Statement by Prime Minister Harper in remembrance of interned Eastern Europeans

Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued the following statement in remembrance of thousands of Eastern Europeans interned during Canada’s first national internment operations, between 1914 and 1920:

“A century ago, as a result of fear generated by the onset of the First World War, thousands of new immigrants of European origin were interned during the First World War even though there was no proof that they posed a threat to Canada.

“Many of the internees came to our shores seeking to escape oppression and to build a better future for their families, but instead found themselves imprisoned simply for having come from territory controlled by the then-German or Austro-Hungarian empires. This practice persisted even after the British government advised that most of these so-called ‘enemy aliens’ were in fact sympathetic to our war aims and encouraged Canada not to intern them.

Stephen Harper (Photo: PMO).

Stephen Harper (Photo: PMO).

“Governments have a solemn duty to defend against legitimate threats in wartime, but we look back with deep regret on an unjust policy that was implemented indiscriminately as a form of collective punishment and in violation of fundamental principles of natural justice, including the presumption of innocence.

“In Canada we acknowledge the mistakes of the past, and we learn from them. We are also steadfast in our commitment to remembering those who suffered. That is why in 2008 the Government of Canada worked closely with affected communities and committed $10 million to the Ukrainian Canadian Foundation of Taras Shevchenko to establish the Canadian First World War Internment Recognition Fund. We also included a section on the internment in our revised Citizenship Guide, Discover Canada.

“Today, the descendants of internees of Ukrainian, Croatian, German, Hungarian, Polish, and other ethnic origins, will be gathering in churches and community centres across the country to pray and to reflect on this sad moment in our history. I encourage all Canadians to take part in these events.

“I also thank the Shevchenko Foundation and the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association, which coordinated the ‘One Hundred Plaques across Canada’ initiative, for their important roles in remembering this moment in our history and in coordinating today’s commemorations.

“As we remember the past, let us also remember to celebrate the achievements of the internees and their descendants, who overcame this hardship and contributed so much to the building of our country as loyal and dedicated citizens.”

Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada

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