OTTAWA - Canada's secretary of state for multiculturalism, Dr. Hedy Fry, said she agrees with her predecessor, Sheila Finestone, that "it's time to move" on past injustices.
Dr. Fry, who last year succeeded Ms. Finestone as Canada's junior minister responsible for multiculturalism, said she is prepared to discuss the community's redress claim for the internment of thousands of Ukrainian Canadians during the first world war.
"I'm hear to listen to them, but I'm also here to tell you that we can only try to change our future by having learned from the past," said fry in an interview.
In 1995, Ms. Finestone said the federal government had resolved the redress issue by proposing the establishment of a Canadian Race Relations Foundation in Toronto.
That's one option Dr. Fry, who represents the downtown riding of Vancouver center in the House of Commons, is still considering and could raise when she meets with members of the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association in Vancouver at month's end.
Among the many issues the UCCLA wants the secretary of state's support on concerns a planned memorial for Spirit Lake, Quebec. That's the camp site where two of the last known survivors, Mary Manko Haskett and Stefa Pawliw Mielniczuk, were held with their families. Both women are now in their late 80s.
Following a recent meeting with officials from Parks Canada and Canadian Heritage Minister Sheila Copps' office, UCCLA representatives were told a cost-sharing arrangement between the federal government and the association would have to be negotiated with Dr. Fry's office.
But Boris Sydoruk, director of special projects for the UCCLA, said his group has been unsuccessful to date in discussing the issue of redress with Dr. Fry. "She responded to none of out letters," he said in an interview from Calgary. "She has also twice canceled meetings with us."
Dr. Fry, a physician, said she wasn't sure how effective placing individual memorials at internment camp sites would be to get the message of a past injustice across to Canadians. "The question arises, does one have 20 different plaques or do we take the history of all the peoples who have contributed to building Canada and put them into one story," she explained.
About 5,000 people of Ukrainian descent were interned in 24 camps during World War I.
So far, the UCCLA has set up plaques at Castle Mountain in Banff National Park, Fort Henry near Kingston, Ontario, Kapuskasing in northern Ontario, and Jasper National Park in Alberta. Parks Canada helped fund a set of interpretive panels at the Cave and Basin site, just outside Banff, where internees spent their winter months.
The UCCLA plans to set up further memorials at two sites in British Columbia, in Vernon and Nanaimo, and two in Manitoba, in Winnipeg and Brandon.
The concept of some historical reminder situated in a national park intrigues Dr. Fry, but not one focused on one ethnic community. "Across Canada, many communities have in fact had tragedies and joys," she said. "What we do then is talk about our common past, stressing our individual problems. But at the same time, we should talk about building our common future, where all Canadians, regardless of their origins, enjoy equality and justice."
The Trinidad-born secretary of state said she personally experienced discrimination in her life, but learned to overcome it. "Because of the strength of my family upbringing and my own sense of self-worth, I was able to move on and build on the past and get strength from it."
However, Mr. Sydoruk said the federal government is missing the meaning behind the redress issue. "These were people who lost their freedom, were interned and treated not so nice at times, while they worked for the national parks system," he said. "Yet, we have to raise money to remember them? [The Canadian government] got slave labor out of these people."
Meanwhile, Mr. Sydoruk said the UCCLA is still waiting for Prime Minister Jean Chretien to honor a commitment the group claims he made almost four years ago.
As federal Opposition leader, Mr. Chretien sent a June 8, 1993 letter to the Ukrainian Canadian Congress redress committee, saying that if his Liberal Party was elected he would "continue to monitor the [redress[ situation closely and seek to ensure that the government honors its promise."
No one from the Prime Minister's Office was available to comment on the letter.
Ironically, as the UCCLA and the Canadian government continue to lock horns over setting up further internment memorials, a traveling exhibit recalling the historic episode arrived in Ottawa.
"The Barbed Wire Solution -- Ukrainian Canadians and Canada's First Internment Operations" opened at the Karsh-Masson Gallery at Ottawa City Hall. The display, produced by the Toronto-based Ukrainian Research and Documentation Center, will remain in the city until March 9.
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I would like to acknowledge Stefan Lemieszewski for contributing and digitizing this article for these series of pages.
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