The following statement was issued on June 20 by Canadian Member of Parliament Yvan Baker (Etobicoke Center, Ontario).
Today we mark the 100th anniversary of the official end of internment operations in Canada during the first world war.
From 1914 to 1920, more than 8,000 civilians, most of them immigrants, were interned as “enemy aliens” in 24 locations across Canada. They were subjected to xenophobia and prejudice, fired from their jobs, deprived of their possessions and civil rights, then forced to work as laborers in some of the most remote regions of Canada. They suffered in the internment camps for years.
Among those that were interned were: Alevi Kurds, Armenians, Bulgarians, Croatians, Czechs, Germans, Hungarians, Italians, Jews, Ottoman Turks, Poles, Romanians, Serbians, Slovaks, Slovenes and Ukrainians. Even some who were naturalized Americans were caught up in the internment dragnet set up by the Canadian government during this period.
In the 1950s the Canadian government destroyed the complete files of the Department of Internment Operations, making it extremely challenging for researchers and scholars to piece together the First World War Internment Operation and to tell the stories of the internees.
Even with the closing of Canada’s first national internment operation, many of the internees continued to experience the stigma of internment for decades. The fear and shame that internees carried with them is the reason that most hid their internment experiences from their loved ones.
By recalling Canada’s first national internment operation, we are also reminded of the suffering of Japanese Canadians who were interned during the second world war, as well as the racism and prejudice that Black and racialized Canadians have faced and continue to experience.
Commemorating these tragic events offers an opportunity to shine a light on our failings as a country and rededicate ourselves to the elimination of prejudice, discrimination and racism in Canada.