Barbed Wire

Acknowledgement sought for wrongs done by Ottawa

Written by Mark Hume

The Vancouver Sun
19 April 1993

Barbed Wire

Talking to Lubomyr Luciuk, it is difficult to tell what makes him more angry - the injustice done to his people years ago or the indifference of the government today.

For the past eight years, Luciuk and his associate, Bohdan Kordan, have been leading a fight to get Ottawa to acknowledge the wrongs done to Ukrainian Canadians during the First World War.

So far, they say, they have been shunted from ministry to ministry and swamped with empty bureaucratic promises to look into it.

"For them not to recognize that this happened and that it was wrong is shameful," says Kordan, a research fellow at the University of Alberta.

"Enough is enough," adds Luciuk, director of research at the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association.

"How long do we have to wait to see justice done? We have families and careers we'd like to get back to."

The two men, in Vancouver at the weekend for a civil liberties conference, said that when they first approached the government in 1985, they expected quick action.

Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, Multiculturalism Minister Gerry Weiner, Environment Minister Jean Charest and Defence Minister Kim Campbell have all taken the matter under advisement over the years.

"The most frustrating thing for us has been watching several survivors drop dead in our time and not see justice done," said Luciuk.

"There is now only one known survivor of the internment camps left alive in Canada. And when we took her to Ottawa two weeks ago with the hopes of meeting with the prime minister or the multicultural minister, we were told both men were too busy.

"Too busy to meet with the last survivor? My God."

Between 1914 and 1920, thousands of Ukrainian Canadians were kept in prison camps scattered across the country. Several of the camps were in British Columbia, at Nanaimo, Revelstoke, Vernon and in remote bush areas.

Although many of those imprisoned were Canadian-born, their Ukrainian roots convinced the federal government to label them "enemy aliens."

Like the Japanese Canadians who were jailed in the Second World War, the Ukrainian internees were stripped of possessions and forced to work.

Mary Haskett, 84, of Mississauga, was rounded up with about 5,000 other Ukrainian Canadians during the war. She and her family were interned at Spirit River, a remote wilderness camp in northern Quebec.

Luciuk said the elderly woman, whose stories of being locked up during the war at first weren't believed by her children, recalls clearly the death of her sister.

"She remembers vividly seeing her two-year-old sister, Carolka, stretched out on the table. They put pennies on her eyes," said Luciuk.

The Spirit River camp, like 25 similar prison camps across Canada, is not marked by any special plaque or protected as an historic monument.

The land occupied by the Spirit River camp now is privately owned, and Haskett doesn't even have the right to visit her sister's grave.

In total, 107 internees died between 1914 and 1920.

Others went insane, or suffered such ill health that they never recovered.

Luciuk said it is important to note that at no time, either before, during or after the war, did the government ever have any indication that the Ukrainian Canadians were disloyal to Canada.

There was no guerrilla movement. No spy ring.

In fact, he said, the record shows that when war broke out, Ukrainians came forward in record numbers to sign up for military duty.

Only those who lied about their country of origin, or who changed their names, were accepted. One of those was Cpl. F. Konowal, a Ukrainian Canadian who went on to win the Victoria Cross.

Luciuk said that when they started to research what happened to Ukrainians during the war, he was shocked to find virtually no information in Canadian archives, and was forced to turn to British and U.S. sources.

In an Orwellian effort to rewrite history, he said, Canadian government officials in the 1950s destroyed all the case files they could find on the Ukrainian internees.

It was an attempt to cleanse Canadian history, he said, to erase from the record any reminder of what had happened.

With a federal election coming up, said Luciuk, the Ukrainian community hopes federal politicians will finally take steps to atone for what happened.

"We've never used the word 'apology,'" he said. "I can't ask you to apologize for what your grandfather did to my grandfather.

"What we want is an acknowledgement that this happened and that it was unwarranted and unjust."

Ukrainians in Canada would also like to see legislation amended so a similar mass internment could not happen again. And they would like historical markers put up at the locations of the internment camps.

One of those camps lies in Banff National Park.

"You can go there and still see barbed wire rusting in the underbrush," said Luciuk.

"When you golf in Banff, you are playing on a course built originally by internees. They built the roads there and many of the trails. They worked as slave labor, under bayonet and gun."

Luciuk said a request to Parks Canada to have the site officially marked has been rejected.

"They think it would be bad for business," he said.

Ukrainian redress, said Luciuk, should also include "some sort of symbolic financial contribution."

"But this is not about money," said Luciuk. "It has never been about money.

"It's about the government doing the right thing."

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

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Originally Composed: Wednesday December 4th 1996.
Date last modified: Thursday October 30th 1997.