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History lessons from civil internment past

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 17/6/2015 (797 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The recent passage of Bill C-51 by the Canadian government and the revelation earlier this year that the CIA tortured prisoners in the wake of 9/11 cannot help but turn our thoughts to Canada's own record of violating civil rights and liberties — this particularly in light of the recent detainment of a man in Charleswood, whose freedom is restricted despite the fact no charges have been laid.

Canada's record regarding civilian internment is an interesting story to tell.

Myron Shatulsky by the Ukrainian Labour Temple


Myron Shatulsky by the Ukrainian Labour Temple

This is a complex story encompassing arrest, displacement and confinement and it spanned — and still spans — times of war and peace, affecting persons from a wide variety of political backgrounds and ethnocultural communities.

Civilian internment in this country has not been widely discussed, despite the well-known impounding of tens of thousands of Japanese, Ukrainians, assorted Eastern Europeans, Germans and Italians as "enemy aliens" during the First and Second World Wars, and in spite of the deeply rooted experiences of those directly affected and their kin.

Fortunately, over the next couple of days, there's an opportunity to finally have these conversations. Beginning today and running until Friday, scholars from around the world will meet to discuss civilian internment in Canada.

It's part of the work done by the Canadian Society for Ukrainian Labour Research and it is the first event of its kind to bring together scholars and researchers with individuals and families whose lives were so dramatically altered by internment on Canadian soil.

Myron Shatulsky, 84, will be one voice in this discussion. He vividly recalls RCMP officers hauling away his father, Matthew, in 1940 to the Kananaskis internment camp in Alberta, fracturing the family in what historian Reg Whitaker has termed the Canadian government's "official repression of communism."

A year later, 11-year-old Myron travelled to the train station for a glimpse of his father being transferred by rail to another camp in Ontario, only to learn the train had come and gone two hours earlier.

Myron's mother, Katherine, wrote to her interned husband, "The poor boy has so many scars on his heart to heal that he will remember for the rest of his life."

Myron's experiences, and the impact on his family and community, serve as a powerful reminder of the fragility of civil liberties and human rights. It's imperative to document these perspectives before time wipes away first-hand accounts forever.

The Winnipeg workshop will be the starting point for an edited collection of original academic articles and materials including letters, photographs, newspaper articles, government documents and oral histories that can offer a broad, multiethnic and accessible perspective on Canada's diverse record with civilian internment.

Winnipeg's Ukrainian Labour Temple will serve as an historic backdrop for this national dialogue. The Labour Temple became a symbol of wartime internment for leftists and pro-Communists, including Matthew Shatulsky, after federal authorities confiscated and closed the building (and other pro-Communist properties across Canada).

A bright light has again been focussed on the perilous intersection — or rather collision — of civil liberty and state security in democratic states, with the passage of Bill C-51 by the Canadian government and by the recent report on suspected terrorist prisoners being tortured by the American government.

It is an appropriate moment for Canadians to step forward with their stories.


Rhonda Hinther is an associate professor of history at Brandon University. Jim Mochoruk is a Chester Fritz distinguished professor of history at the University of North Dakota.


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Updated on Wednesday, June 17, 2015 at 7:56 AM CDT: Adds photo

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