BRAMA, Mar 31, 2005, 9:00 am ET
Ukrainian Canadian Reconciliation: Excerpts from a Speech by Borys Wrzesnewskyj, M.P. (Etobicoke Centre)
M.P. Borys Wrzesnewskyj
Mr. Speaker, it is with a heavy heart that I rise today to speak to Bill C-331, a private member's bill that seeks to recognize the injustices that were done to persons of Ukrainian descent at the time of the First World War. […] While some would have preferred to sweep the tragic episode of the internment operations from 1914 to 1920 into the dustbin of history, the Ukrainian Canadian community remembers, and through public acknowledgement by the government seeks to bring closure to a painful episode in our common history.
In the decades following Canada's Confederation, thousands of Ukrainians were encouraged to leave their homeland and embark on an arduous journey that took them to some of the most remote parts of western Canada. […] Yet despite having built Canada's West and despite having been a counterbalance to the expansionist intents of settlers from the United States, Ukrainian Canadians experienced prejudice and racism in their new homeland.
With the outbreak of World War I, this prejudice and racism was fanned into xenophobia culminating in the implementation of the War Measures Act as a result of an order in council by the Canadian government. Some 8,579 so-called enemy aliens, of which over 5,000 were Ukrainians who had emigrated to Canada from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, were interned. These internees, which in many cases included women and children, were not only disenfranchised, but their homes and homesteads were taken away from them. They were sent to processing centres for internment and then sent to work camps to live behind barbed wires.
In addition to this internment, some 80,000 Canadian citizens, of which the vast majority were Ukrainian, were obliged to register as enemy aliens and then required to report to local authorities on a regular basis.
From 1914 to 1920, a breaking of the trust between the government and its own citizens took place in Canada. It was called internment. Politicians and leading Canadians took an active role in its justification by feeding the dark side of human nature: fear of different cultures, prejudice and xenophobia. […] It is an example of the terrible human cost paid when xenophobia and racism are fuelled by international threats and are unchecked by legislation.
Today, notwithstanding the existence of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, processes such as denaturalization and deportation show the vulnerability of individual rights when government succumbs to ignorance and fear.
As the grandson and son of Ukrainian immigrants, I have a particular appreciation for the significance of the member's bill. I view the bill as part of the process to ensure that this historical wrong is righted through an honourable acknowledgement.
After 85 years it is high time that the internment operations against Ukrainian Canadians be properly addressed. […] Finally, resources should be set aside to establish educational projects. Such projects should be agreed to by the Ukrainian Canadian Congress and the Government of Canada.
I believe that there now is the will in the House for a reconciliation to which the bill speaks. I am optimistic and look forward to the day when the Government of Canada and the Ukrainian Canadian Congress begin the negotiation process so that present and future generations of Canadians will be afforded the opportunity to learn from this tragic episode in our history.
The time for a reconciliation has arrived.