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Alberta Internments

The War Measures Act

In 1914, the War Measures Act was passed by the Canadian government. The Prime Minister and the Cabinet were allowed to declare the War Measures Act active if Canada was threatened by a “real or apprehended” insurrection or uprising. The Act gave the federal Cabinet powers to censor media, imprison people without trial, and generally act as a dictatorial state. The Cabinet also had the authority to arrest, detain, intern, deport, and collect property of people without giving them a trial. The Prime Minister and Cabinet were also allowed to act without Parliament’s approval.

In 1960, the Canadian Bill of Rights was passed. It amended (changed) the War Measures Act by stating that the government could not infringe upon or take away any of the rights and freedoms of citizens that were recognized in the Canadian Bill of Rights. The War Measures Act was invoked (used) three times in Canadian History: during World War I, during World War II, and in 1970, during a domestic crisis in Quebec known as the FLQ (Front de libération du Québec) Crisis.

The War Measures Act was finally repealed (withdrawn) when the Emergencies Act was passed in 1988. The Act states that the government is obliged to maintain the safety of individuals and the values of the state. However, the Act also states that during national emergencies, the government is to be given temporary powers to deal with these issues. Even during these times of emergency, the Prime Minister and Cabinet need to rely on parliamentary review and approval.

The Emergencies Act prepared the government for public welfare, public order, international, or war emergencies. People that suffered because of the Emergencies Act were to be compensated by the government. Even while dealing with the emergency, the Prime Minister and the Cabinet are not allowed to take away any individual’s basic rights, such as the right to:

  • life;
  • the protection against cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment;
  • the protection against slavery;
  • the protection against imprisonment for debt;
  • the protection against acts made retroactively into crimes;
  • the right of every individual to be recognized as a person under law; and
  • the freedoms of thought, conscience and religion.

Learn More

Depository Services Program: Emergencies

The Canadian Encyclopedia's summary of the War Measures Act

The Canadian Youth Encyclopedia's summary of the War Measures Act

Internments During World War I

In World War I, Canada went to war against Germany and its allies, namely the Austro-Hungarian and Turkish empires. Canada also invoked the War Measures Act for the first time. If there was any suspicion that immigrants from enemy countries living in Canada were working against Canada, they could be interned. In other words, all "enemy aliens", according to Howard and Tamara Palmer, authors of Peoples of Alberta, were required to register and report on a regular basis to the nearest police station or government office. Not doing so meant that an immigrant could face imprisonment at an internment camp. These internment camps not only housed those deemed to be a national security threat but was also a prison for any immigrant unfortunate enough to be unemployed or fired from their job in the swelling wartime nationalism.

Very few women or children were interned, and those that were came voluntarily to be with their husband or father. Across Canada, 8,576 men were interned in 24 camps: 5,954 were Austro-Hungarians, 2009 were Germans, 205 were Turkish, and 99 were Bulgarians. Hungarians, Romanians, Ukrainians and other people from Eastern Europe were interned as Austro-Hungarians because they had once lived in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Internment camps were primarily made up of dismissed miners or urban workers. Some communities also used the war as an opportunity to rid their area of people they did not want and shipped recent immigrants to camps.

The Canadian government could not afford to intern farmers. With so many men fighting overseas, it was necessary to keep as many men as possible working to produce food. However, even the farmers needed to register with the police, have their fingerprints taken, carry an identification card, and give up all of their firearms. The government closed down schools, churches, organizations, and newspapers run by the so-called enemy aliens. Many German and Austro-Hungarian businesses were also forced to close. Living conditions in the internment camps were generally very poor. The buildings were cold, damp, and overcrowed. When there were labour shortages, the men in the internment performed the hard, physical labour. Many internees were kept in the camps until 1920, two years after the war had officially ended.

To learn more about internment during World War I, refer to the Heritage Community Foundation's When Coal Was King website, on which the following paragraphs appear.

