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Ukrainian Canadians: Redress for Internment

House of Commons Debates, Private Member's Business
27 September 1991

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Mary Manko Haskett with Peter Milliken, MP, Ottawa, March 1993 (Photo by F. Monte)

Mr. Peter Milliken (Kingston and the Islands) moved:

That, in the opinion of this House, the Government should:

He said: Mr. Speaker, this is the first time I have had the privilege of winning a draw on Private Members' business. I was delighted that my motion was drawn in the recent draw and that I can now present it to the House. I have a number of items on the Order Paper under the Private Members' Business section and I am pleased to at least have one come forward, even if it is for a brief debate. I had hoped that perhaps at the end of the hour the government might allow the motion to pass so that we could possibly see some government action in this particular area, which I know the government is, in fact, considering.

Many Canadians are unaware of the plight of the Ukrainian Canadians who were interned during World War I. In fact, when the war broke out, the government said that Canadian Ukrainians who had emigrated to Canada from the western Ukrainian territories of Galicia and Bukovyna, both of which were then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, were enemy aliens and they posed a threat to national security.

The government took the view that this threat required that these particular persons, who were in many cases Canadian citizens, ought to be interned and held in camps for the duration of the war. Accordingly, about 5,000 Ukrainian Canadians were in fact interned by the federal government in 26 camps that were located across Canada. One of those camps happened to be in my riding of Kingston and the Islands and was in the famous old fort there, Fort Henry, which was built some time in the middle of the 19th century.

Approximately 88,000 others, most of them Ukrainian Canadians, were forced to report regularly to local police and to internal security authorities, this, in spite of the fact that in many cases these persons posed absolutely no risk, security or otherwise, to the Canadian state.

I would like to read a quotation from a book written by Lubomyr Luciuk, a constituent of mine who is a professor at Queen's University in the Department of Geography. Mr. Luciuk is a well-known Canadian Ukrainian and a member of the committee that is seeking redress in this case. He has written a little pamphlet called A Time for Atonement, subtitled Canada's First National Internment Operations and the Ukrainian Canadians, 1914 to 1920. I quote from his book at page 19:

In his final report, he observed that as many of those interned were residents of Canada and possessed real estate and securities, etc., such have been turned over to the Custodian of Enemy Alien Properties for the future decision of the government.

Over $32,000 in cash was left in the Receiver General's office at the end of these internment operations. The estimated present day value is $1.5 million.

What the property, security and other valuables that were also confiscated might now be worth has yet to be calculated. The human costs of these internment operations are, of course, incalculable.

The internment went on for a considerable period, until 1920 in fact, but the internment was not the only problem that was faced by these citizens. In 1917, many members will recall that the government at the time passed the Wartime Elections Act which disenfranchised most Ukrainian Canadians as well as many others.

Members will recall that the vote was given to wives of men serving in the Armed Forces. It was also taken away from Canadians of German origin and other ethnic groups involved in the First World War on the other side.

It was not an Election Act of which Canadians can be proud. Frankly it was a national disgrace. The government rigged the elections very much in its favour so that it could win the 1917 election campaign which saw the Union Government - as it was then called - run and win the election in that year.

It paid for it in due course, as a historical footnote. In 1921 it was thrown out and replaced by a very sound administration under the very distinguished and capable William Lyon Mackenzie King.

In 1918, an already censored Ukrainian language press was closed down. This obviously was right near the end of the war. During the war Ukrainian Canadians were often maligned in regional and national newspapers. They were forced to work as poorly paid labourers in remote areas and were often relocated away from their homes and families.

Those imprisoned had their property confiscated as I have already indicated. Some committed suicide while they were in prison and some were killed in unsuccessful escape attempts.

When the war ended, a large number of Ukrainian Canadians were still interned. The government changed their status from that of "enemy-alien" to "Bolshevik" and kept them locked up for fear that they might be sympathetic to the new communist regime in the Soviet Union.

Not until 1920 were the camps finally closed down. There was never any evidence presented in any public place that the Ukrainian Canadians posed a threat to national security. Indeed, the government never produced any evidence to that effect at all. In January 1915 the British Foreign Office informed the federal government that Ukrainian Canadians should be treated as friendly aliens. The government was told that many Ukrainians, like other nationalities within the Austro-Hungarian empire, were opposed to Austro-Hungarian rule and would not be sympathetic with Canada's enemy in the war.

