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08. War Measures

From August 1914 Canada issued a string of Orders in Council which restricted the activities of unnaturalized immigrants who had come from enemy states.(“Unnaturalized” means that they were not British subjects. At the time, a separate Canadian citizenship did not exist.) There were over 393,000 German and over 129,000 Austrian citizens in Canada. Most of the Austrians were Ukrainians from Galicia and Bukovyna.

Britain had passed its Deference of the Realm Act for the same purpose. However, Canada’s War Measures Act was much tougher than Britain’s. Britain restricted the subjects of hostile states only in those activities that affected military operations. Canada passed restrictive regulations on almost every aspect of Canadian life, including communications, travel and transport, trade, manufacture and production. The British Act was in force “during the continuance of the present war”. Canada let Cabinet decide when the Act was to lapse.

In Canada, civilian registrars, local police and the Royal North West Mounted Police identified, registered and arrested the “enemy aliens”. The accused was guilty until he proved himself not an enemy. Only the Minister of Justice could judge “enemy alien”cases.

During the war 88,000 “enemy aliens” were registered. They had to report to authorities at least monthly, disclosing travel plans and showing proof of employment. The law forbade them to work with explosives or leave the country. These rules hampered the immigrants’ dwindling opportunities to make a living for three reasons: general unemployment was rising, unskilled labour depended on seasonal jobs and one needed to travel  to them, explosives were commonly used in mining and road construction.

Many immigrants were afraid to register and report. Some tried to escape their troubles by crossing the border. Others looked for escape in assumed identities. Not registering for any reason, however, was cause for arrest and internment. The state interned them in labour camps for not have a job as well as competing for a job with British subjects.

In implementing the War Measures Act, Canada cut important civil liberties. The Cabinet further did not tak sufficient precautions to prevent abuse of power through ignorance or malice by the registrars and the police.

09. Internment

On October 28, 1914, the federal Cabinet set up the Internment Operations Branch. It empowered civilian registrars to judge whether an “enemy alien” was a threat to public safety or should remain free. The Dominion Police, the Royal North West Mounted Police and their agents made the arrests. The military enforced the internment in prison camps that they had created for this purpose. Prisoners had to bring any appeal or proof of innocence to the Minister of Justice.

The Minister recalled from retirement Major-General Sir W.D.Otter to command the internment operations. By the time of his appointment, over 10,000 arrested sailors, visitors, reservists and other unnaturalized immigrants from the Central Powers countries waited in cramped detention centres.

First, Otter divided the prisoners into two classes. Officers and civilian “equivalents” were the first class. They did not need to work and they received better quarters and food. Other civilians and rank and file soldiers were second class, receiving rations of regular soldiers. These people were forced to work on various manual labour projects. German officers, captured in the war, comprised most of the first class. Austrians (mostly Ukrainians) arresed on the streets of Canadian cities or at the Canadian/United States border, were second class.

Next Otter organized for these two classes of prisoners, 24 camps across Canada. Some camps existed for only a short period while others remained open for some time after the end of the war. Living conditions also varied from camp to camp.

All told, Canada had interned 8,579 people between 1914-20. Of these, 7,762 were civilian residents of Canada. Most of them were Ukrainian.

10. Living Conditions

General Otter had decided to separate the German and Austrian prisoners. He felt that the Germans posed more of a threat to the country’s security than the majority of the Austrians. Unemployment or destitution was the major cause of arrest of the latter group. Therefore, he kept the German prisoners in urban centres where the military could guard them more diligently. He sent the Austrians, mostly Ukrainians, to remote locations where they were forced to work on government and corporate projects.

For the Austrian prisoners, the isolation and wilderness conditions of the locations chosen for them, added mental hardships to the physical ones. The camps were hemmed in by impenetrable widerness. Inside, swamp, mud and huge piles of snow worsened the overcrowding of the men.

