The shameful story of a chartered ship, the Komagata Maru, and its 376 passengers, retold in a new film, recalls a time when Canada was aggressively 'white' and unrepentantly racist. The film is hard to watch, but it is useful to remember how callous we once were as a nation. The scar tissue of history serves as a warning for the future. In 1914, the ship left Yokohama with a consignment of coal and the passengers, mostly veterans of the British Indian army and their families. The Hong Kong businessman who organised the charter and sold the tickets, Gurdit Singh, assumed that the passengers would be welcome anywhere in the British Empire. It was a vain hope. The Canadian government, already edgy about Chinese immigration, was not receptive to what it called the 'brown invasion' of Asians. So the ship was stopped in the approaches to Vancouver, and passengers were refused permission to disembark. The bureaucratic impasse went on for two months. Finally, as Ali Kazimi relates in his film Continuous Journey, the ship was forced to lift anchor and return to India, where a scuffle between British forces and the passengers erupted in the bloodbath of Budge Budge Harbour - an event that helped ignite the struggle for Indian independence. Canada has come a long, long way in 91 years. Today, it is one of the world's most welcoming countries for refugees - 500,000 in the past 20 years alone. It accepts nearly half of all refugee claimants, compared to 29 per cent in the US. Yet some critics, like Vancouver film reviewer Dorothy Woodend, insist that the shadow of the Komagata Maru still darkens Canada's refugee policy. They say that a new law, which prevents refugees from seeking asylum here if they come overland through the US, is an alarming echo of the 1914 exclusionist policy. In fact, the law is meant to put some order in an overburdened system, and to prevent 'asylum shopping'. Which brings me to the story of Adongo Akwai Cham, a refugee from the civil war in Sudan. He was accepted into Canada in the late 1990s and went to work sorting rubbish in an Ottawa recycling plant, where he was paid the minimum wage. His co-workers had no idea that he was, in fact, the prince of a royal family whose bloodline went back 500 years: his father was hereditary king of the Anyuak tribe in southern Sudan. When his father died in 2001, the Sudanese villagers begged him to return and assume the crown. Reluctantly, he did - but not before setting in motion the paperwork to bring his wife and eight children to Canada, also as refugees. At least once a year, King Adongo visits Canada - a testament to the world's most liberal refugee laws.