On the eve of the October 25 federal election campaign, the Redress Committee of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress is giving the new government one final chance to settle the settlement claim surrounding the World War I internment of between 3,300 and 5,000 Ukrainian Canadians.
Some 16 federal elections ago, the Canadian government branded 80,000 Ukrainian Canadians as "enemy aliens," taking away their right to vote, and compelling them to register and carry identification cards.
A member of the National Redress Alliance, the UCC group is joining the Chinese Canadian National Council and the National Congress of Italian Canadians in preparing a submission to the United Nations' Human Rights Commission in Geneva. All three accuse Canada of violating international human rights covenants.
The Ukrainian Canadian claim includes the demand for a community fund to be composed of $10 million in compensation for monies confiscated between 1914 and 1920; another for $35 million in lost wages, as estimated in a 1992 Price Waterhouse report; additional funds for loss of homes and savings; and a yet-to-be determined sum for "unjust and wrongful imprisonment."
But although former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney promised, on several occasions, to resolve the issue before he left office in June, the Ukrainian-Canadian request remained unsettled.
Instead, Mr. Mulroney's Multiculturalism Minister, Gerry Weiner, proposed a formal apology to the Ukrainian-Canadian community in the House of Commons; placement commemorative plaques in national parks where internment camps were located; creation of an interpretive center in Banff national Park, site of the Castle Mountain Internment Camp; and construction of a "Nation Builders Hall of Record" next to the new location for the National Archives of Canada that would serve as a monument to commemorate the nation-building contribution of Canada's ethnic communities.
No mention was made of the requested community fund.
In response, the UCC committee agreed to the first three offers, but joined the Chinese and Italian communities in withholding its consent for the planned Hall of Record. "When a government makes a commitment to allocate funds, it should complete that process," explained Ihor Bardyn, chairperson of the UCC Redress Committee.
The National Congress of Italian Canadians, which has already received an apology from Mr. Mulroney, is seeking compensation for the World War II internment of 700 Italian Canadians.
The Chinese Canadian National Council is seeking redress for racist immigration laws between 1885 and 1947 that separated families and imposed a "head tax" on about 81,000 Chinese immigrants arriving in Canada at the turn of the century. Chinese Canadians estimate that $23 million, or $1 billion in today's dollars, was collected.
They are not alone in seeking restitution from the Canadian government. The country's German community claims that close to 4,000 German Canadians were interned during the first and second world wars. The Canadian Jewish Congress is seeking compensation for the rejection of a boatload of 907 German Jews during World War II, most of whom died in the Holocaust after the vessel was forced to return to Europe.
Similarly, a group of Canadian Sikhs want restitution for a 1914 incident involving a boatload of 367 Sikhs who were denied entry in Vancouver and held without being offered food or water for two months.
The German, Jewish and Sikh organizations have accepted Mr. Weiner's spring offer.
Meanwhile, the Ukrainian, Italian and Chinese groups are now concerned about the federal government's broken promises concerning the 1988 Japanese Canadian redress package. Under it, Prime Minister Mulroney's government promised to pay $21,000 to each survivor of World War II internment camps holding Japanese Canadians and create a $24 million Canadian Race Relations Foundation.
Although about 17,000 Japanese Canadians have been compensated, so far, Prime Minister Kim Campbell's government has not moved to establish the foundation, which was approved by Parliament two years ago. Nor have 700 Canadians held in these camps received any compensation.
The Canadian government is also refusing to compensate about 700 Canadian citizens who were stranded in Japan and then prohibited from returning to Canada for four years after the war. Close to 99 percent returned.
"The federal government has been very unresponsive," says Van Hori, president of the Toronto chapter of the National Association of Japanese Canadians. Mr. Hori's organization has raised the issue of unresolved redress during the current election campaign.
Nor has Ms. Campbell met with the UCC, as the Ukrainian organization had hoped. Neither she nor Mr. Weiner's successor, Heritage Minister Monique Landry, were available for comment.
The UCC, along with its Italian and Chinese counterparts, is waiting to see if the new Parliament will move on their requests. If not, Mr. Bardyn says that all three will petition the U.N.
One hope might rest in Liberal Opposition Leader Jean Chretién, expected to form the next government after the October 25 vote.
In June, Mr. Chretién wrote to Mr. Bardyn: "You can be assured that we will continue to monitor the situation closely and seek to ensure that the government honors its promise." Now that government promise might rest on Mr. Chretién's shoulders.
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Copyright © 1994 Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association
Copyright © 1994 Lubomyr Luciuk
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Originally Composed: Wednesday December 4th 1996.
Date last modified: Thursday October 30th 1997.