On their arrival to Canada, the same immigrants had often submitted to the dismal conditions of railway and lumber work camps. However, in the internment camps, many factors made these conditions harsher. The internees had lost their free choice and the incentive of reasonable pay. They worried about family and felt frustrated at being unable to help. The fact of being arrested embarrassed them. They feared deportation to Austria where they believed they would be shot for avoiding military duty. Most of all, they felt betrayed by Canada.

11. Prisoners

The practice of interning thousands of civilians laster five years. In the end, the Director of the operations admitted that one could correctly class only one third of the inmates as prisoners of war. He suspected “that the tendency of municipalities to ‘unload’ their indigent was the cause of the confinement of not a few”. (Otter Report)

Official records substantiate Otter’s suspicion that poverty and ethnicity were often the only reasons for arrest. Some British Colonial Office authorities suggested that it was quite proper to make the “enemy aliens” labour at public works in return for food and shelter. This was one way to remove destitute hungry men off the city streets. Many municipalities supported internment of “enemy aliens” for other reasons as well. During a depressed economy, they could have cheap prisoner labour for city works. In addition, internment camps spawned lucrative supply contracts for local business.

When released from camps, the youngest prisoner was sixteen years old, the oldest was seventy-six. The prisoners were of various ethnic, religious, educational and occupational status. Most were civilians without the concentrated military training that usually helps soldiers bear the experience of prisoner of war camp. In the temporary camps boredom bred fights. In the permanent camps, it was fatigue and desperation that often ignited disagreements.

12. Guards

The Department of Justice employed militia officers and men for the camp staff. However, it was the Department of Militia and Defence who provided the camp guards. The deep-seated friction between these two groups was most obvious in their attitudes toward camp discipline.

More than 2,000 men who enlisted during World War I served as internment guards. The Militia recruited the guards from the thousands of the unemployed. Before the war, these men may have competed for job and shelter with the internees over whom they held bayonets in the camps.

The guards also suffered from the isolation, cold and fatigue which camp life produced. The lack of combat opportunity frustrated them. They also worried about their wive and children. The troops seemed to find it difficult to treat the inmates as civilians and to refrain from using force to make them work. In his report at the end of internment operations, General Otter gave credit to “all concerned that very little friction occurred between troops and prisoner”. However, considerable friction is evident in records and correspondence unearthed by researchers.

07. World War I

War broke out in the summer of 1914. As part of the British Empire, Canada fought alongside Britain and her allies, France, Russia and Italy (Allied Powers). Their enemies were Germany, Austria and Turkey (Central Powers). Austria called all her citizens, who were living abroad, to return for military duty. In Canada, those Ukrainian immigrants who had not yet become British subjects, were in a vulnerable position.

Ukrainians in Canada worried about family and friends “back home” whom Russia and Austria enmeshed in their conflict. Tsarist Russia oppressed the Ukrainian people more than did Austro-Hungary. Therefore, Ukrainian leaders, in general, saw the war as an opportunity to gain independence for Ukraine, even if it meant accepting help from the Central Powers. They solicited support for this idea from the immigrants in North America. In Canada, the Ukrainian Catholic bishop had agreed to include Austria’s call toarms in his first pastoral letter on July 27. He retracted it on August 6, when Britain entered the war

As soon as Britain went to war, most Ukrainian Canadians joined in the Canadian war effort behind the Empire. By the beginning of September 1914, the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) had more men than the 30,000 which Canada had promised to Great Britain. Among them were many volunteers from the Ukrainian community.

As Russia was an ally of Great Britain, Canada readily accepted Ukrainians from Tsarist Russia into the CEF. It rejected Ukrainian immigrants born in the Austro-Hungarian Empire even if they were British subjects. To get into the army, many young men anglicized their names. Others added “Russia”, “Poland” and “Rumania” to their place of birth on their applications. Canadian officials, not versed in European geography, often accepted them. However, Canadian authorities sometimes arrested unnaturalized immigrants who were trying to enlist. Once they discovered a soldier’s true origin, they would return him from the front to be interned until the war was over.

Internment Exhibit
The Barbed Wire Solution