“The death of Mary Manko: Righting a historical injustice,” by Lubomyr Luciuk

"The death of Mary Manko: Righting a historical injustice," by Lubomyr Luciuk, 1
August 2007, The Kingston Whig-Standard

We buried her under a maple. Seeing Mary’s grave sheltered by a tree whose
leaf symbolizes our country was comforting. Nearby stands a spruce. That
evergreen would have reminded her of the boreal forest she knew as a young
girl. Even though she was born in Montreal, Mary was branded an “enemy
alien” and transported north to the Spirit Lake concentration camp, along
with the rest of the Manko family. Thousands of Ukrainians and other Europeans
like them were jailed, not because of anything they had done, but only because
of where they had come from, who they were. What little wealth they had was
taken, and they were forced to do hard labour for the profit of their jailers.
The Mankos lost something even more precious, their youngest daughter, Nellie,
who died there.

Mary Manko Haskett passed away 14 July, the last known survivor of Canada’s
first national internment operations. She was 98. For years she lent her
support to the Ukrainian Canadian community’s campaign to secure a timely and
honourable redress settlement. Disappointingly, she did not live to see that
happen, despite the Honourable Stephen Harper’s own words. On 24 March 2005
he rose in the House of Commons to support fellow Conservative Inky Mark’s
Bill C 331 – The Ukrainian Canadian Restitution Act, saying: “Mary Haskett,
is still alive…. I sincerely hope that she will live to see an official
reconciliation of this past injustice.” The Prime Minister might now ask the
bureaucracy why his wish was ignored.

The government did, at least, send a representative to Mary’s funeral,
Conservative MP Mike Wallace, (Burlington) who read a prepared statement,
subsequently added to the website of the Secretary of State for
Multiculturalism, Jason Kenney: “ We were saddened to hear of the death of
Mrs. Mary Manko Haskett, the last known survivor of Canadian internment camps
during the First World War and the postwar period. On behalf of Canada's New
Government, I would like to extend my condolences to Mrs. Haskett's family, as
well as the Ukrainian-Canadian community. Born and raised in Montreal, Mary was
six years old when she and her family were detained in the Spirit Lake
internment camp. Despite advice from British officials that ‘friendly
aliens’ should not be interned, Ottawa invoked The War Measures Act to detain
8,579 ‘enemy aliens’ including Poles, Italians, Bulgarians, Croats, Turks,
Serbs, Hungarians, Russians, Jews, and Romanians - but the majority (perhaps as
many as 5,000) were of Ukrainian origin. Many were unwilling subjects of the
Austro-Hungarian Empire and thus not ‘enemy aliens’ at all. For years. Mrs
Haskett and others argued that ‘Canada's first internment operations’
herded together individuals based on nationality - many of them Canadian-born -
and compelled them into forced labour. Despite the original wartime
justification for these measures, many were kept in custody for two years after
the Armistice of 1918. We are all grateful for Mrs. Manko Haskett's dedication
to the cause of remembering and commemorating this important event in Canada's
history.”

Official condolences for those recently deceased, for example Bluma Appel and Ed
Mirvish, can be found on the Canadian Heritage website. The innocuous text cited
above wasn’t included, however, being deemed “too political.” And so yet
another indignity was heaped upon Mary, posthumously. Remembering her means
recalling what was done to her and by whom. That’s a no-no. While this gaffe
may be corrected, even if Mary wasn’t rich or a patron of the arts, it’s
too late. We got the message.

Years ago Mary provided a prescription for the redress campaign. She insisted we
should never demand an apology, or compensation for survivors, or their
descendants. Instead we should ask, politely, for recognition and the
restitution of what was taken under duress. Those funds, to be held in a
community-based endowment, would underwrite commemorative and educational
projects that, hopefully, will ensure no other ethnic, religious or racial
minority suffers as Ukrainian Canadians once did.

While no survivors remain, and even their descendants are senior citizens, a new
generation of Canadians of Ukrainian heritage took up Mary’s cause nearly two
decades ago, even though none of us had any ties to the victims. That changed
on the day of Mary’s funeral, when my mother and sister returned from western
Ukraine. They knew about Mary but, being away, did not know she had died. They
brought the news that my cousin, Lesia, had married Ivan Manko, himself
distantly related to Mary’s parents, Katherine and Andrew, whose graves are
found in Mississsauga’s St. Christopher’s Catholic cemetery, not far from
Mary’s mound.

This crusade was always about righting an historical injustice and, in that
sense, is political. It just got personal too.
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Dr. Lubomyr Luciuk is director of research for the Ukrainian Canadian Civil
Liberties Association (www.uccla.ca)