During Canada’s first national internment operations of 1914-1920 thousands of men, women and children were branded as “enemy aliens,” and many were interned, forced to do heavy labour for the profit of their jailers, disenfranchised, and subjected to other state-sanctioned indignities, not because of any wrong they had done, but only because of who they were, where they had come from.
Twenty-four (24) camps were established across the Dominion, housing 8,579 men, women and children. Some 3,000 were Prisoners of War (POWs) but the majority were civilian internees.
Internment operations were authorized by The War Measures Act (22 August 1914) and continued until June 1920, nearly two years after the Great War with the Armistice (11 November 1918).
Ukrainians and other Europeans constituted the majority of the civilian internees – the so-called “Second Class” POWs – with Bulgarians, Croatians, Czechs, Hungarians, Rumanians, Serbians, Slovaks and others rounded up only because they came to Canada with passports identifying them as citizens of the multinational Austro-Hungarian Empire. As well some Armenians, Alevi Kurds and other citizens of the Ottoman Turkish Empire were interned. Most “First Class” POWs were Germans and Austrians.
Women and children were held in two camps, one in Vernon, British Columbia, the other in Spirit Lake (near Amos), Quebec.
Internees were obliged to do heavy labour under armed guard. What little wealth some had was confiscated upon their arrest, and not all of it was returned.
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 January 1915) that many of the “races” being rounded up were “hostile to Austro-Hungarian rule.”
Most internees were single, young men, immigrants lured to Canada with 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. Some so-called “enemy aliens” served in the ranks of the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) by lying about who they were.
In September 1917 passage of The War Time Elections Act disenfranchised many “enemy aliens.”
The first permanent internment camp was opened at Fort Henry, in Kingston, Ontario, 18 August 1914; the last to close was at Kapuskasing, 24 February 1920.
The campaign for recognition and symbolic redress was spearheaded by the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association, (www.uccla.ca), guided by the words of a survivor from the Spirit Lake internment camp, Montreal-born Mary Manko Haskett: any such effort, she counselled, must be “about memory, not money.”
Following passage of MP Inky Mark’s Bill C-331 (Internment of Persons of Ukrainian Origin Recognition Act) the Government of Canada established the Canadian First World War Internment Recognition Fund (www.internmentcanada.ca), in 2008. Its Endowment Council represents all affected communities and internee descendants and supports commemorative and educational initiatives recalling the internment operations. Project CTO (One Hundred) is sponsored by the CFWWIRF, in association with the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Foundation (www.ucclf.ca).
This is a first-ever event in Canadian history with over 100 plaques recalling an historic injustice being unveiled on the same date (Friday, 22 August 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.
The same War Measures Act that was used against Ukrainians and other Europeans during the First World War would be deployed again during the Second World War, against our fellow Canadians of German, Italian and Japanese heritage, and in 1970, against some Quebecois.
With Project CTO we hallow the memory of all of the internees, and remind all Canadians of the need to remain vigilant in defence of human rights and civil liberties, particularly in times of domestic and international crisis.
— prepared by Project CTO Lead, Professor Lubomyr Luciuk (9 July 2014)
“What was done to us was wrong. Because no one bothered to remember or learn about the wrong that was done to us it was done to others again, and yet again. Maybe there’s an even greater wrong in that.”
– Mary Manko Haskett, survivor, Spirit Lake internment camp