addresses in his book. In this way, he creates a historical framework in Undesirables, allowing readers to view events through the eyes of early South Asian migrants to Vancouver, authorities of the Dominion of Canada, and imperial officials in Britain and India. At the heart of the story lies the struggle between Canada’s desire to build a homogenous nation of white immigrants – preferably from Britain and northern Europe – and the British Empire’s need for stability.
The book weaves together text with rarely seen photographs, key documents and other visual materials. In doing so, Kazimi explores what the current federal government has acknowledged as a “dark chapter” in Canada’s past.
The story is set in a global context and against the early histories of Chinese, Japanese and African-American immigrants to Canada, showing that the Komagata Maru “incident” was far from incidental. In fact, with Canada’s immigration and refugee framework under recent intense scrutiny, the story is all the more relevant.
Kazimi’s documentaries have been screened and broadcast internationally to critical acclaim. Continuous Journey, his 2004 feature documentary investigating the events surrounding the Komagata Maru, has garnered awards on three continents to date. His productions have been shown at festivals around the world, winning more than 30 national and international awards and a host of nominations. Some of the highlights include the Donald Brittain/Gemini Award for Best Social Political Documentary; Gold Award at WorldFest in Houston; Golden Conch at the Mumbai International Film Festival; Golden Sheaf at the Yorkton Short Film Festival; and audience awards for best documentary at the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival and Los Angeles Indian Film Festival.
His most recent films include Runaway Grooms (2005), Documenting Dissent (2001) and Some Kind of Arrangement (1998). In addition, his directing credits include more than two dozen episodes of television documentary series.
Macklin is a former member of the Immigration and Refugee Board, she taught at Dalhousie Law School and clerked for Madame Justice Bertha Wilson. In addition, she has participated in human rights fact-finding missions to Sudan (Harker Mission, 1999) and the Israel/Palestinian Territories (2003). She represented interveners before the Supreme Court of Canada in Suresh (Canadian Arab Federation) and both Omar Khadr appeals (Human Rights Watch). She also attended military commission hearings in Guantanamo Bay in the case of Omar Khadr as an observer for Human Rights Watch.
The launch is presented by This Is Not a Reading Series, D&M Publishers and the Gladstone Hotel, and co-presented by the Council of Agencies Serving South Asians, York’s Centre for Refugee Studies, South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario, The Centre for Feminist Research, York’s South Asian Studies program, the York Centre for Asian Research and No One Is Illegal.