Barbed Wire

Injustice ignored: For Ukrainian Canadians it's too late for redress but not for acknowledgement

Written by Lubomyr Luciuk

The Vancouver Sun
11 May 1993

Barbed Wire

She's the last one I know of. Her name is Mary Manko Haskett. She is the last known survivor of Canada's first national internment operations.

Once there were thousands like her. It's been 15 years since I began looking for them. I found four. Probably more could have been found, back then. But even two decades ago not many were left.

I knew they had become rare. I always understood they would pass away. So I tried to save something for posterity. I searched across Canada. I recorded their stories. I cast my net wide, hoping to find more.

With hindsight I know I should have, could have, done more. It would not have been easy. The government didn't want anyone to remember what it had done. Ottawa had their "paper trail" wiped out. And their community didn't do much. Many worried that even recalling this past pain might invite suffering again. I don't judge the community's amnesia. People were afraid. They had every right to be. Tens of thousands came to Canada seeking freedom. They had high expectations about their new homeland. Many, in time, did very well. But they also experienced terror here. Between 1914 and 1920 thousands were branded "enemy aliens," interned, censured, had properties and valuables confiscated never to be returned, were disenfranchised, subjected to what a contemporary newspaper described as a "national humiliation." Decades after Canada's first national internment operations ended, some leading members of the community were still "in fear of the barbed wire fence."

What was done to them was unjust. Even the government has admitted that, reluctantly. Should such recognition suffice? No. The wrongs done to Canada's Ukrainians in the First World War were repeated with Japanese Canadians in 1941. And, in 1970, the same legislation - the War Measures Act - was deployed against the Quebecois. Read the 1988 Emergencies Act which replaced it and you get the uneasy feeling that other Canadian ethnic, religious or racial minorities might potentially be exposed to repression in times of domestic or international crisis. Am I anxious for myself? No. But ask just about any Canadians of Islamic heritage how they felt during the Gulf War and you will hear about fear.

How can we redress the historic injustice done to Ukrainian Canadians? Simple. Remember what happened to them so that it never happens again, to any of us. The Ukrainian-Canadian community is not even asking for an apology. You can't insist today that someone should be answerable for an unjustifiable act done years before any current cabinet minister was even born. But Ottawa can acknowledge that what happened was unwarranted and unjust. The Emergencies Act can be amended. The appropriate departments can be instructed to place historical markers at the camp sites. And there should be symbolic financial compensation, funds allocated to educational and community development projects so as to ensure that what happened is not forever forgotten.

It is far too late for individual redress. Not that any of the four I met ever asked for compensation. They just wanted to make sure that what happened to them never happens again - a modest request of posterity.

You might think Ottawa would be happy to oblige. Not so. The community's redress campaign began in the mid-1980s. In 1988, just before the last federal election, Multiculturalism Minister Gerry Weiner promised the issue would be dealt with "expeditiously." In November 1990, and again in October 1992, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney promised a resolution "soon." Nothing more has been done.

Why? I have to conclude they really don't care. For example, this February, Tory leadership hopeful and Environment Minister Jean Charest revealed how the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, in March 1991, declared that internment of Ukrainian Canadians was not "in and of itself, of national historic significance." Placing an historical marker at Castle Mountain, in Banff National Park, was therefore "precluded." This minister declared himself in full agreement with the board - not wise for someone who, presumably, wants the votes of one million Canadians of Ukrainian heritage, but probably indicative of cabinet attitudes.

There's more. Recently, a delegation from the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association went to Ottawa to further acquaint MPs from all three parties with the community's positions on redress. Weeks in advance, brief meetings with the prime minister or Mr. Weiner were requested. Heading the delegation was Mary Manko Haskett, 84, a Montreal-born woman who, at the age of six, was interned at Spirit Lake in Quebec. Her sister, Carolka, died there.

Neither the prime minister now Weiner made themselves available, supposedly being too busy to pay the last known survivor of a Canadian concentration camp the simple courtesy of listening to her story. Haskett, her two daughters and two sons, who had rallied to their mother's side in support of her quest, left Ottawa understandably disappointed.

I hope Haskett will some day, soon, hear the prime minister announce a Ukrainian Canadian redress settlement. But I doubt the government's commitment to doing what is right and just. For, as I stood outside parliament waiting for Haskett, along came Weiner, alone, unhurried, enjoying the springtime sunshine. If he had dallied but a minute longer he would have met Haskett, like it or not. But he was too busy to meet the last survivor.

Lubomyr Luciuk is director of research for the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association, an independent, non-partisan organization mandated by the Ukrainian-Canadian community to negotiate with the government of Canada on acknowledgement and redress.

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