Canada's Concentration Camps The War Measures Act

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Canadian Concentration Camps
By world standards Canada is a country that respects and protects its citizens' human rights. That has not always been true, however. Many people are familiar with the story of the internment of Japanese-Canadians in BC during WWII. But not many people are aware that the Japanese were not the only Canadians imprisoned during wartime simply because of their ethnic origin. The history of Canada includes more than one shameful incident in which the Canadian government used the law to violate the civil rights of its own citizens.

The War Measures Act
The War Measures Act was enacted on 22 August 1914, and gave the federal government full authority to do everything deemed necessary "for the security, defence, peace, order and welfare of Canada". It could be used when the government thought that Canada was about to be invaded or war would be declared, in order to mobilize all segments of society to support the war effort. The Act also gave the federal government sweeping emergency powers that allowed Cabinet to administer the war effort without accountability to Parliament, and without regard to existing legislation. It gave the government additional powers of media censorship, arrest without charge, deportation without trial, and the expropriation, control and disposal of property. This Act was always implemented via an Order in Council, rather than by approval of the democratically elected Parliament.

World War I
After Great Britain entered the First World War in August 1914, the government of Canada issued an Order in Council under the War Measures Act. It required the registration and in certain cases the internment of aliens of "enemy nationality". This included the more than 80,000 Canadians who were formerly citizens of the Austrian-Hungarian empire. These individuals had to register as "enemy aliens" and report to local authorities on a regular basis. Twenty-four "concentration camps" (later called "internment camps") were established across Canada, eight of them in British Columbia. To see a map of the locations of World War I Internment Camps in Canada click here. The camps were supposed to house enemy alien immigrants who had contravened regulations or who were deemed to be security threats. In fact, the "enemy aliens" could be interned if they failed to register, or failed to report monthly, or travelled without permission, or wrote to relatives in Austria.

Other less concrete reasons given for internment included "acting in a very suspicious manner" and being "undesirable". By the middle of 1915, 4000 of the internees had been imprisoned for being "indigent" (poor and unemployed). A total of 8,579 Canadians were interned between 1914 and 1920. Over 5,000 of them were of Ukrainian descent. Germans, Poles, Italians, Bulgarians, Croatians, Turks, Serbians, Hungarians, Russians, Jews, and Romanians were also imprisoned. Of the 8,579 internees, only 2,321could be classed as "prisoners of war" (i.e. "captured in arms or belonging to enemy reserves"); the rest were civilians.

Upon each individual's arrest, whatever money and property they had was taken by the government. In the internment camps they were denied access to newspapers and their correspondence was censored. They were sometimes mistreated by the guards. One hundred and seven internees died, including several shot while trying to escape. They were forced to work on maintaining the camps, road-building, railway construction, and mining. As the need for soldiers overseas led to a shortage of workers in Canada, many of these internees were released on parole to work for private companies.

The first World War ended in 1918, but the forced labour program was such a benefit to Canadian corporations that the internment was continued for two years after the end of the War. For more information on the Ukrainian internment, including pictures of the internment camps and information on the attempt to obtain compensation from the government, visit: Internment of Ukrainians in Canada 1914-1920.

Internment of Ukrainians in Canada 1914-1920


The purpose of these pages is to inform the general population about the Canadian Government's internment of Ukrainian Canadians in Concentration Camps in Canada during the period of 1914-1920.

With the outbreak of World War I, the War Measures Act (1914) 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. It also meant an additional 80,000 individuals (of which the vast majority were Ukrainians) were obliged to register as "enemy aliens" and then required to report to local authorities on a regular basis.

These internees were used to develop Canadian infrastructure as "forced-labourers". They were used to develop Banff National Park, the logging industry in Northern Ontario & Quebec, the steel mills in Ontario & Nova Scotia, and in the mines in British Columbia, Ontario & Nova Scotia. This infrastructure development program benefited Canadian corporations to such a degree that the internment was carried on for two years after the end of World War I.

To this date it has not been determined what was the driving force for the Internment. Was it due to wartime xenophobia and war fever, or the Economic benefits of a forced-labour system, or bigoted-driven emotions against Canada's first non-Official language speaking immigrants? The truth is that it was probably due to mixture of these reasons. Unfortunately, the War Measures Act formed the basis for future government incursions on the Civil liberties of Citizens and immigrants to Canada. This act was used as the basis of the internment of the Japanese Canadians in 1941 and the French-Canadians (or Quebecois) in 1970. This act was always implemented via an Order in Council, rather than through approval via the democratically elected parliament. This Act was first implemented during World War I where Ukrainian Canadians were primarly and unjustly made it's first victims.

The internment issue exposed many of the anti-immigrant feelings of the general population of the day. Reading through some of the references, it is shocking that the fundamental comments made 80 years ago are also prevalent in today's society. Perhaps by gaining an understanding of past historical examples of intolerance and abuses, it can help prevent such an attrocious actions being taken in the future by the Government of Canada.

These series of pages were motivated by the reluctance of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) to show Yurij Luhovy's excellent documentary Freedom Had A Price. It took over a years' worth of lobbying of the CBC and the government to get this film aired on the CBC. The CBC found excuse after excuse of why they could not air this excellent film. When they finally did show it, it was aired Sunday April 23rd 1995 at 4 PM EST with very little prior notice. It was not apparent in any TV guide what this film was: it was simply labeled "Sense of History" with no explanation of what it was. In other words, the CBC successfully camouflaged the show to minimize it's exposure to the Canadian viewing public.

It was obvious to many Ukrainian Canadians that this was a part of Canadian history that the Government and CBC did not wish the general public to learn about. This belief was strengthened by the government's destruction of a large percentage of the government documents about Canada's First National Internment Operations in the 1950's.

