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Komagata Maru memorial defaced days before centennial ceremonies

Removing graffiti from a panel on the monument caused damage to the rust patina.

Marsha Lederman/The Globe and Mail

Days before ceremonies to mark the 100th anniversary of the Komagata Maru arriving in Vancouver, the monument commemorating the 1914 incident has once again been defaced – this time with graffiti.

The graffiti was detected and removed last week. Among the messages was: "Owen is gay."

But removing the graffiti, which was on a panel at the back of the monument, has caused another problem: the rust patina was damaged by the cleanup, causing a whitewash effect. As a result, the entire element, consisting of several connected panels, is to be cleaned on Thursday according to the specifications of the landscape architect. This should even out the effect, and over time the steel should rust as it did before.

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Friday marks 100 years since the ship arrived in the Vancouver harbour, carrying 376 would-be immigrants from India. Only 24 passengers were allowed to land, and after spending two months here, the ship was forced out, and returned to India.

A ceremony is planned at the monument Friday, making the need to even out the panels urgent. "Time is of the essence," said Park Board chair Aaron Jasper.

This latest defacement follows the uproar a few months ago when a widely circulated photograph appeared to show a man urinating on the monument, leading to a Vancouver Police Department investigation. (A VPD spokesperson was unaware of this month's incident.)

Naveen Girn, who is leading the Komagata Maru 1914-2014 project – a collaboration of eight museums and other institutions across the Lower Mainland, is concerned the publicity may have made it a mark for more trouble. "I think the urination in a sense put it on the map. People didn't know the memorial was there, so it becomes a bigger target."

Mr. Jasper pointed out that the monument is in a high-traffic area – in Harbour Green Park overlooking Coal Harbour where the Komagata Maru anchored – and said there has been no discussion about increased monitoring of monuments and public art in Vancouver parks. "That would be quite an undertaking," Mr. Jasper said.

Mr. Girn has taken heart in the news that the rust effect will return. "I thought that was a great metaphor," says Mr. Girn. "The memorial will heal itself. … But at the same time we have to keep being on our guard and educating people about the Komagata Maru."

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