Mr. Speaker, let me begin by thanking the hon. member for his bill and his cooperation at committee. We have been able to finally address a very important issue, an issue that struck at the hearts of all committee members. I want to thank him for his tremendous determination and hard work in this regard. I am so pleased to see that we are finally at third reading today.
Canada's experience with diversity distinguishes it from most other countries. Our 30 million inhabitants reflect a cultural, ethnic and linguistic makeup found nowhere else on the earth. Over 200,000 immigrants a year from all parts of the globe continue to choose Canada, drawn by its quality of life and its reputation as an open, peaceful and caring society that welcomes newcomers and indeed values diversity.
From Confederation through the boom years of immigration prior to World War I, to the inter-war years and the current post-war era, our immigration policy and legislation have helped to shape the Canada we have today. Over time, Canadian governments have reflected society's increasing willingness to accept differences within the population and specifically the legitimacy of the rights of minorities to maintain their culture and also their traditions. Throughout our history, there have, however, been instances of laws that would be considered regressive today.
In Canada, the years prior to World War I witnessed heavy immigration from eastern Europe. When war broke out, the country faced a serious problem: what to do with recent immigrants who were citizens of the countries with which Canada was at war.
The problem became quite acute in 1914 when German and Austro-Hungarian nationals resident in Canada were called upon by their respective governments to return home to honour their military draft obligations.
The War Measures Act of 1914 stated in section 6 that:
The Governor in Council may do and authorize such acts and things, and make from time to time such orders and regulations, as he may by reason of the existence of real or apprehended war, invasion or insurrection deem necessary or advisable for the security, defence, peace, order and welfare of Canada;... it is hereby declared that the powers of the Governor in Council shall extend to all matters coming within the classes of subjects hereinafter enumerated, that is to say....
Among other things were included “arrest, detention, exclusion and deportation” and “appropriation, control, forfeiture and disposition of property and of the use thereof”.
Under orders made pursuant to the War Measures Act, 8,579 people--civilians and prisoners of war--were interned in 26 camps across Canada during the first world war. The internees were composed of a mix of nationalities, including Turkish, Bulgarian, German and Austro-Hungarian. The largest number were from Germany and the Austro-Hungarian empire, which included Croatians, Czechs, Poles, Serbians and other Europeans. The numbers also included perhaps 5,000 Ukrainians out of an estimated population of about 171,000 of Ukrainian origin in Canada at that time.
From the beginning, internees were treated as prisoners of war and, in keeping with the terms of the Hague convention, received the same standards of food, clothing and accommodations as Canadian soldiers. It is estimated that by the end of the war in 1918 there were only three internment camps remaining in operation. The last camp officially closed in February 1920.
Under the federal Office of the Custodian of Enemy Property, a claims process was adjudicated in the post-war period of World War I and World War II. The government had determined that after World War I some moneys went unclaimed from some internees of Austro-Hungarian empire descent, despite advertisements in mainstream and ethnocultural newspapers.
In 1976, convinced the vast majority of claims had been resolved, the Government of Canada closed this office. As the Hon. Sheila Finestone stated in the House of Commons in 1994:
--as Canadians we are proud that our citizens trace their origins to every part of the world. Together we have built this country on the principles of fairness, generosity and compassion. Our history records the remarkable success we have achieved by applying those principles.
Our history also records that at times we have strayed from them. There have been episodes that have caused suffering to people. In the crisis atmosphere of war, some Canadian ethnocultural communities found their loyalty questioned, their freedom restrained and their lives disrupted. Canadians wish those episodes had never happened. We wish those practices had never occurred.
Allow me to continue to quote:
We all share in the responsibility to learn from the past. The Government of Canada believes that our common obligation lies in preventing such situations from ever occurring again.
With that statement in the House, the government adopted a policy on historical redress, which, first, reaffirmed the uniqueness of the Japanese Canadian redress agreement; second, confirmed that no financial compensation would be awarded to individuals or communities for historical events; third, committed to a forward-looking agenda to ensure that such practices did not recur; and fourth, noted that limited and future federal resources would be used to create a more equitable society.
Indeed, the establishment of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation was a signal of federal commitment to eliminate racism and racial discrimination. In this regard, the foundation officially opened its doors in November 1997.
Canada in 2005 is a very different Canada. Tremendous steps have been taken toward making our country a better place. Beginning in 1950 with the report of the Massey-Lévesque commission, ethnocultural diversity gradually came to be understood as an essential ingredient in a distinct Canadian identity.
The Canadian Bill of Rights in 1960 recognized and declared that certain human rights and fundamental freedoms existed, without discrimination on the grounds of race, national origin, colour, religion or sex. In 1970, Canada ratified the international convention on the elimination of all forms of racial discrimination. As a party to the convention, Canada has undertaken to prohibit and to eliminate racial discrimination in all its forms.
The Canadian Human Rights Act of 1977 proclaimed that all individuals should have equal opportunity with others without being discriminated against on the grounds of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital or family status, disability or conviction for an offence for which a pardon has been granted.
In 1982, section 15 of the newly adopted Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms also recognized that every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability. Section 15 came into effect in 1985.
In addition, the multicultural character of Canada gained constitutional recognition in section 27 of the charter. It specified that the courts were to interpret the charter “in a manner consistent with the preservation and enhancement of the multicultural heritage of Canadians”. The Canadian Multiculturalism Act of 1988 affirmed multiculturalism as a fundamental characteristic of Canadian society.
We have worked and will continue working with Ukrainian Canadians and other ethnocultural communities to document their history and experiences through a range of commemorative projects, including films, books and exhibits that enable them to tell their stories to other Canadians.
To conclude, I would again like to thank the member for his efforts and his hard work to ensure that the bill will become law. I strongly believe in the need to acknowledge and commemorate the historical events referred to in Bill C-331 as well as educate Canadians about these experiences. No matter how much we might wish to erase these events from the history of our country, today's government cannot, nor can we pay for restitution for historical actions without placing an undue burden on existing and future generations that are in no way responsible for these events.
The Ukrainian community has helped to shape the strong multicultural society we are today. I truly honour the contribution that individuals of Ukrainian descent have made in the building of Canada and I recognize that this contribution was made even in the face of dark moments and great hardship.
It is important that we find an acceptable way to highlight it and educate Canadians about this contribution. I am pleased that Bill C-331 offers us a way forward in doing just that. I encourage all members of the House to support it in its amended form.