The motion I have put before the House is one that is supported by the Ukrainian Canadian Congress. The Congress wishes the government to formally acknowledge the unjust and unwarranted treatment these persons received during the First World War.

They would like to have the event commemorated by having historical markers established at the various internment sites, including Fort Henry in Kingston, which was the first site used as an internment camp.

I should also note as an historical footnote that the same fort was used during World War II to house prisoners of war. The International Red Cross said that it was not a suitable place to house prisoners. One can only imagine what the condition was during the first World War when apparently no international organization was involved in checking on the internees.

The Ukrainian Canadian Congress has asked the firm of Price Waterhouse to compile a study on the financial losses of the internees. The report is due later this autumn. Once it is complete the committee would like to discuss the matter of redress with the government.

The treatment of Japanese Canadians interned during World War II has clearly established some kind of precedent. It is certainly clear that given the number of years that have elapsed since the Ukrainian internment took place very few internees must still be alive. Accordingly, the Congress is not seeking redress on an individual basis but rather the establishment of a trust fund for the Ukrainian community in Canada which could be used for various purposes of that community.

The purpose of the motion I have put before the House is to urge the government to look at the facts, look at the record and see if something cannot be done to commemorate the evil perpetrated by our country on these people at that time.

These were innocent citizens of our country, never convicted of any crime, who just happened to have come from an area with which Canada was at war. As a result they were deemed unsuitable to carry on their daily lives on their farms and their homes wherever they happened to live in Canada, they were rounded up and herded into these camps. They were separated from their friends, from their families, from their communities and held far longer than was necessary solely because the government perceived that there might be a security risk to our country because they came from that particular part of Europe.

With great respect, it is clearly a situation which calls for some kind of relief. I am not suggesting, as I indicated earlier, that payments be made to individuals. Neither is the Ukrainian Canadian Congress. The Congress seeks redress for the community and seeks to have the fact of this internment commemorated in plaques at the various locations across Canada where these internments took place.

In closing, perhaps I can quote an article by my friend Mr. Luciuk and Bohdan Kordan, both members of the Ukrainian Canadian community, published in the Kingston Whig Standard. I think the article summarized the views of their community. They wrote as follows:

I know that the government is sympathetic to the plight of these people, to the plight they suffered many years ago. I know that the government is considering moving on this issue. I urge the government to take the matter in hand, handle it with dispatch and seek to come to a satisfactory arrangement to ensure that the fact that this kind of thing went on in our country is not forgotten but indeed commemorated as a sad reminder of how we sometimes disregard the notions of fairness, equity, and justice which we so often take for granted in Canada today.

Mr. Bill Kempling (Parliamentary Secretary to President of the Treasury Board and Minister of State (Finance)): Madam Speaker, let me at the outset commend the hon. member for bringing his motion forward. It is timely and I am pleased to be able to address the motion and acknowledge the treatment of Ukrainian Canadians at the hands of past governments.

We all agree that mistreatment of Canadians because of their origin is unacceptable. Unfortunately, the history of our country has not always reflected the principles of justice and equality that make us proud Canadians today. Thankfully this sad chapter in our history is now behind us.

The course of history cannot be changed, however. These events must be brought out into the open. This concerns each of us. We firmly believe that Canadians must be aware of situations like this one and that it is important to set the record straight.

Our government today is committed to building a strong multicultural society, one that abides by the rules of justice, human rights and mutual respect.

The basis of this commitment is a clear understanding of how Canada came to be. We must be able to confront our history and face up to our past.

The Prime Minister has committed himself lo a formal apology regarding the matter of Ukrainian Canadians interned during the First World War.

We must not forget that Ukrainian Canadians helped build this country. We must not forget that the history of Ukrainian Canadians is closely interwoven with the growth and the achievements of the prairies. Their contribution to Canadian life, which began in the 1800s, continues today.

As Canada's fifth largest ethnocultural group, the Ukrainian-Canadian community is present in every sphere of activity: cultural, professional, educational, political, religious and financial. With a network of over 1,000 organizations and a highly organized structure the community has a voice in over 150 towns and cities across this country.

Ukrainian Canadians have come a long way. Ninety per cent of the community is Canadian born and therefore fully integrated into the mainstream of Canadian culture.

