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CBC rejects documentary on internment of Ukrainians

Written by Norm Ovenden

The Edmonton Journal
20 May 1994

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The CBC is being accused of censorship for refusing to air a documentary that chronicles the internment of Ukrainian Canadians during the First World War.

"I cannot imagine why the CBC would not be eager to screen a Canadian-made film about a Canadian subject made by a Canadian film-maker," writes Lubomyr Luciuk in a letter to CBC president Tony Manera.

"Those entrusted with nurturing Canadian identity and culture instead seem intent on censorship," said Luciuk, director of research for the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association.

The association's membership has launched a national protest over Newsworld's recent decision not to air Montreal film-maker Yurij Luhovy's 55-minute documentary Freedom Had A Price. Hundreds of angry letters have been sent to CBC executives, MPs and the Canadian Radio Television and Telecommunications Commission.

Using archival footage and vintage photographs, Luhovy detailed what happened to immigrants who were declared enemy aliens because they came from areas held by the Austro-Hungarian empire. About 80,000 had to regularly report to police and 5,000 were locked up in 24 concentration camps. The largest was near Castle Mountain and the forced labour helped build facilities, roads and the golf course in Banff National Park. Their assets and valuables were often confiscated.

Newsworld senior producer Jerry McIntosh conceded the film has "merit as a record of the injustices suffered by members of the Ukrainian community" 80 years ago. But the network series Rough Cuts is looking for more contemporary issues, he said in a rejection letter. The film was praised by reviewers when first shown in a Montreal theatre earlier in May. It is coming to Edmonton in late June.

"An additional factor in our decision not to broadcast your film is the presence of funding by groups and agencies with a specific point of view on the issue," McIntosh said.

That accusation is nonsense, Luhovy said Thursday. The $300,000 film was financed with the help of the federal Multiculturalism Department, a Winnipeg-based cultural and arts foundation, private sources, and the National Film Board. The CBC refused to help with financing when asked in 1989.

"I don't want to fight the CBC. The main thing is the story of these poor people. They were innocent of all wrongdoing yet they were imprisoned. We shouldn't ignore that unpleasant part of our history."

Oleh Romaniw, president of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, said few Canadians know of this dark episode in Canada's past.

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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: Tuesday December 3rd 1996.
Date last modified: Thursday October 30th 1997.