Barbed Wire

Time to acknowledge wrongs done to Ukrainian Canadians

The Whig-Standard
17 October 1988

Barbed Wire

ThumbNail Image  

Winter Scene (J. Anderson-Wilson collection, Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies)

Re: "Ottawa compensating Japanese Canadians," Sept. 22. The federal government has finally resolved the long-standing request of Japanese Canadians for an apology and compensation for the wrongs done to that minority during the Second World War. This is welcome news. The Ukrainian-Canadian community supported the National Association of Japanese Canadians in its efforts to see justice done. What is also important is that this decision establishes a legal and moral precedent for Ukrainian Canadians to advance their own legitimate claims about the need for an acknowledgment and redress for the injustices done to their community and other East Europeans in Canada in 1914-20.

The basic facts are as follows. Since most of the 171,000 Ukrainian immigrants who came to Canada before the war were from the Austro-Hungarian crown lands of Galica and Bukovyna (Western Ukraine) they were classified as "enemy aliens" at the very outbreak of the war, although there was absolutely no evidence of any disloyalty on their part. Several thousand men, women and children, many of them naturalized Canadian citizens, were interned in 26 "concentration camps" across the country.

Tens of thousands more were forced to register as "enemy aliens" and to report regularly to the police. Properties and valuables were confiscated and, in many cases, never returned. Families were broken up and relocated. Classified as "second class" prisoners, Ukrainians often ended up in remote hinterland areas like Spirit Lake, Quebec, or Castle Mountain, Alberta, where they were forced to work under difficult conditions. Contemporary reports note that their guards were often brutal and that theft of what few valuables the internees had was not uncommon. Disconsolate at their unjust imprisonment several Ukrainians committed suicide; others perished in escape attempts. Physical and mental disabilities sufFered by the internees would plague them for the rest of their lives.

What made these repressive internment operations, sanctioned by passage of the very same War Measures Act that would, in 1941, be used against the Japanese, even worse was that they were followed up by other prejudicial measures. In 1917 most of Canada's citizens of Ukrainian origin were disenfranchised. In 1918 the already censored Ukrainian press was suppressed. Following the war deportations took place, and additional arrests were made, for the "enemy aliens" had, in the imagination of the authorities, somehow been transformed into "Bolsheviks" and "radical aliens" - a curious metamorphosis given that many of them never left their internment camps and had no way of knowing about the course of revolutionary events taking place in their Eastern European homeland

It is now clear that all of the measures taken by Ottawa were unnecessary and unjustifiable. In January 1915 the British government instructed the Canadian government that Ukrainians were hostile to Austro-Hungarian rule and should be considered as "friendly aliens" and accorded "preferential treatment." Quite the opposite took place. The traumatic and long-lasting impact of what was done is evident from the report of an RCMP informant who, in 1940, pointed out that even some of the leaders of the Ukrainian Canadian community remained "in fear of the barbed-wire fence."

This unhappy historical episode remains largely unknown. Canadians are now aware of the injustices done to the Japanese during Canada's second national internment operation but few know about what happened to Canadians of Ukrainian origin during the First World War period. The Ukrainian Canadian Committee is therefore asking the government for an acknowledgment that a wrong was done to Ukrainian Canadians in 1914-20, for appropriate historical markers to be placed at several of the internment sites, and for a modest research and publications fund that would allow students of Canadian history to more fully explore the theme of Canada's first national internment operation and its impact on this country's ethnic minorities.

Perhaps if Canadians had been better informed about the injustices done to Ukrainians in 1914 there would have been no mistreatment of the Japanese in 1941. But surely what took place in the Second World War was neither "unique nor unparalleled." For the new minister of multiculturalism to say so reveals how untutored he is in Canadian history. The Ukrainian Canadian community is only asking that its legitimate claims be treated with the same courtesy and fairness that has finally been accorded to our fellow Japanese-Canadian citizens.

Stefan Kuzmyn

Barbed Wire

Icon Icon Icon

Barbed Wire

Local Links:

Icon Return to Righting An Injustice Page
Icon Return to Internment of Ukrainians in Canada 1914-1920 Page
Icon Return to Ukrainian History Page
Icon Return to InfoUkes Home Page

Document Information

Document URL:

Copyright © 1994 Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association

Copyright © 1994 Lubomyr Luciuk

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

Page layout, design, integration, and maintenance by G.W. Kokodyniak and V. Pawlowsky

Copyright © 1996-1997 InfoUkes Inc.


since Mar 1 1997
InfoUkes Inc.
Suite 185, 3044 Bloor Street West
Etobicoke, Ontario, Canada M8X 2Y8
Tel: (416) 236-4865 Fax: (416) 766-5704

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