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BRAMA, November 12, 2002, 10:00 am ET


OpEd

Time is running out for Canadian Prime Minister Chretien. A promise broken.

© Office of the Prime Minister
Prime Minister Chrtien and U.S. President Bush
Washington, D.C.
September 24, 2001.

Contact the Prime Minister

I sat above him, to his right, in the front row of the Opposition Gallery in the House of Commons, the first time I have been close to this Prime Minister. Surprisingly, I found myself thinking he looks better in person than on television.

Also perched above him, directly opposite in the Members' Gallery, was his wife, Aline. She looked nice too. It was 5 November and the Prime Minister was about to have a rough day. Many Liberals would vote with the Opposition to defy Jean Chretien's notion of how parliamentary committees should be run. A man who relishes the image of himself as a street-smart Shawinigan scrapper was about to get clobbered. He knew it and, spin-doctor sputtering notwithstanding, that's how it played out. Aline was present to buck him up. Which said it all.

Understandably, he was distracted. He never looked up as I looked down. Not noticing us, he had no cause to wonder why a Mountie in a bemedaled red serge uniform sat beside me. He did not see Otto's very good-natured wife, Kathleen. Nor did he pause to appreciate Olexandra, an attractive Carleton University student on her first visit to the House, adorned in a hand-embroidered Ukrainian blouse. So he spent not a second pondering why a Ukrainian Canadian delegation was in Parliament. I even doubt he watched TV that morning as we launched Project Roll Call, a search for survivors of Canada's first national internment operations, and their descendants.

For well over a decade our group, which includes sons and daughters of pioneer settlers and those of post-Second World War political refugees, has asked Ottawa to acknowledge wrongs done to Ukrainians and other Europeans between 1914-1920. Thousands were branded "enemy aliens," herded into 24 internment camps and forced to do heavy labour under trying conditions. Subsequently, many were disenfranchised and subjected to other state-sanctioned censures. What little wealth they had was confiscated. No accounting of what happened with the unreturned portion exists. We believe its contemporary value, along with that of the internees' labour, should be dedicated to educational initiatives, including a permanent display at the Cave & Basin site in Banff National Park. Then again, on the very morning we were in Ottawa, the Prime Minister participated in a groundbreaking ceremony for a new Canadian War Museum, designed by a Japanese Canadian survivor of this country's Second World War internment operations, Raymond Moriyama. Perhaps that will become the most appropriate venue for recalling these unhappy episodes in our country's history.

Having culled some 5,000 civilian internees' names from surviving archives, we assembled a master roll of Canadians, each with either exactly the same name as a former internee, or at least the same or a similar family name. Last week over 37,000 Roll Call postcards were mailed. We want to raise awareness about the perennial need for safeguarding civil liberties and human rights in periods of international and domestic crisis, like the present-day "war on terrorism." Our effort might ensure that no other ethnic, religious or racial minority ever suffers as Ukrainian Canadians once did. We have never, nor are we now, demanding an apology or compensation. We seek reconciliation.

Then Mr Mark, who represents Manitoba's Dauphin-Swan River riding, and has tabled Bill C 331: The Ukrainian Canadian Restitution Act, spoke. He recalled that, in June 1993, Mr Chretien wrote of his personal support and that of the Liberal Party of Canada for redress. Inexplicably, since becoming Prime Minister, Mr Chretien has forgotten that pledge. You might think he would perk up at his broken promise being raised before Parliament, particularly since, just the week before, he met privately with Mr Mark to discuss this very subject and said he would reconsider. At a time when he is trying to craft a legacy that will be not only memorable but commendable settling the claims of Canadians of Ukrainian heritage, just as his predecessor, the Rt. Honourable Brian Mulroney, did with Japanese Canadians, might constitute an apt stratagem. But Mr Chretien paid not a mote of attention to Mr Mark.

When Inky finished, I signaled a congratulatory 'thumbs up,' then left. The Mountie followed, reminiscing on the irony of how his father had been seized by Mounties, decades ago. And Olexandra spoke of how she was never taught any of this in school, only recently learning that most of her great-grandfather's neighbors in southern Manitoba had been rounded up. I listened to the stories of these friends whose lives had in ways large and small been affected by The War Measures Act but I confess I was thinking about someone else. In March 1993 I left the House using the same door but my companion then was Mary Manko. As a child, she was transported to northern Quebec's Spirit Lake camp, where Otto's father was imprisoned. That is where her sister Nellie perished. The whereabouts of that innocent's remains are unknown. She was just one of the "costs" of Canada's first national internment operations.

Next year marks Mr. Chretien's 10th as Prime Minister and the 40th anniversary of his election to Parliament. He will be 69. If he keeps his promise he will be remembered for righting an historical injustice and will have decades for accepting due praise. Next year Mary will be 95. Mr Chretien has had ten years to keep his word. Mary has waited. Now he has less time left in office then she spent in a Canadian concentration camp. God willing, Mary will still be present to witness Prime Minister Chretien do the right thing. But time is running out, for both of them.

*******
Lubomyr Luciuk, PhD, director of research for the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association, is also author of the recently republished book, In Fear of the Barbed Wire Fence: Canada's First National Internment Operations and the Ukrainian Canadians, 1914-1920 (Kashtan Press, 2002). For more on Project Roll Call go to www.uccla.ca



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