Friday the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Foundation remembered Canada’s first national internment operations of 1914-1920 by unveiling more than 100 plaques on the 100th anniversary of the War Measures Act, 1914.
The plaques were unveiled simultaneously at 11 a.m. (local time) in Ukrainian, Croatian, Serbian, German and Hungarian churches and cultural centres, as well as in local and regional museums and other public venues across Canada.
One of those plaques was unveiled at the Holy Transfiguration Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Yorkton.
“This is a first-event event in Canadian history with over 100 plaques recalling an historic injustice being unveiled on the same date (Friday, August 22, 2014) and time, 11h00 (local time) from coast to coast, fittingly starting with Amherst, Nova Scotia and ending in Nanaimo, British Columbia, two of the 24 internment camp sites of the Great War period,” stated Reverend Father Mel Slashinsky, reading from a prepared speech in Yorkton.
“With Project CTO, we hallow the memory of all of the internees, and remind all Canadians of the need to remain vigilant in defense of human rights and civil liberties, particularly in times of domestic and international crisis.”
Yorkton Mayor Bob Maloney said the experiences of the past are moving.
“When you listen to the story … it really is an eye opener,” he said.
Maloney said it is hard to grasp how it must have been for young men, women and families who had immigrated to Canada with hopes of a better life being “greeted with internment camps” and in some cases giving up, up to six years of their lives confined in the camps.
“It’s incomprehensible what that would do to a young man,” he said.
Maloney said the story on the internment camps is an example of our need for “understanding,” especially as we see the current strife around the world, including Ukraine.
“It will cause us to reflect,” he said.
Saskatchewan’s Deputy Premier and Minister of Finance Ken Krawetz thanked the Foundation for organizing the commemoration and the Canadian First World War Internment Recognition Fund for its support.
“The Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Foundation and its partners are to be commended for their efforts to recognize this important event, and to mark the camps with a plaque in memory of the victims of the internment operations,” said Krawetz in a prepared release on the commemorative project. “These plaques will serve to educate Canadians about this sad episode in our history.”
Krawetz was in Saskatoon Friday to participate in the unveiling of a plaque at St. Petro Mohyla Institute. Mohyla was chosen by the Foundation as one of the sites in Canada.
“The plaques will also remind Canadians that we must remain vigilant in defence of civil liberties and human rights, particularly in times of crisis,” Krawetz said.
This national internment operation during 1914-1920 involved the internment of prisoners of war and thousands of civilians in 24 camps that were established across the Dominion of Canada. Thousands of innocent people - men, women and children - were declared enemy aliens because of their nationality or place of birth and were sent to these camps to work on projects. Ukrainians and other Europeans constituted the majority of the civilian internees.
The 24 camps housed “8,579 men, women and children. Some 3,000 were Prisoners of War (POWs), but the majority were civilian internees,” said Slashinsky, adding, “Internment operations were authorized by the War Measures Act (Aug 22, 1914) and continued until June 1920, nearly two years after the Great War with the Armistice (Nov 1918).”
Slashinsky said the federal Act had far ranging powers.
“The War Measures Act was a federal statute adopted by Parliament in 1914, after the outbreak of the First World War. It gave broad powers to the Canadian government to maintain security and order during war or insurrection. It was used, controversially, during both world wars and also during the 1970 October Crisis in Quebec. It has since been replaced by the more limited Emergencies Act,” he explained in his speech.
“The War Measures Act allowed the Federal government to suspend civil liberties and by-pass parliament to do things through order-in-council that it felt were necessary for the war. For instance, factories could be told to stop producing farm implements and start manufacturing arms and ammunition instead. Immigrants who had come from what were now enemy countries, like Germany, had their movements controlled and anyone thought to be an enemy sympathizer could be arrested and kept in internment camps without trial.
“The Act was in force from 1914 to 1920 – the official date of the end of the First World War with Germany. During that time it was used to imprison Canadians of German, Ukrainian and Slavic descent. It was next in force from 1939 to 1945, to imprison Japanese Canadians and confiscate their property during the Second World War. The internments of ethnic populations during both wars remained a contentious public issue until the 1980s, when compensation packages and formal apologies were made by Canada to many of those affected.”
The internment camps were something Slashinsky said were never needed.
“Racist and anti-immigrant attitudes in the pre-war period, coupled with wartime xenophobia and ignorance, were responsible for the internment operations although Ottawa was informed by the British Government (in Jan 1915) that many of the “races” being rounded up were “hostile to Austro-Hungarian rule,” he said.
“Most internees were single, young men, immigrants lured to Canada with the promises of free land and freedom (e.g. 170,000 Ukrainians arrived between 1891 and 1914), although a few internees were naturalized British subjects or even Canadian-born.
“Internees were obliged to do heavy labour and under armed guard. What little wealth some of them had was confiscated upon their arrest and not all of it was returned.”
The camps took a toll on those interned.
“Of those interned, 109 died of various diseases and injuries sustained in the camp, six were killed while trying to escape, and some … went insane or committed suicide as a result of their confinement,” said Slashinsky.
Project CTO (One Hundred) was sponsored by the Canadian First World War Internment Recognition Fund, in association with the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Foundation.
Additional information can be found at www.uccla.ca/CTO_100plaques.htm.