Because of this inexcusable behaviour by the CBC, we decided to take it upon ourselves to better educate the general public about this sad chapter of Canadian history through the one and only uncensored medium left to the general public, the Internet.

To gain a better understanding of this sad chapter in Canadian history please feel free to explore the following listed pages.

Yaroslav Kokodyniak & Vasyl Pawlowsky

World War II
During World War II the War Measures Act was used again to intern Canadians, and 26 internment camps were set up across Canada. In 1940 an Order in Council was passed that defined enemy aliens as "all persons of German or Italian racial origin who have become naturalized British subjects since September 1, 1922". (At the time, Canada didn't grant passports and citizenship on its own, so immigrants were "naturalized" by becoming British subjects.) A further Order in Council outlawed the Communist Party. Estimates suggest that some 30,000 individuals were affected by these Orders; that is, they were forced to register with the RCMP and to report to them on a monthly basis. The government interned approximately 500 Italians and over 100 communists.

In New Brunswick, 711 Jews, refugees from the holocaust, were interned at the request of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill because he thought there might be spies in the group.

In 1942, the government decided it wanted 2,240 acres of Indian Reserve land at Stony Point, in southwestern Ontario, to establish an advanced infantry training base. Apparently the decision to take Reserve land for the army base was made to avoid the cost and time involved in expropriating non-Aboriginal lands. The Stony Point Reserve comprised over half the Reserve territory of the Chippewas of Kettle & Stony Point. Under the Indian Act, reserve lands can only be sold by Surrender, which involves a vote by the Band membership. The Band members voted against the Surrender, however the Band realized the importance of the war effort and they were willing to lease the land to the Government. The Government rejected the offer to lease. On April 14, 1942, an Order-in-Council authorizing the appropriation of Stony Point was passed under the provisions of the War Measures Act. The military was sent in to forcibly remove the residents of Stony Point. Houses, buildings and the burial ground were bulldozed to establish Camp Ipperwash. By the terms of the Order-in-Council, the Military could use the Reserve lands at Stony Point only until the end of World War II. However, those lands have not yet been returned. The military base was closed in the early 1950's, and since then the lands have been used for cadet training, weapons training and recreational facilities for military personnel. For more information on the Band's efforts to reclaim their land see The Chippewas of Kettle & Stony Point.

After the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1942, the government passed an Order in Council authorizing the removal of "enemy aliens" within a 100-mile radius of the BC coast. On March 4, 1942 22,000 Japanese Canadians were given 24 hours to pack before being interned. They were first incarcerated in a temporary facility at Hastings Park Race Track in Vancouver. Women, children and older people were sent to internment camps in the Interior. Others were forced into road construction camps. There were also "self-supporting camps", where 1,161 internees paid to lease farms in a less restrictive environment, although they were still considered "enemy aliens". Men who complained about separation from their families or violated the curfew were sent to the "prisoner of war" camps in Ontario.

The property of the Japanese Canadians - land, businesses, and other assets - were confiscated by the government and sold, and the proceeds used to pay for their internment. To read about one woman's experience of internment, click here.
In 1945, the government extended the Order in Council to force the Japanese Canadians to return to Japan and lose their Canadian citizenship, or move to eastern Canada. Even though the war was over, it was illegal for Japanese Canadians to return to Vancouver until 1949. In 1988 Canada apologized for this miscarriage of justice, admitting that the actions of the government were influenced by racial discrimination. The government signed a redress agreement providing a small amount of money compensation. To read the Japanese-Canadian Redress Agreement, click here.

The War Measures Act and The "October Crisis" of 1970
The last time the War Measures Act was invoked was not during wartime, but during the "October Crisis" of 1970. In October 1970 a Quebec separatist group called the FLQ (Front de Liberation du Quebec) kidnapped James Cross, the British Trade Commissioner in Montreal, and Pierre Laporte, the Quebec Minister of Employment. The kidnappers murdered Pierre Laporte, but James Cross was found alive in December. In response to the kidnapping, on October 16 Prime Minister Trudeau announced that he had invoked the War Measures Act. This allowed the federal government to assume extraordinary powers and suspended the Canadian Bill of Rights. The government had the power to search and arrest without warrant, to detain suspected persons without laying specific charges, and to detain persons without bail. The Canadian Army was brought in to occupy Quebec, and the federal government used its extraordinary powers to jail 453 people without trial. Of the 453, only 20 were convicted on any charge. By 1971, the FLQ no longer existed. At the time, most Canadians agreed with Trudeau. But later, people who believed that individual rights and freedoms should always be respected thought that Trudeau had overreacted to the FLQ. To read the full text of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau's broadcast of October 16 1970 click here.

Could This Happen Today?
The War Measures Act was repealed in 1988. It was replaced with the Emergencies Act. The Emergencies Act allows the federal government to make temporary laws in the event of a serious national emergency. The Emergencies Act differs from the War Measures Act in two important ways:

    1. A declaration of an emergency by the Cabinet must be reviewed by Parliament

    2. Any temporary laws made under the Act are subject to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Thus any attempt by the government to suspend the civil rights of Canadians, even in an emergency, will be subject to the "reasonable and justified" test under section 1 of the Charter. Restrictions and limitations on freedom were inevitable during times of war. To the Canadian government, internment during both World Wars was a practical solution to a perceived security problem. However the terms of the Orders in Council, and the methods used to carry them out, reveal that the government was influenced more by racial discrimination and anti-immigrant sentiments than by any real threat to national security. The stories of the internees are a reminder of how human rights are vulnerable in situations of crisis.

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