2004, 87:00 minutes, Colour, Eng./Punjabi/Urdu, not captioned
Continuous Journey is a complex tale of hope, despair, treachery and tragedy. It is a revealing Canadian story with global ramifications set in a time when the British Empire seemed omnipresent and its subjects were restless and seeking self-determination.
In 1914, Gurdit Singh, a Sikh entrepreneur based in Singapore, chartered a Japanese ship, the Komagata Maru, to carry Indian immigrants to Canada. On May 23, 1914, the ship arrived in Vancouver Harbour with 376 passengers aboard: 340 Sikhs; 24 Muslims and 12 Hindus. Many of the men on-board were veterans of the British Indian Army and believed that it was their right as British subjects to settle anywhere in the Empire they had fought to defend and expand. They were wrong…
Continuous Journey is an inquiry into the largely ignored history of Canada’s exclusion of the South Asians by a little known immigration policy called the Continuous Journey Regulation of 1908. Unlike the Chinese and the Japanese, people from British India were excluded by a regulation that appeared fair, but in reality, was an effective way of keeping people from India out of Canada until 1948. As a direct result, only a half-mile from Canadian shores, the Komagata Maru was surrounded by immigration boats and the passengers were held in communicado virtual prisoners on the ship. Thus began a dramatic stand-off which would escalate over the course of two months, becoming one of the most infamous incidents in Canadian history.
During their two-month detention in the harbour, Canadian authorities drove the passengers to the brink of thirst and starvation. The stand-off was broken with the intervention of Prime Minister Robert Borden who also called in a Canadian battleship to underline his stance. On 21 July, over two-hundred fully armed local militia lined the shore, while the HMCS Rainbow, prepared for confrontation on the sea. All of Vancouver was out for the spectacle. Major confrontation was averted through eleventh-hour negotiations, and in the end, provisions for the Komagata Maru’s return journey were provided.
The consequences of the incident were dire: informants within the community were murdered, and a key player for the Empire was assassinated. Upon its return to India, the Komagata Maru encountered hostile British authorities who fired on the passengers, suspecting them to be seditious. Over forty people went missing or were killed. Some of the passengers escaped, including Gurdit Singh, who lived to tell the “true story” of the Komagata Maru.
Several hundreds of Indians from Canada returned home to join an armed struggle against the British, that would later be brutally crushed by the colonial authorities.
The Komagata Maru’s voyage and its aftermath exposed the Empire’s myths of equality, fair-play and British justice, and became a turning point in the freedom struggle in India.
By examining the global context and repercussions of a Canadian event, Continuous Journey challenges us to reflect on contemporary events, and raises critical questions about how the past shapes the present.
Note: the DVD features five additional mini-docs that expand on the historical context of the film and a commentary track by the filmmaker.
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by . The National Post, Jan. 21, 2005.
by . The Globe and Mail, Jan. 21, 2005.
by . The Toronto Star, Jan. 21, 2005.