Thousands of people of Ukrainian and Eastern European descent were interned in concentration camps across Canada when the Canadian government’s First National Internment Operations occurred from 1914 to 1920. These people were interned not for something they had done, but simply because of where they had come from. These internment camps were reflective of the government’s gross infringement on the civil liberties of its citizens and immigrants to Canada at the time.
The Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC) joined with the Ukrainian Canadian Foundation of Taras Shevchenko and the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association to represent and seek redress for this tragedy and to bring healing to the Ukrainian Canadian community.
The passing of Bill C-331, Internment of Persons of Ukrainian Origin Recognition Act in 2005, and the creation of the Canadian First World War Internment Recognition Fund (CFWWIRF) in 2008, are positive steps in recognizing this injustice by the Canadian government.
The UCC is currently involved in projects that promote awareness and commemoration of this sad part of Canadian history. It is hoped that education about Canada’s internment operations will keep further injustices like these from occurring again.
At the onset of World War I, the War Measures Act was implemented as a result of an Order in Council by the Canadian government. This resulted in the internment of 8,579 “enemy aliens” of which over 5,000 were Ukrainians who had emigrated to Canada from territories under the control of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. An additional 80,000 individuals, of who the vast majority were Ukrainians, were obliged to register as “enemy aliens” and report to police authorities regularly.
The camp internees were used to develop the Canadian infrastructure as “forced-labourers.” They were used to develop Banff National Park; the logging industry in Northern Ontario and Quebec; the steel mills in Ontario and Nova Scotia; and the mines in British Columbia, Ontario and Nova Scotia. This infrastructure development program was so beneficial to Canadian corporations that the internment program lasted for two years after the end of the war. The effect of internment was devastating to the internees, their friends and families, and had a lasting impact on the Ukrainian community as a whole in Canada.
Additional information and a listing of the 24 Internment Camps can be located on the Canadian First World War Internment Recognition Fund website.