Daniel LeBlanc, Globe and Mail (Toronto), Aug. 26
OTTAWA — The Conservative government of Brian Mulroney opened the door to redress in 1988 with a $300-million settlement with Japanese-Canadians — and immediately tried to close it.
The government was well aware that the Japanese victims of internment camps and forced relocation were not the only ones to suffer human-rights abuses in Canadian history, and that other groups would soon want similar settlements.
Secretary of state Gerry Weiner insisted at the time that the case of Japanese-Canadians was “unique and unparalleled,” and that there has “never been an episode like it in post-Confederation history.” Indeed, the case of the 20,000 Japanese-Canadians was unique in that the victims were interned, stripped of their businesses and their land, and relocated.
But Canadians of Ukrainian, Italian, African and Chinese descent, among others, launched lobbies in a bid to right the injustices of the past. Over time, these groups won some victories, but the fights are not over.
Although the Liberal government of Pierre Trudeau refused to go down the route of redress in the case of the Japanese-Canadians two decades ago, Prime Minister Paul Martin gave a $2.5-million package to Ukrainian-Canadians this week. It is the first money from a $25-million fund announced by the federal government in the 2005 budget to redress such wrongs.
The deal does not compensate the 5,000 Ukrainian victims of internment in the First World War, of which only one is still alive, but it enacts measures to ensure their plight is not forgotten.
The Canadian Race Relations Foundation, established as part of the 1988 settlement with Japanese-Canadians, counts 13 ethnic and religious groups in Canada that have made claims for redress.
In its list, the CRRF does not include the land claims made by aboriginal groups, calling it a distinct issue, but it does mention the matter of the natives forced to attend residential schools where attempts were made to assimilate them into mainstream society and they suffered abuse.
Ottawa is negotiating a settlement on that matter with the Assembly of First Nations, which is calling for payments of almost $50,000 to each of the estimated 87,000 surviving students.
In the early 1980s, Mr. Trudeau refused financial compensation to the Japanese-Canadians, who were organizing a powerful lobby group. But Mr. Mulroney embraced the cause in opposition, and delivered a settlement in 1988 that was widely interpreted as a precedent.
The Ukrainian-Canadians quickly made the case that they too deserved an apology, meeting a few weeks later with Mr. Weiner to call for a “symbolic redress.”
Two years later, in 1990, Mr. Mulroney apologized to Italian-Canadians, 700 of whom were interned during the Second World War.
Ukrainian-Canadians have long sought redress for the internment of 8,579 Eastern Europeans during the First World War, a ‘dark chapter’ that Prime Minister Paul Martin acknowledged this week. It is one of 13 claims put forward by ethnic and religious groups.
1847 to 1985
In Canada’s residential schools, aboriginal children were forced to assimilate and many were abused.
1885 to 1946
Discrimination against immigrants from China, including a $500 head tax.
1891 to 1956
Imprisonment of leprosy patients, mostly Chinese, on two Victoria-area islands.
1900 to 1932
The unjust treatment of black immigrants from the Caribbean.
1914 to 1920
The internment of Ukrainian-Canadians during the First World War.
1938 to 1948
The ban of Jewish immigrants in the mid-20th century, including the time a boat carrying more than 900 German Jews was turned away from a Canadian port in 1939.
1940 to 1943
The internment of Italian-Canadians during the Second World War.
The internment of German-Canadians during the Second World War.
1942 to 1949
The internment and relocation of Japanese-Canadians during and after the Second World War.
The discrimination against aboriginal war veterans, who were offered $20,000 each in compensation in 2002.
African-Canadians nationally, including the descendants of black Loyalists, are mobilizing toward a collective claim for reparations.
In Nova Scotia, the Africville Community is working toward advancing its claims for reparations.
The Doukhobors, for the forced confinement of children in a sanitorium by the B.C. government.