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Plaque unveiling about reconciliation

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On Aug. 22, I had the honour of speaking at St. Joseph’s Ukrainian Catholic Church on the 100th anniversary of the War Measures Act, which identified thousands of innocent men, women, and children as "enemy aliens" and put them in internment camps, in both the first and second world wars.

At St. Joseph’s, we unveiled one of 100 plaques commissioned by the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Foundation to be distributed across Canada in memory of the thousands of people who lost their civil freedoms during this historic injustice.  19 will be installed at various locations in Manitoba.

For good reasons and sad reasons, many people are seeing this as the year of the Ukrainian. I am very impressed with the way the Ukrainian Civil Liberties Association and multiple levels of government came together for this celebration.

Reading the plaques, you can spot familiar last names like Manko or Demytrik, and you know that these people likely came from your parents’ or grandparents’ village to become Canadians. It would be easy to fall into anger or resentment, but this event is considered to be about reconciliation — not about blame or fault, but about understanding. Not about money, but about memory. Not just about Ukrainians, Germans or Serbs, but about all Canadians.

For example, there was the Sikh ship turned away from a Canadian port in 1914, even though they were part of the Commonwealth; the Jewish refugees turned away from Canada to be handed back to their persecutors in Europe; the Japanese-Canadians forced into internment camps in WWII; and the Chinese immigrants required to pay a head tax to enter Canada, who were then paid almost nothing to work on the railway.

Countries are no better or different than the people they represent — like people, they make mistakes. But we must learn from our mistakes, seek reconciliation, and try not to repeat those mistakes.

What makes Canada a great country is that it has recognized many of its injustices in the spirit of truth and reconciliation. We live here today as Canadians from all nations, governments and walks of life.

Thank you to all the organizers of the commemoration event at St. Joseph’s, and to all the distant family members who still carry forward their parents’ and grandparents’ memories. If you would like to learn about other events going on in our community, feel free to call my office at 204-334-5060 or email me at Dave.Chomiak@YourManitoba.ca.

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