February 26, 2016

Canadian minister must intervene

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In our February 21 issue, readers saw a poignant commentary by Dr. Lubomyr Luciuk, a professor of political geography at the Royal Military College of Canada, titled “Almost Forgotten.” The subject was the nearly forgotten graves of 16 prisoners, buried on a plot measuring some 35 by 25 meters, at the Spirit Lake internment camp (today known as La Ferme) in Quebec. Spirit Lake was one of 24 such camps established as part of Canada’s First National Internment Operations, 1914-1920.

From January 13, 1915, to January 28, 1917, the period when Spirit Lake was functioning as an internment camp for so-called enemy aliens under the War Measures Act of 1914, the camp had a maximum population of 1,312 internees, including entire families – some 60 of them. Many of those interned were parishioners of St. Michael the Archangel Ukrainian Catholic Church in Montreal.

The graves at the camp cemetery include mostly men, but some were children. As the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association advises, efforts over the years to restore and re-consecrate this small but historically significant cemetery have not been successful. As a result, “it has now fallen into serious disrepair and will soon be lost forever in the region’s boreal forest.”

UCCLA Chairman Roman Zakaluzny has stated that Minister of Canadian Heritage Mélanie Joly “should instruct her officials to investigate how a cemetery, set up by the federal government, came to be sold to the Province of Quebec, and then re-sold to a private landowner, and whether this internee cemetery, one of the very few of its kind in Canada, should be designated a national historic site.” He underscored: “At a minimum, this sacred space should be re-consecrated and restored, allowing for internee descendants to hallow the memory of those who died at Spirit Lake – people held behind Canadian barbed wire not because of any wrong they had done, but only because of who they were and where they had come from.”

So, what can be done to ensure that these graves are not lost forever?

Descendants of internees have already expressed their support for the UCCLA’s petition. The UCCLA is asking Minister Joly’s counterparts in the Quebec National Assembly, the provincial legislature, to intervene. Furthermore, the UCCLA believes that Minister Joly herself should be receptive to the appeal as she hails from Montreal, whence many of the “enemy aliens” were rounded up. Ukrainian Canadians, and other Ukrainians, must write to the minister of Canada heritage to add their voices in support of saving this hallowed ground. (For more information or to read the briefing paper submitted to Minister Joly, we direct readers to www.uccla.ca or suggest they contact media@uccla.ca.)

Minister Joly must intervene. It is in her power to ensure that the internee cemetery at Spirit Lake is, as the UCCLA put it, remembered, recovered, restored, reconsecrated and respected. Anything less would compound the injustice already perpetrated against tens of thousands of “enemy aliens” and their descendants.