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Report details Ukrainian Canadian losses during internment

Written by Christopher Guly

The Ukrainian Weekly
9 May 1993

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The south compound of the Kapuskasing internment camp. (Photo courtesy of the Ron Morel Museum)

A just-released confidential report to the Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC) estimates that between 3,300 and 5,000 Ukrainian Canadians suffered economic losses totalling anywhere from $21.6 million to $32.5-million (in 1991 dollars) while they were interned following the outbreak of the first world war.

About two-thirds or 3,000 were wrongfully interned.

The study, titled "Economic Losses of Ukrainian Canadians Resulting from Internment During World War I" was prepared by Price Waterhouse in January 1992. Up to now, the UCC has carefully hidden the results as an ace to negotiate a redress settlement package with the federal government. But time is running out, said Ihor Bardyn, chairman of the UCC's redress committee.

Mr. Bardyn's committee, along with representatives of the National Redress Alliance, is "putting the government on notice." That alliance is composed of members of the Chinese Canadian National Council, the National Council of Italians Canadians and the National Association of Japanese Canadians.

All claim that some violations of the human rights of their members in Canada over the past century. So far, only the Japanese-Canadian community has received a settlement. In 1988, they were offered a $12 million community development fund, along with $21,000 to every survivor of second world war Canadian internment camps.

Slow negotiations with Multiculturalism Minister Gerry Weiner, Mr. Bardyn noted, have forced him to increase the pressure on Prime Minister Brian Mulroney's Conservative government. He said he worries that Mr. Weiner will recommend an omnibus redress package for the Ukrainian, Chinese and Italian communities in Canada, while each group is claiming different forms of compensation.

While the Italian community, which has already received an apology, and the Chinese community are both seeking individual restitution, the UCC is pushing for a community package. Like the Japanese, the Italians claim wrongful discrimination during World War II, while Chinese Canadians are seeking restitution for unfair entry taxes into the country.

In November 1990, Prime Minister Mulroney told the House of Commons that he would be making an apology to Canadians of Chinese origin in connection with the head tax, as well as to Canadians of Ukrainian and Italian origins concerning their wartime internment. And, in 1991, the Commons unanimously passed a motion by Liberal MP Peter Milliken (Kingston and the Island) urging redress for Ukrainian Canadians.

But Mr. Weiner's press secretary Len Westerberg said "nothing has been ruled out" and that the Japanese settlement package should not be a "yardstick" to be used for a Ukrainian-Canadian redress package.

Still, former Housing Minister Alan Redway, who represents the Ontario federal riding of Don Valley East in the Commons, said he hopes the federal government remembers that each claim is a "different case" and should be dealt with separately.

Meanwhile, Canada's national press is taking different sides on the question. A March 29 editorial in The Toronto Star suggests that Ukrainian-Canadian demands for redress are "eminently reasonable." Yet, on April 13, Globe and Mail columnist Jeffrey Simpson, wrote: "...being just in our time does not mean scrounging through the past to make ancestors retrospectively just in theirs." That echoes former Liberal Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau who told the House of Commons on April 4, 1984, concerning the Japanese Canadian redress package, that he did not "believe in attempting to rewrite history in this way." (John F. Kennedy, on whether a president could atone for slavery in the United States, replied that a political leader could only be just in his time.)

However, while the UCC's redress committee is using the Price Waterhouse report in its negotiations with the federal government, the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association (UCCLA)'s redress council continues its own campaign based on four points. They include a public acknowledgment (not apology) changes to Canada's 1988 Emergencies Act to prevent similar occurrences in the future, a reversal of Parks Canada's refusal to erect historical markers about the internment and a community development fund.

Dr. Lubomyr Luciuk, research director for the association, argues that his group, formed from the UCC's recently disbanded Civil Liberties Committee, is the one Mr. Mulroney's government should be dealing with.

"No one (from the UCC), not even Mr. Bardyn, had been involved with this issue 18 months ago," he explained, adding that he has been personally involved in researching the event since 1986. Dr. Luciuk said the association's honorary members, which include former Ukrainian Catholic Archbishop Metropolitan Maxim Hermaniuk of Winnipeg and Grand Chief Ovide Mercredi of the aboriginal Assembly of First Nations, adds greater clout to their efforts.

"People know who Ovide Mercredi is," he said, "but they don't know who the hell (UCC President) Oleh Romaniw is."

