Barbed Wire

A time for atonement in Canada

Written by Myron Kuropas

The Ukrainian Weekly
5 March 1989

Barbed Wire

Most of us are probably aware of the terrible injustice perpetrated against Japanese Americans during World War II.

Some 105,000 men, women, and children were forcibly removed from their homes in California, Oregon and Washington and incarcerated in desolate concentration camps in Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Utah, and Wyoming.

It was all done in 1942 on the executive order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

In 1976, President Gerald R. Ford issued a proclamation in which he called upon the American people to affirm "this American promise -- that we have learned from the tragedy of that longago experience forever to treasure liberty and justice for each individual American, and resolve that this kind of action shall never again be repeated."

In 1988, the U.S. Congress voted to compensate each surviving Japanese American the sum of $20,000, a mere pittance compared to the tremendous financial and psychological losses suffered by all of them.

Like many Ukrainians in North America, I was unaware that a similar fate had befallen Ukrainian Canadians during World War I.

According to Dr. Lubomyr Luciuk, research director of the Civil Liberties Commission of the Ukrainian Canadian Committee, some 5,000 Ukrainian Canadians were interned in Canada's hinterlands, and their farms and other possessions were confiscated. Another 80,000 Ukrainian adults were unjustly branded "enemy aliens", stripped of their rights, and forced to report regularly to the police. They were issued special identity cards.

Their crime was that they had immigrated from Galicia and Bukovina, then part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Since Canada was at war with Austro-Hungary, all emigres were viewed as aliens from a hostile power.

By 1918, the English and French publics in Canada were calling for mass deportations resulting in the exodus of Ukrainians who belonged to radical labor groups. Even here, Dr. Luciuk notes, they were discriminated against because the hearings were "civil proceedings without the benefit of the legal protections of the criminal proceedings that AngloScots got." And I thought only the OSI operated in this way. Shame on me!

In the 1988 publication, " A Time for Atonement: Canada's First National Internment Operation and the Ukrainian Canadians, 1914-1920" Dr. Luciuk notes that unlike Canadians of German extraction who were interned in camps that were relatively comfortable, Ukrainians from Austria were sent to places like Spirit Lake, Quebec; Castle Mountain, Alberta; and Otter Creek, British Columbia. "There they were obliged not only to construct the internment camps but to work on road-building, land-clearing, wood-cutting, and railway construction projects," writes Dr. Luciuk.

"As the need for soldiers overseas led to a shortage of workers in Canada, many of these 'Austrian' internees were released on parole to work for private companies. Their pay was fixed at a rate equivalent to that of a soldier which was less than what they might have expected to make if they had been able to offer their labor in the marketplace." Thus, concludes Dr. Luciuk, "the internment operations not only uprooted families but also allowed for exploitation of many of the internees' labor."

Although none of the interned Ukrainians had committed any crime, their valuables, real estate and securities were seized by the government.

Daily existence in the Canadian concentration camps was harsh. Correspondence was censored, newspapers were forbidden, and rough treatment by guards was commonplace. Working and living conditions were often so abominable that 67 of the "Austrians" perished. "insanity was by no means uncommon," wrote one movement official. Hunger strikes, riots, passive resistance and suicide were also part of the internment scenario. In at least one instance, a Ukrainian, Ivan Hryhoryshchuk, was fatally shot while trying to escape.

These government-initiated outrages continued despite numerous letters, petitions and memoranda to federal and provincial authorities confirming the fact that Ukrainians were neither "Austrian" nor supportive of the Austrian war effort.

Throughout the entire war, Ukrainian Canadians remained loyal to their new government. According to one Canadian parliamentarian of the time, Ukrainians "gave a larger percentage of men to the war than certain races in Canada have," even after "enjoying the advantages of British citizenship for a period of a century or more."

Having documented the injustices perpetrated against Ukrainian Canadians during the 1914-1920 war period, Dr. Luciuk and the Ukrainian Canadian Committee have promulgated five requests of the Canadian government.

First they want a public acknowledgement that the internment of Ukrainian Canadians and other measures were unwarranted and unjust.

Their second request is for historical markers to be put up at cities where the various internment camps were located.

Thirdly, they want changes in the law which permits the government to establishment internment camps for foreign citizens during times of national crisis. "Soviet citizenship goes on forever," Dr. Luciuk points out. Because of this, the UCC wants actual citizenship, not hereditary citizenship to be used to determine "enemy alien" status in the future.

A fourth request is for financial support to cover the cost of further research into the Ukrainian internment issue in order to provide the basis for any future compensation claims.

Finally, the UCC wants all of these issues resolved before the year 1991, the centennial of Ukrainian immigration to Canada.

During the 1984 election campaign, Progressive Conservative leader Brian Mulroney condemned the treatment of Japanese Canadians during World War II, adding that "Canadian citizens whose rights were abused, violated, and trampled upon should indeed be compensated." Since then, the Canadian government has offered to establish a $12 million "community fund" for Japanese Canadians.

It is time for similar redress for Ukrainian Canadians.

Barbed Wire

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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

Copyright © 1996-1997 InfoUkes Inc.


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