Representatives of two ethnic groups interned during wartime under the War Measures Act came to Parliament Tuesday saying proposals to revamp that law would not prevent the recurrence of the human rights abuses they suffered.
The National Association of JapaneseCanadians and the Ukrainian Canadian Committee urged a Commons committee either to scrap the proposed Emergencies Act, otherwise known as Bill C-77, or to amend it substantially.
"In our opinion, Bill C-77... would not prevent a recurrence of the injustices suffered by JapaneseCanadians," Roy Miki, a spokesman for the Japanese-Canadian group, told an allparty committee of MPs studying the bill.
Historians generally agree that racism and xenophobia, rather than genuine security considerations, were largely responsible for the internment of about 20,000 Japanese Canadians during the Second World War and of about 5,000 Ukrainian Canadians during the First World War. In both cases, the federal government had invoked the War Measures Act, essentially stripping these citizens of their civil rights.
In some ways, said a brief from the Japanese-Canadian group, the Emergencies Act could be even more repressive than the War Measures Act, which was last invoked to deal with the Front de Liberation du Quebec during the 1970 October Crisis in Quebec.
"The proposed Emergencies Act permits the cabinet to treat Canadians worse than the (Mackenzie) King cabinet treated Japanese Canadians and neither Parliament nor the Canadian public would ever know anything about it."
The brief says the proposed act, unlike the 74-year-old War Measures Act, permits secret orders and regulations to be passed under all types of emergencies and at the sole discretion of cabinet.
The brief also complains that the definition of an emergency, which must occur for the act to be invoked, is too broad and that provisions for compensation for those ill treated are too weak.
The UkrainianCanadian Committee also recommended several amendments, including a specific prohibition against civilian internment camps.
Conservative MP Patrick Crofton, from the British Columbia riding of Esquimalt-Saanich, appeared to suggest at one point that wartime internment camps may be necessary for the "protective custody" of ethnic groups, such as Japanese Canadians, when they are the target of racists.
That suggestion was not embraced by either of the ethnic groups. Ann Sunahara, legal advisor to the Japanese-Canadian group, told reporters that would be like incarcerating all women to prevent their rape by men.
Crofton later explained in an interview he was just playing "the devil's advocate" and was not trying to justify the internment of Japanese Canadians.
The UkrainianCanadian Committee also asked that the Emergencies Act be changed to provide special protection for people of East European descent who may unwillingly have citizenship in the Soviet Union.
This situation could result in up to one million Canadians being considered as "enemy aliens" during a war between Canada and the Soviet Union, the Ukrainian Canadian Committee said in a brief.
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Copyright © 1994 Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association
Copyright © 1994 Lubomyr Luciuk
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Originally Composed: Saturday September 21st 1996.
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