But although Mr. Bardyn acknowledges Dr. Luciuk's previous work in the area, he feels the UCCLA's involvement is hindering final negotiations. Referring to Dr. Luciuk's criticisms of Mr. Mulroney for not detailing the package at last October's triennial UCC congress in Winnipeg, Mr. Bardyn said Dr. Luciuk is "trying to sensationalize the issues to get as much press for himself.

"I had met with Mr. Mulroney, along with (former UCC President) Dr. Dmytro Cipwynyk and (UCCLA Chairman) John Gregorovich before his appearance [at the congress] and was trying to get him to at least acknowledge a commitment to resolve the issue to the mutual satisfaction of both the government and the community, which he did. "Lubomyr is going over old ground now... we're now waiting for a decision," he said.

Mr. Bardyn noted he hopes the Price Waterhouse report will convince the government to deal with the Ukrainian-Canadian redress issue separately.

It estimates that the majority of Ukrainian Canadians interned between 1914 and 1920 were unemployed or destitute prior to their imprisonment and did not pose a military threat to Canada. Each Ukrainian was interned for an average of 1.5 years.

In 1914, there were about 170,000 Ukrainians in Canada, most of them coming from western Ukraine. As a result, their citizenship was either Austrian or Austro-Hungarian.

Although most Ukrainian Canadians were not interned, most were forced to register as enemy aliens. As a result, they lost the right to vote, lost the right to naturalize as Canadian citizens and were restricted in their ability to serve in the Canadian military.

War Measures Act

This nightmarish chapter in Canadian history began on August 15, 1914, when the Canadian government invoked the War Measures Act and issued a "Proclamation Respecting Immigrants of German or Austro-Hungarian Nationality." Canada had joined Great Britain's August 4 declaration of war against Germany.

It authorized the arrest and detention of "German or Austrian or Austro-Hungarian officers, soldiers or reservists who attempt(ed) to leave Canada; and all subjects of the German Empire or of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy in Canada espionage or acts of a hostile nature, or giving... information to the enemy, or who are on reasonable grounds suspected of doing... any of the said acts." It added, "Persons of German or Austro-Hungarian nationality who quietly pursue their usual avocations... should be allowed to continue... without interruption."

On October 28, 1914, a further order-in-council required the registration of "alien enemies" as a means of "supervision and control" to "prevent espionage" or "effective military assistance to the enemy." (Many of the males, age 17 to 45, were likely reservists in the Austrian or Austro-Hungarian armies.) If these so-called alien enemies, including Czechs, Poles and Ukrainians, failed to register, they faced the penalty of internment as prisoners of war.

Yet, under the Hague Convention, prisoners of war were required to be treated humanely and confined only as "an indispensable measure of safety."

The following year, on June 26, the Canadian government authorized the arrest and detention of alien enemies if their freedom was believed not to be in the public interest.

Price Waterhouse counts 8,579 men, 81 women and 156 children interned in camps, with another 80,000 people of "Austrian" descent registered as enemy aliens. Of the 8,579 males, they estimate that up to 5,000 were of Ukrainian descent.

The UCC report also argues that German internees received better treatment than Austrian Ukrainians, who were detained in "more primitive camps or large internment camps in isolated settlement."

In 1915, the internment camp at Brandon, Manitoba, held between 800 and 1,000 Ukrainian internees. Ukrainians were segregated from so called "first-class" prisoners. Their mail was censored and they were subjected to Canadian military laws for discipline which included: being fired upon for escaping, receiving reduced rations, solitary confinement and hard labor.

Although it's believed that each prisoner was documented, most Canadian government records concerning World War I internment operations were destroyed in 1951. As a result, Price Waterhouse chartered accountants Claire Livingston and Martin Roberts relied on a "Report of Internment Operations (1914-1920)" by Maj.-Gen. Sir William Otter, who was in charge of monitoring and caring for internees.

Through his records it was determined that many Ukrainians were interned due to ethnic prejudice rather than wartime suspicions. National Archives of Canada documents confirm that being unemployed or destitute was frequently a reason Ukrainian Canadians were interned during this time.

Any who were arrested and interned because they were reservists and who attempted to cross the border did so in search of work, not because they were in collusion with the enemy.