Nonetheless, Ukrainian Canadians are strongly attached to their heritage and therefore determined to maintain their culture, language and identity.

Ukrainian Canadians are a perfect example of the country we are thriving to build. They are full-fledged Canadians with a Ukrainian heritage giving them a unique flavour. They personify our multicultural society.

As people committed to their language, religion, and cultural heritage the Ukrainian community has long been the most outspoken advocate of a multicultural nation, one that recognizes that diversity is a fundamental characteristic of our country and a vital part of being Canadian.

In 1986 the Ukrainian community produced an in-depth study entitled Building the Future: Ukrainian Canadians in the 21st Century. As the title suggests, the document is proof that Ukrainian Canadians are turned toward the future. They are men and women of action.

The document established a strategic process of renewal and co-ordination within the Ukrainian community in Canada. It sets specific goals in education, arts, communication, and cultural development, as well as public policies and programs.

The document clearly stated that multiculturalism is the key to maintaining their culture while participating fully in the larger Canadian society.

Ukrainian Canadians promote the concept of functional trilingualism. Many of them exemplify this by being fluent in English, French and Ukrainian.

Ukrainians can definitely pride themselves in being among the architects of the Canadian Multiculturalism Act passed in 1988.

Because they refused assimilation Ukrainian Canadians have met challenges of integration while retaining the essential qualities of their heritage.

Our country is proud of the numerous Ukrainian Canadian personalities who contribute to the innumerable facets of Canadian life: at Rideau Hall with Governor General Ray Hnatyshyn, in the Supreme Court with John Sopinka, in the world of sports with hockey players like Dale Hawerchuk and Mike Bossy, in the business world with Bill Teron, to name a few among many.

These people, and thousands more, confirm the enormous contribution of Ukrainian Canadians to the economic and social development of this land. The Ukrainian-Canadian community has come a long way. Despite difficulties Ukrainian Canadians have done well. They are a strong and vital community and one that continues to prosper.

This year Ukrainian Canadians are celebrating the proud centenary of Ukrainian settlement in Canada. The official opening, held at the end of August, marked the beginning of the festivities to unfold throughout the country during the next 12 months.

The official closing of the centennial celebration in October 1992 will coincide with the triennial Congress of Ukrainian Canadians.

Many special events are planned by individuals and organizations on national, regional, provincial and local levels. What better time for these Ukrainian Canadians to commemorate and honour their rich historical past, salute their present and create a vision for the future? The government stated in this week's proposals for constitutional reform:

What better time for all Canadians to recognize the contribution of this vibrant community, one which has undergone tremendous change over the past 100 years, but one that retains values, traditions and a language and all fundamentals of our Canadian way of life.

Mr. Ross Harvey (Edmonton East): Madam Speaker, I too would like to thank and congratulate the hon. member for Kingston for bringing this matter to the House today. It is a matter that has cried out for effective treatment for a long time.

I would like to start by asking you, and through you, the other members present here today, to conjure up a picture in your mind. Place yourself on highway 1A, the road that was there before the Trans-Canada Highway 1 was built, northwest of Banff in the Bow River Valley, within the Canadian Rockies. About half way up Highway 1A, between Banff and Lake Louise, at a junction in front of the towering Castle Mountain, is a wall of rock that stretches, literally for miles, rising up on the east side of the Bow River Valley.

Place yourself there in your mind, on the road, in the flatlands of the valley in winter. Few people stop along this road, especially in the winter. The scenery is stupendous. The towering mountains are brilliant in their fresh coat of snow, and with every gentle wisp of breeze, the pine trees drop a cascade of snow in a sparkling dazzle of crystals and colour. Occasionally, a car swishes by speeding toward Banff to the south, or Lake Louise and other points to the north.

If, while standing there, you close your eyes and stand stock still, and again use your imagination, you can see another scene, a shockingly disturbing scene, right there, and not very long ago.

Between 1914 and 1920, in one of the most shameful episodes of Canadian history, thousands of recent immigrants to Canada were imprisoned there. The concentration camp near Castle Mountain, outside Banff, was only one of the 26 such internment camps scattered across the country. Thousands of Ukrainians, and other people of east European descent, were designated enemy aliens, stripped of their property and denied their civil rights. Over 80,000 people, mostly of Ukrainian origin, were forced to carry identification papers and report to local police. Over 8,000 others were separated from their families, confined behind barbed wire and forced into hard labour.

