Barbed Wire

Lining up for compensation

Written by Christopher Dafoe

Winnipeg Free Press
22 October 1988

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Internee work party on the Cove Road, near Banff, Alberta (Photo from the Harmony Collection, courtesy of the Glenbow Museum)

After the Canadian government announced that it had made arrangements for a long overdue settlement with Canadians of Japanese background who were unjustly interned and deprived of property during the Second World War, many astute observers felt that it would be only a matter of time before other claims for compensation were heard. After all, there is an election in the offing. What better time to get politicians to promise large sums of money to heal old wounds?

The first

The Ukrainians were the first to be heard from. Back in the First World War, many people of Ukrainian background were rounded up and given a hard time as "enemy aliens". Few of these people are still alive, but any who are clearly deserve some sort of apology and possibly a cash settlement. Suggestions that all people of Ukrainian extraction should share in the bounty seem a bit far-fetched. Where will it all end? Everybody you meet these days seems to have a Ukrainian grandmother back home cooking perogies. The bill could be enormous.

The government, however, seems keen on coming to some arrangement with the Ukrainians and all those with Ukrainian in laws. There is talk of a large cash settlement to ease the pain endured 70 years ago and to wipe out the guilt we are all supposed to feel on behalf of the boobies who were running this country when grandma was a girl. Mr. Mulroney has found yet another way of bribing us with our own money.

A large queue of ethnic groups with serious grievances is now forming. We all get along pretty well these days, but, as we all know, this was not always the case. At one time various groups looked down on various other groups. Unpleasant things were done and stupid things were said about ancestry and background. Everybody has a horror story to tell about what used to go on. The time has now come to get even. There is not a man, woman or child in this great northern nation who cannot claim that some ancestor, however remote, got a raw deal during the first stages of their residence in Canada. When all the claims are in, that super sales tax may not be enough.

With election day getting closer and closer, groups across the nation are rushing to file their claims while election promises are still being made.


A group of people of English background, I understand, are about to demand $30,000 each and a $10-million "community fund" because their great grandfathers faced discrimination upon their arrival in Western Canada a century back. Looking for work, they were confronted by signs that said "English men need not apply." The pain felt by those unfortunate Englishmen is still keenly felt by their descendants and only a large cash settlement from the government will make the hurt go away.

Back at the turn of the century, there was no Folklorama and the various racial and ethnic groups were often quite rude to each other. They had unpleasant nicknames for each other and they had harsh things to say about what other people had for dinner. The British, eating their tripe or toad-in-the-hole, sneered at what they regarded as an excessive use of garlic by newcomers from Middle Europe. The newcomers, in turn, mocked what they regarded as the feeble sexual prowess of non garlic eaters. Men in kilts were openly laughed at. People who did not speak the language were jeered at. Their descendants are still smarting and are now putting the finishing touches on claims for compensation.

Old wounds

Some observers will warn, of course, that this rush for compensation for past slights and indignities is likely to open old wounds and lead to harsh words and possibly blows at the next multiculturalism conference, but others insist that it is never too late to pay up.

I tend to agree with the latter group. If there is money being handed out, why be shy about claiming some? My own ancestors had a pretty tough time when they first came to this country in 1785.

They had been doing quite well as farmers down in the Mohawk Valley of New York state when the British and the Americans got into a dispute that led to war. My great, great great-grandfather backed the wrong side and when the war was over he had to send the family up to Canada in order to avoid being tarred and feathered. As Loyalists, the family got land near Kingston, but it was all trees and rocks, and the winters were horrible. Moving to Canada was a real bummer and the people who arrived in 1785 were looked down on by the snobs who had arrived in 1784. Compensation is long overdue. Personally, I am willing to settle for a cool million. Over to you, Brian.

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Copyright © 1994 Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association

Copyright © 1994 Lubomyr Luciuk

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