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Ukrainians want acknowledgement of injustice

Written by Carolyn Gruske

The Gazette (The University of Western Ontario)
3 February 1989

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Internees returning to the Spirit Lake internment camp, Quebec (Photo courtesy of Y. Luhovy)

Imagine coming to a 'promised land' - a land where all is good and plentiful. Imagine working to make a place for yourself in this land. You clear the land and start a homestead, or, you settle down in a city and find employment. Things are not easy, but you work hard to establish yourself. Suddenly you are declared to be an 'enemy' of the land. You are thrown into prison.

Of course, this is difficult to imagine because it could never happen in Canada.

But it did.

During the First World War immigrants and naturalized Canadian citizens were taken from their homes and were deprived of their rights of citizenship just because they happened to have been born in a country with which Canada was at war.

Canadian Germans, Bulgarians, Turks, Poles, Serbians, Croatians, Italians, Jews, and Ukrainians born under Austro-Hungarian rule were officially declared "enemy aliens".

Under the War Measures Act of August 1914, over half a million people were classified as enemy aliens and by the end of the war, 8,579 people had been interned. The majority of the internees, 5,954, were former citizens of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and approximately 5,000 of those were Ukrainians. The Ukrainian areas of Galicia and Bukovyna were then under Austro-Hungarian rule.

According to Professor Lubomyr Luciuk of Queen's University, there were 186 women and 39 children included in the internment camps. These destitute women "voluntarily joined their menfolk" in the camps. There is "little evidence" about what happened to the women whose husbands were taken from them. It is "such an unstudied case -- a blank page in Canadian history. Another 80,000 people who were not interned had to regularly report to the police and carry identity papers with them at all times.

There were over two dozen camps spread across the country. Some were in populated centres such as Halifax, Toronto, Kingston (Old Fort Henry) and Montreal; others were in the more remote locations of Spirit Lake, Kapuskasing, Banff and Jasper.

The living conditions were poor and the work, which included clearing forests and building roads, was hard. Those that were interned had their assets 'temporarily' removed by the Receiver General's Office, and a large portion of these assets never found their way back to their owners.

The immigrants were seen as a threat to Canadian security because they were believed to have divided loyalties between Canada and their country of origin.

Western history professor Donald Avery says the Ukrainians were seen as a special threat because they "had established themselves as a community." They had Ukrainian language newspapers, such as Robotchny Narod ("Working People") and Ukrainian language schools in Manitoba.

Also, after the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand of Austria, Ukrainians were called upon by one of their acknowledged leaders, Bishop Budka, to remember their native land in prayers and go to the defence of the Fatherland. Many other prominent Ukrainian leaders tried to lessen the negative impact of this statement by declaring their loyalty to Canada and by calling for "the creation of a Ukrainian homeland after the war."

Avery notes that the Ukrainians seemed to be more of a threat than even the Germans in the eyes of the public because the Germans were "not of the immigrant generation and they were not as organized," and "there was not as high a percentage of unskilled labour among them."

The English and French Canadians feared unskilled immigrant masses who might develop radical tendencies, especially in light of the Russian Revolution of 1917.

Those enemy aliens who weren't interned faced other infringements on their liberty. Use of the languages of Ukrainians, Germans, Jews, and others was censored. All Canadians who were naturalized after 1902 and who came from an enemy background lost the right to vote in the 1917 federal election, as did all pacifist groups such as the Mennonites.

Avery says they were disenfranchised because it was felt "the election shouldn't be decided by those who were 'disloyal.'"

Immigrants form enemy countries also faced public persecution and discrimination. Returning veterans harassed them. They were forbidden from joining the Canadian Armed Forces, although Luciuk notes "some went as far as misrepresenting where they had been born or...even changing their surnames to Smith in order to enlist."

They were even fired from their jobs in a wave of patriotism that was negated when the internees were forced to work for large corporations such as the CPR and the Dominions Steel Company. "The level of tolerance became pretty minimal...intolerance was the dominant value," Avery said.

By 1918, the English and French public was calling for mass deportations. Although these never happened, many Ukrainians were deported -- mainly for being radical extremists in the labour movements.

Luciuk notes that even the deportation hearings discriminated against the aliens because they got "civil proceedings without the benefit of legal protection of the criminal proceedings that the AngloScots got. The immigrants were treated much differently."

The conditions faced by all of the aliens have long gone unnoticed by the Canadian public. Luciuk and the Ukrainian Canadian Committee hope to change that. They have put forward five requests to the Federal Government. The first is that the government acknowledge "an injustice has been done to Ukrainians and Eastern Europeans." Luciuk says they are not asking for an apology because "given the amount of time -- an apology would be inappropriate."

Their second request is for historical markers to be put up at the cities of the internment camps and for the camp at Banff/Castle be rebuilt as an open-air museum.

The third request is for changes to be made to the Emergency Act (the replacement of the War Measures Act). According to Luciuk, the Canadian government has standing orders under the Department of the Solicitor-General for the establishment of internment camps in the time of a national crisis. Because of this the UCC wants actual citizenship, not hereditary citizenship to be used for determining the "enemy alien" status.

Luciuk fears the First World War situation could repeat itself, for "Soviet citizenship goes on forever." It is constantly transferred from parent to child. He explained that if a child is born in any country, that child is a Soviet citizen, even if only one of its parents, grandparents, or greatgrandparents was once a Soviet citizen.

The fourth request is for financial support to cover the cost of further research into this subject. They also want funds to use for an independent costanalysis study about the question of internees' lost assets. The results of this study would provide the basis for any future compensation claims.

The fifth request is that all of these issues be resolved before the year 1991, which marks the centennial of Ukrainian immigration to Canada.

"Acknowledgement is the critical question," says Luciuk. He wants to make sure that this type of tragedy "never happens to any other minority.

"We have to make people understand what has happened because if we don't keep this message alive it might happen again."

Luciuk, author of A Time for Atonement, speaks today at University College at 5:00 p.m.

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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

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

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