What was the crime that justified this imprisonment, this massive injustice perpetrated under the provisions of the recently passed War Measures Act? There was not one. These Ukrainians were simply recent immigrants who happened to hold Austrian passports. Many simply did not have a job. These were not enemies of Canada.

In fact, the British Government expressly informed the Canadian government that these Ukrainians should be considered friendly. Many of them had fled their homes to avoid being conscripted into the Austro-Hungarian army.

Even though they had committed no crime, these new Canadians were forced to build the internment camps that contained them, to build the roads, including the predecessor to that Highway 1A, to clear the land, to cut wood and work on railway construction projects.

Later, they were forced to work at miserable pay for private companies. Every year thousands of us drive past these sites that used to be internment camps, yet few Canadians know the extent of the hardship that was caused in Canada to our own.

Canada should finally acknowledge that this gross injustice occurred here. We can never right the wrongs that were committed, but we can teach our children what happened, why it happened, in the hope that they may learn from the past so that such injustice may not happen again.

For this reason, I and the New Democratic caucus and party of which I am a member, very strongly support several steps.

First, an official acknowledgement by the government of the serious injustices that were inflicted on these Ukrainian Canadians.

Second, the placement of historical plaques at appropriate sites near those 26 internment camps.

Third, the establishment of a national redress commission to review requests for redress of discriminatory acts of past Canadian governments, and recommend appropriate and expeditious action to deal with this and other dark episodes in our history.

In addition, Madam Speaker, we support the partial reconstruction of that Castle Mountain camp in Alberta, as an educational site to which Canadians, and other visitors, could go and be encouraged to pause along their drive through the majestic Rockies, and reflect on what they themselves might do to ensure that such a sorry event never occurs in Canada again. Perhaps, as well, they could reflect on what it is that human societies can do to themselves when the idea of the enemy, the other, the apart, the separate, becomes a more compelling idea than the certain knowledge that we are all of us brothers and sisters.

Madam Speaker, this is a motion completely worthy of the non-partisan support of all elements in this House. I greatly hope it receives that support.

Mr. Greg Thompson (Carleton - Charlotte): Madam Speaker, I am honoured to speak in response to the motion by the hon. member, especially in light of the importance of the issues being raised.

Canada today is a vibrant and tolerant country that recognizes the essential nature of its multicultural reality. Ukrainian Canadians have been major exponents of the recognition of the multicultural nature of Canada. Canadians can trace their origins to every part of the world. People from all over the world have played a major part in settling the land, developing our resources, building cities and forging transportation links over vast distances.

The internment of Ukrainian Canadians during the First World War is not a proud moment in our history. It is a history, however, that has to be told. The government takes this issue very seriously and is looking into how best to set the record straight and to symbolize our recognition of this very sad event in our history.

In more recent times, the Government of Canada has acted to protect its citizens from this kind of treatment. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees equal protection and benefit of the law, without discrimination. Through the Canadian Multiculturalism Act, the Parliament of Canada has recognized that our society is fundamentally multicultural in nature and has committed itself to the full and equitable participation of individuals and communities of all origins in shaping Canada's future.

The War Measures Act, as an example, has been repealed by this government. Encouraged to immigrate to Canada by Canadian governments, Ukrainians were a vital part of the settlement process of Canada, particularly in the prairies. Ukrainian settlers in the prairies wanted no more than the chance to live and work in dignity in this country of Canada.

The Ukrainians were among the founding settlers of Canada. They were especially important in settling the prairies.

Between 1891 and 1914, 170,000 Ukrainians came to Canada. Between the wars another 68,000 Ukrainians came to Canada. After the Great War, 33,000 more Ukrainians immigrated to Canada.

Ukrainians did settle in small numbers in Canada long before the mass immigration that took place in 1891. According to the publication The Canadian Family Tree, there were soldiers of Ukrainian origin in the de Meuron and Watteville regiments which fought for Canada in the War of 1812.

Some Ukrainians settled in Manitoba during the period of Lord Selkirk. There were also Ukrainians in Manitoba who came from the United States prior to 1891.

