WW I internment justified
Overview of the set
This History Doc set includes primary and secondary sources pertaining to the question of whether internment of Ukrainian-Canadians during World War I was justified. Upon review of the documents, students are asked to examine the validity of the reasons that were given to justify internment.
Question: Was the internment of Ukrainians during World War I justified?
When determining whether or not the internment of Ukrainians was justified, you may want to consider the following aspects.
- Were Ukrainians living in Canada a threat to the security of Canada or to the success of the war effort? Was there any evidence of treason or sabotage in the Ukrainian community?
- Should Ukrainians have been considered subjects of the Austro-Hungarian Empire?
- Should Ukrainians have qualified as enemy aliens in the first place?
- How did wartime fear and apprehension contribute to the internment of Ukrainians?
The following notes are intended to:
- help teachers guide student interpretation of the sources included in the set of History Docs
- provide teachers with historical background information on the topic.
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Historical context for teachers
Early Ukrainian immigration to Canada
- Despite previous periods of independence, the Ukrainian people did not have a nation to call their own in the 19th century; instead, Ukrainian territory was controlled by two powerful empires. The crown lands of Galicia and Bukovyna in Western Ukraine were controlled by the Austro-Hungarian Empire, while Eastern Ukraine was part of the Russian Empire.
- Approximately 171 000 immigrants of Ukrainian ethnic origin came to Canada between 1892 and 1914, the majority of whom came from the provinces of Galicia and Bukovina in western Ukraine that was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
- Canadian immigration officials labelled Ukrainian immigrants arriving in Canada as Austrian or Russian, depending on their passport, but they were also classified as Galician, Bukovynian or Ruthenians, depending on which region or province they were from in Austria-Hungary. The term Ukrainian was not commonly used.
Outbreak of World War I
- When Great Britain, alongside Russia and France, declared war against Germany and Austria-Hungary on August 4, 1914, Canada, as a colony of Britain, was automatically at war.
- Almost immediately, the Government of Canada issued an order-in-council stating that enemy aliens (citizens of a country that is at war with the country in which they are living) could be arrested and detained if they tried to leave Canada. The order-in-council was created to prevent citizens of the Central Powers (the Austro-Hungarian Empire, German Empire, Ottoman Empire and Kingdom of Bulgaria) from returning to their homelands and serving in their countries’ militaries.
- The War Measures Act, passed on August 22, 1914, gave the government emergency powers to censor and control all publications and communications; arrest, detain or deport anyone; and take, use or control any property for the security, defence, peace, order and welfare of Canada.
Restrictions on Enemy Aliens
- On October 28, 1914, another order-in-council was passed that required enemy aliens to register with authorities at different locations throughout Canada. From October 1914 to February 24, 1920, 80 000 individuals, the majority Ukrainian, were forced to report each month to special registrars, or to local North West Mounted Police forces.
- Enemy aliens were issued with registration cards that identified them, their nationality, place of residence and place of employment. The registration cards had to be carried at all times, and those failing to do so could be subjected to arrest, fine or even imprisonment.
- Only those enemy aliens who lived within 20 miles of a registration office were required to regularly report their movements, while those who lived far away from major urban centres were not required to report as frequently.
- Restrictions were also imposed on freedom of speech, association and movement for enemy aliens. Municipalities were told to watch all Germans and Austrians living within their areas. Out of patriotism, many employers also dismissed Austrians and Germans from work.
Internment of enemy aliens
- Many enemy aliens were interned over the course of the war for failing to regularly report as regulation demanded, or when attempting to leave Canada for the United States to seek work. In some cases, they voluntarily interned themselves, due to the extreme poverty they were facing during the war. In many instances, however, war-enhanced prejudice contributed to communities attempting to unload their poor enemy-alien populations into the internment camps.
- In total, 8579 enemy aliens (including 81 women and 156 children) were incarcerated in one of the 24 internment camps across Canada. Only 3138 of these internees could be properly classified as prisoners of war (P.O.W.'s)—individuals captured under arms or reservists required to serve in the Austrian or German imperial forces—of these, 817 were active servicemen captured in Caribbean ports at the onset of the war and transferred to Canada.
- The internment camps housed 7762 Canadian residents, 5954 non-Germans from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, 1192 Germans, 205 Turks and 99 Bulgarians.
- Internees from the Austro-Hungarian Empire were officially designated as Austrians, although the vast majority were different minorities, including Hungarians, Czechs, Slovaks, Croats, Poles, Slovenes and Ukrainians. The majority of surnames in the camps were Ukrainian, which reflects the ethnic make-up of immigrants from Austria-Hungary in Canada at the outbreak of the war.
- No Ukrainians carrying passports from the Russian Empire were interned during the war because Russia was an ally of Great Britain.
Internment camp conditions
- The Hague Convention outlined rules for the employment of POWs. Internees were required to provide work only for their own comfort, cleanliness and health. Any work completed for the advantage of the government, or for the service of private individuals or corporations, was voluntary and required payment.
- Internees received the same pay a Canadian soldier would receive for noncombat work (25 cents per day). Internees were put to work building roads, clearing land (including for experimental farms in northern Ontario and Québec), cutting wood, building railways, and building Canada’s national parks, including Banff National Park in Alberta.
- Due to labour shortages across Canada during the last two years of the war, many internment camps closed between 1916 and 1918 when internees were shipped to larger camps, or paroled to private companies to work as full-time employees. They were allowed to work for private businesses; for municipal, provincial and federal levels of government; or for the railway companies.
- Paroled Ukrainians were forced to move to different spots across Canada without their families, and many were employed in industries in which they had no previous experience.
- Although many camps closed from 1916 to 1918, several camps (Vernon, British Columbia; Kapuskasing, Ontario; and Amherst, Nova Scotia) were not closed until 1919 or 1920, a full year and a half after the end of the war. Upon being released, internees’ possessions and finances were not always returned, and they often faced continual security checks.
Canada’s first national internment operations, 1914-1920
from A time for atonement: by Lubomyr Luciuk (Kingston: Limestone Press, 1988)
Published with the permission of Lubomyr Luciuk.