Ukrainian Canadians started negotiating yesterday with Prime Minister Brian Mulroney in a bid to win an apology and possibly as much as $30-million in financial compensation for First World War injustices.
Mr. Mulroney, however appeared ready to offer only the apology in a forthcoming statement to the House of Commons. The Prime Minister, in Alberta as part of a tour to defend his government, stressed that there has been no talk yet of a cash settlement for the 70-year-old grievance.
"We've had very good discussions with the Ukrainians," he said after their meeting, but "there was no request for anything today and no offer of anything."
The Ukrainian Canadians told Mr. Mulroney during a meeting in Edmonton that they were entitled to the same consideration been extended to Japanese Canadians and Italian Canadians, who were forced into labor camps during the Second World War.
About 5,000 Ukrainian Canadians, invited to Canada as settlers in the early 1900s, were imprisoned in labor camps from 1914 through 1920 when part of their country was taken over by Austrian-Hungarian occupying forces.
"I think the Prime Minister appreciates the uniqueness of the first internment of innocent Canadians.... It was probably the most unjust internment in the history of Canada," said Ihor Bardyn, chairman of the redress committee for the Ukrainian Canadian Congress.
"One week ago in Toronto, he was able to be met and personally thanked for the apology by living Italian Canadians," Mr. Bardyn said. In this case, he said, there are no survivors, and no one to whom the government can offer personal apologies.
The accounting firm of Price Waterhouse is tallying up the costs of a financial compensation package, as it did for Japanese Canadians, Mr. Bardyn said. Estimates by Ukrainian Canadians have ranged from $10-million to $30-million. Any funds would go toward a permanent endowment for the Ukrainian-Canadian community.
"We got the assurance that this matter certainly will be addressed," Mr. Bardyn said. "We consider this meeting to be the beginning of negotiations."
Mr. Mulroney said he had no hesitation in acknowledging the injustice suffered by these people, and no fear that this was part of an endless series of apologies that the Canadian government will be giving.
Mr. Mulroney's visit is part of an effort to defend unpopular Tory policies, especially the proposed goods and services tax. But even though opposition to the GST is particularly strong in Alberta, he has encountered remarkably little rancor.
Last night, he encountered a noisy demonstration outside the Edmonton hotel where he addressed party members. About 250 supporters of the Pro-Canada Network called on him to cancel the GST and urged him to pull back from some of his government's cost-cutting measures.
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Copyright © 1994 Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association
Copyright © 1994 Lubomyr Luciuk
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