By sea, by land, by air

Japanese Canadian Veterans' Monument in Stanley Park
Japanese Canadian Veterans’ Monument in Stanley Park
Canada has operated internment camps for Japanese, Ukrainian, German, and Italian Canadians. These Canadian citizens and immigrants were accused of being saboteurs and spies and were forcibly removed from their homes and were detained in government-run work camps throughout the country. They were not permitted any defense, and in fact, there was no proof that they were anything other than hardworking immigrants and/or citizens of Canada. Their property was confiscated.

More than 22,000 Japanese citizens (more than half of whom were Canadian citizens by birth) were interned and quarantined in camps in British Columbia by the Canadian government, with no proof, no defense, no recourse during WWII. Many of the men and boys were forced to labour on roads, in logging camps, and on farms. Some of the camp conditions were deplorable. The Red Cross sent food shipments into the interment camps in Canada because there wasn’t enough food. This happened within living memory. We did this. Does it sound familiar?

Ukrainian Canadians Veterans' Monument in Banff
Ukrainian Canadians Veterans’ Monument in Banff

It should sound familiar.

Following the Great War (WWI, if you’ve forgotten your history), thousands of Ukrainian Canadians were rounded up as “enemy aliens” under the War Measures Act of 1914. They were not permitted to work in Canada, and many were picked up at the border, where they were trying to cross into the US to find jobs. Although Great Britain had recommended its Commonwealth Countries to “not to act indiscriminately against subject nationalities of the Austro-Hungarian Empire who were in fact friendly to the British Empire”*, the Canadian government thought it would be best to ignore that recommendation. Or to interpret it creatively.

These camps forced labour, did not offer proper medical treatment, and frequently did not have enough food to feed the prisoners. Prisoners died of disease and injury. They died trying to escape. Some were deported back to the country they had emmigrated from (escaped from?) during the Russian Civil War/Ukrainian War of Independence. 24 camps were operated between 1914 and 1920.

Does this sound familiar?

Aboriginal Veterans' Monument in Ottawa
Aboriginal Veterans’ Monument in Ottawa

Our government has a shameful, probably criminal history of its treatment of Aboriginal peoples. Our government and its agents relocated thousands of Aboriginal peoples, removing them from their ancestral homes and forcing them to live on Reserves. Our government employed starvation tactics, fear tactics, and outright violence against the First Peoples. Many of the government’s Treaty obligations were not fulfilled by the government, or were fulfilled poorly. Conditions on Reserve land were, in many cases, atrocious.

In most places in our country, Aboriginals were not permitted to work. They were not permitted to vote. They didn’t count as “people”. They had no voice. I think the government of the day just kind of hoped the Aboriginal people would just kind of quietly …go away.

The Canadian Government forced Aboriginal children out of their homes on Treaty land and into Residential Schools, where the children were stripped of their culture, their language, their religion, and, in many cases, human dignity. They were abused, lied to, and beaten. They were forced into lives with no safety nets, no ties to their own history. They were forced away from their families and, in some cases, weren’t even permitted to touch one another. This kind of treatment is now recognized in most places as torture.

But do you know what happened?

In the early teens, Canada asked for volunteers to fight a war across the pond in Europe. And again in the 40s. And again in the 50s. And again and again and again. Canada has never had a conscription program – that means that every single soldier, every single person who works in the military and police forces across the country – every one of them is a volunteer. They choose to serve their country. I want you to think about that. I want you to think about what our government did to these families. To these cultures. To these people. I want you to think about that, and then think about what it meant for them to then say “yes, I will fight a war on foreign soil in the name of this country.”

Aboriginal Veterans
Aboriginal Veterans

I want you to think about the last wrong done against you. Are you willing to look past that wrong and serve the person who committed that wrong against you?

Let’s all just remember that our veterans and active service people are volunteers. Even when their country doesn’t serve them well; they still serve for us.

*Source: Wikipedia: Ukrainian Canadian Internment


4 responses to “By sea, by land, by air”

  1. Woz Avatar

    Canada had conscription toward the end of both WW1 and WW2.

    1. cenobyte Avatar

      Source please? This is contrary to what both my grandfathers and military-enlisted uncles told me….although there’s something in the back of my head about the conscription crisis in 1918?

      I understood Mackenzie King held a vote about it but it was never enacted, and that that was only in the middle of WWII – although most regions voted in favour, King was courting Québec, which voted strongly against compulsory military service, so the legislation was never created/enacted. That’s about all the history about Mackenzie King I remember without looking it up.

      I do stand to be corrected.

  2. Woz Avatar
    Woz for WW2. Relatively very few people were conscripted and fewer went over seas. There certainly was controversy especially in Quebec.

    Also Again conscription was really only enacted toward the end of the war and relatively few were conscripted and sent sent overseas.

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