In the beginning the Ukrainians faced a very difficult life in the prairies as they broke into this land and broke the land itself. In spite of this harsh existence, community cultural and social life grew with development of a variety of organizations, women's groups, newspapers and periodicals, architecture, folk aria and poetry over the years.

In 1905 the Ukrainian Mutual Benefit Association was founded in affiliation with the St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Church in Winnipeg. Among these Ukrainian workers and farmers there emerged a credit union movement, which began in 1939 when the new Community Savings and Credit Union was founded in Saskatoon.

By the end of the 1960s over 60 Ukrainian credit unions served an estimated membership of 50,000. Over time the Ukrainian Canadianss, like their fellow citizens, have become an urban people.

According to the 1981 census, there were 63,000 Ukrainians in Edmonton, 59,000 in Winnipeg, and 51,000 in Toronto. Other major centres of Ukrainian population are Vancouver, Montreal, Calgary, Saskatoon, Hamilton, Thunder Bay, Regina and the Niagara Peninsula.

Of the 529,615 Ukrainians in Canada in 1981, 59 per cent lived in the prairie provinces and 25.3 per cent lived in Ontario. Much of the cultural struggle for the Ukrainian-Canadian community has involved the maintenance of its language.

In recent years bilingual and even trilingual education, with French included, has been offered in the publicly supported education systems of the prairie provinces.

Ukrainians are a vital part of the cultural fabric of Canada. The Ukrainian Community Development Committee report for the prairie regions published in 1986 by the Ukrainian Canadian committee noted that "the Ukrainian situation as an ethnocultural minority is a very special one, permanently woven into the fabric of Canadian society".

Over 1,000 organizations exist within the Ukrainian Community. The paintings of William Kurelek, inspired by his experience on the prairies, have been widely recognized. George Ryga is a writer of Ukrainian origin of national stature.

Ukrainians have long been involved in municipal politics as well. William Harwrelak in Edmonton and Stephen Juba in Winnipeg have been prominent mayors. The first Ukrainian elected to a provincial legislature was Andrew Shandro in 1913 in Alberta. In 1926 Michael Luchkovich became the first Ukrainian elected to the House of Commons. Over 200 Ukrainian Canadians have been elected provincially and another 60 have been elected to the House of Commons. In 1970 Stephen Worobetz became Lieutenant Governor of Saskatchewan. A former hon. member of this House, His Excellency Ray Hnatyshyn, now serves the country as Governor General.

During the Second World War approximately 40,000 Ukrainian Canadians served in the Canadian Armed Forces. Ukrainian Canadianss play a vital role in Canadian life. They are important advocates of recognition of the multicultural nature of Canada. However, we must not forget the treatment of Ukrainians which took place during the First World War.

We must ensure that present and future generations of Canadians understand the reality of Canadian history, including events such as the Ukrainian internment. Many Canadians are unaware of the details of these events, or even that they took place. They are seldom mentioned in the official history books, in museum exhibits, or in popular press reports about historical events.

I am grateful to the hon. member for this motion and for the occasion to speak about the Ukrainian internment. More important, I am grateful to those members of the Ukrainian-Canadian community for increasing public awareness about this history.

Without this knowledge of history, we risk repeating the same mistakes whenever world crises break out to stoke the embers of fear and intolerance.

One of the most important conclusions of the Spicer commission report last summer was that Canadians need a greater knowledge of their history, of themselves and of each other.

If we are to remain together as a country, we must encourage the recounting and hearing of our histories.

Ms. Barbara Greene (Don Valley North): Madam Speaker, I attended a meeting on behalf of the minister about a year and a half ago at which the Ukrainian redress committee had a press conference to tell their story.

It is the story of a minority in Canada that still hurts.

This motion which the hon. member for Kingston and the Islands has presented is one that should be given every consideration by the government. The government is committed to doing something to redress this historical wrong committed by a previous Government of Canada. The suggestions by the hon. member are certainly excellent and should be given every consideration.

I will certainly support the referral of the motion.

Mr. Milliken: Madam Speaker, I want to thank all hon. members, and the members for Burlington, Edmonton East, Carleton - Charlotte and Don Valley North for their kind interventions.

As there is unanimity on this point I wonder if rather than drop the motion it could be carried by unanimous consent.

Motion agreed to.

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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.