In the UCC's official submission for redress, Mr. Bardyn wrote that, in some cases, some Ukrainians were interned because of their lack of knowledge of English. "When asked whether they were pro-German," many Ukrainians thought 'pro' was a short form of the Ukrainian word 'proty' which means 'against' and therefore answered affirmatively."

About 1,500 Ukrainians were also interned during the war for failing to report for registration or to demonstrate their loyalty to the Allied Corps.

In fact, only 302 out of 1,964 prisoners still interned in 1919 were actually of Austrian birth - further evidence that this was a move against Ukrainian Canadians.

Prisoners were interned in 24 camps, the first of which opened in August 1914. Most internees were released to work-parole from 1916 to 1917 to help fill the war-related labor shortage. They received 25 cents a day as pay.

Wrongfully interned Ukrainian Canadians as a group earned between $192,000 and $287,000 while working in the camps. In July 1920, the Canadian government held about $94,000 in trust for ex-internees. This comprised both earnings and some funds confiscated from the internees.

Claims were eventually submitted and monies were paid out until 1939, with the balance remaining at about $33,000 - of which $31,200 represents unpaid earnings. It's believed no further claims were ever paid out.

Although property was also confiscated, the report assumes that between 10 to 20 farms were lost, valued at between $500,000 and $1 million in current dollars.

Total losses calculated

In calculating total losses, the Vancouver-based firm estimated the number of people wrongly interned and the duration of their internment. Lost earnings were then estimated and deducted from the minimal salaries they received. Price Waterhouse relied on 1921 census figures that revealed about 67 percent of the Ukrainian Canadian labor force worked in agriculture. The average rate of pay for a Ukrainian Canadian would have been $557 annually.

Taking the 3,300 to 5,000 Ukrainian Canadians wrongfully interned, the report equates that figure with a loss of between 5,300 to 7,900 man-years to internment. It further estimates that Ukrainian Canadian internees would have earned between $1.9 million and $2.8 million in 1917 dollars had there been no internment.

But Mr. Bardyn maintained that the UCC's redress package extends to the entire community, based on wide-ranging discriminatory measures waged against it by the government. For instance, the Ukrainian ethnic press was censored, Ukrainians were deprived of naturalization rights for 10 years after the war and the War Time Elections Act prohibited enemy alien immigrants naturalized after 1902 from voting.

He added that this wartime violation of Ukrainian Canadians' civil rights also negatively affected their language and culture, let alone the humiliation suffered by the community.

And although Ukrainian Catholic Bishop Nykyta Budka wrote a July 17, 1914, pastoral letter urging Austrians to return and fight for the homeland (which he later clarified in an August 8 follow up, reminding Ukrainians of the ties to their new homeland), more than 10,000 Ukrainians voluntarily enlisted from western Canada during the war. In fact, two Alberta battalions were almost exclusively composed of Ukrainian settlers.

Beyond drawing parallels with its partner ethnic groups in seeking redress from the Canadian government, the UCC is using the case of a Canadian man who was wrongfully convicted and imprisoned. Donald Marshall Jr., a Mi'kmaq native from Nova Scotia, was convicted and imprisoned at the age of 17 for a murder that he didn't commit. He was released from prison in 1982 after serving 11 years.

The government compensated him eight years later. Mr. Marshall was awarded $382,872 for his non-pecuniary losses, including a $25,000 payment plus interest to his parents for their "years of anguish, anger and frustration." At the time, it was also proposed that Mr. Marshall's community, the Mi'kmaq nation, also receive compensation to establish and operate a cultural center for children.

Although the royal commission could not include such an award in its ruling, Justice Evans did conclude that Mr. Marshall suffered "...the loss of his ability to use his language in prison because of the fact that he was native."

Mr. Bardyn said he hoped the recent historical case may prove useful in presenting the UCC's arguments. In his report, he stated: "Ukrainian Canadians were innocent of any crime, their liberty and civil rights were denied by reason only of their ethnic affiliation... For all Ukrainians, those interned and those left behind, the wrongful actions of the state were perpetrated against a culturally distinct people whose cultural practices made the experience of incarceration particularly difficult."

But for Dr. Luciuk, the five-year struggle to seek public acknowledgement of Ukrainian-Canadian internment might have been cut short along the way." John Gregorovich once said that we as a community don't need to be loved as long as we are respected. "I think the problem has been that the UCC has tried to be liked instead of respected and this has been the result."

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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.