Barbed Wire

Claiming compensation

Winnipeg Free Press
17 October 1988

Barbed Wire

The queue of claimants forming up behind the Japanese Canadian National Association keeps growing. Behind the Hong Kong veterans recalling prison camp maltreatment, the Ukrainian Canadians recalling First World War internment, the Chinese Canadians recalling the poll tax, the United Empire Loyalists recalling their hostile reception in Canada and Indians and Metis who lost their land, anyone else with an old grievance against Canada should arrange a meeting with Gerry Weiner, minister of state for multiculturalism. He is in an accommodating mood. Once every Canadian has paid every other Canadian $21,000 and apologized, we will all feel better.

Japanese Canadians who were interned have been promised individual compensation by the Mulroney government. It is not the communal, collective compensation which the government offered two years ago. The matter would have been settled long ago if the Japanese Canadian National Association had agreed to group compensation. The association's point, which the government finally accepted, was that since the victims were individuals the compensation should go to those same individuals.

The fault in the first place lay in interning people because of their ancestors and ethnic identity. The Japanese Canadian were deprived of their property and their civil rights and forbidden to go back to British Columbia where they had lived. The restrictions continued for four years after the war ended, after Japan had been defeated, when the most fanatical racist could not pretend they were going to assist a Japanese landing in Canada.

The Ukrainian Canadian Committee now seeks compensation because Ukrainians were interned in Canada during the First World War. The British government had advised Canada that the Ukrainians posed no danger of siding with Germany in the war. The Canadian government ignored that advice and interned about 5,000 Ukrainians between 1914 and 1920 for no reason except their national origin and groundless fear that they would be disloyal to Canada.

This chapter of Canadian history has not been adequately publicized. It deserves to be better known, and the Ukrainian Canadian committee is doing a public service by drawing attention to it. There may be a misunderstanding, however, about the compensation of Japanese Canadian internees.

Michael Maryn, vice-president of the Ukrainian Canadian Committee, believes that the agreement with the Japanese Canadian Association provides a precedent for the Ukrainian Canadians. "We expect the government to recognize that our community was wronged," he said.

Individuals who were unjustly deprived of their liberty and their property were wronged and should be compensated in rough proportion to the wrong, so far as that can be fairly determined. People who were not interned were not wronged, however. Unjust treatment of one individual does not call for payments to a different individual just because the second individual's ancestors hailed from the same part of the world.

The Ukrainian Canadian Committee deserves generous support for research and publishing that will lead to better understanding of the Ukrainian experience in Canada during the First World War. The committee has not yet made out a case comparable to that of the Japanese Canadian internees.

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Copyright © 1994 Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association

Copyright © 1994 Lubomyr Luciuk

We acknowledge the help in the preparation of this document by Amanda Anderson

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Originally Composed: Sunday September 22nd 1996.
Date last modified: Thursday October 30th 1997.