An interned Polish-Canadian, in It's a Miner's Life by J. E. Russell (East Coulee, Alberta: Atlas Coal Mine Historical Society, 1995), described the experience thus:

During World War One, I had to report to the police every month. All Austrian citizens had to do the same… Those who reported regularly had no problems. Those who failed to report were in trouble and were sent to the special labour camps in British Columbia. Once I failed to report to the difficulties authorities for three months. I was having at work. I remember as if it were today. I was coming home from work in the mine. It was midnight, the moon was shining brightly and the night was beautiful. I was thinking that the next morning I would walk the seven miles into town and report to the police. I stopped a moment, looked at the moon and sorrow welled up in me. I said to myself "Oh God, good God, is there anybody in the world who could talk to the angels on behalf of us Poles? Why am I supposed to go there? What for? I am not guilty of anything. I do not owe anyone anything. Austria is not my country.

Waslaw Fridel - Retired Alberta coal miner.
First appearing in Polish Settlers in Alberta (Toronto) 1979. p328

According to Howard Palmer, author of Patterns of Prejudice, A History of Nativism in Alberta, coal miners working in Alberta's Drumheller Valley — individuals deemed "enemy aliens" — faced not only possible imprisonment because of their birthplace, but those naturalized after 1902 were also suddenly disenfranchised under the Wartime Elections Act. The Act passed by Prime Minister Robert Borden's conscriptionist Union government was legislated under the belief that the "foreigners" traditionally voted Liberal and thus, could threaten the victory of Borden's government.

To make conditions even more difficult for any immigrant eastern European coal miner, the passing of the War Measures Act enabled the federal government to take any actions it determine necessary in a time of war. The Drumheller Valley coal miner never posed any actual threat to national security and the passing of such legislation was not done in answer to any "enemy aliens" posing a real threat. It was done mainly as a response to public pressure.

Learn More

Howard Palmer. Patterns of Prejudice, A History of Nativism in Alberta (Toronto) 1982.

The Canadian Encyclopedia's summary of Internment

Palmer, Howard, and Tamara Palmer, eds. Peoples of Alberta: Portraits of Cultural Diversity. Saskatoon: Western Producer Prairie Books, 1985. pp. 8,23,225,251,304

Albertans — Who Do They Think They Are: Germans

Internments During World War II

World War II broke out in 1939. On June 10, 1940, Italy declared war on Canada. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) moved quickly to begin restricting the actions of Italians living in Canada. During the war, over 700 Italian-Canadians were interned. Most of these internees came from the cities of Ontario and Quebec, although some came from Western Canada. Italians in Alberta were forced to register and report on a monthly basis to the RCMP and carry identification cards. They were also not allowed to travel freely and all Italian associations were forced to close.

Although at war with Germany and Austria again, Germans and Austrians in Canada did not suffer as much discrimination as they had during World War I. Instead, hatred and discrimination were directed against Japanesep-Canadians. On December 7, 1941, Japan bombed the American naval base at Pearl Harbor. Canadians were sent into a frenzy of anti-Japanese sentiment. RCMP began arresting Japanese-Canadians in British Columbia — individuals believed to be suspicious.

In February 1942, every person of Japanese origin within a 100-mile radius of the Pacific coast was removed. These people were first sent to Hastings Park in downtown Vancouver. The conditions were awful and many women and children were housed in what used to be livestock stables. Not all of the 20,000 Japanese removed from the coast were interned, however. Even those sent to small settlements in the interior of British Columbia or elsewhere in Canada were forced to carry identification cards, report to the RCMP, and avoid entering cities. Many Japanese-Canadians were sent to internment camps where the men were forced to do hard physical labour on road construction crews. Some people went to southern Alberta to do grueling labour in the sugar beet fields.

The displaced Japanese lived in poor physical conditions. They were often cold and hungry, and they had to do back-breaking labour. There were also schooling problems for Japanese children in internment camps. No level of government was willing to pay for education and the Japanese were forced to pay for it themselves. As a result, many interned Japanese children were unable to finish high school. It was not until 1949 that all of the internment camps were closed and the restrictions on Japanese Canadians lifted: Japanese-Canadians could again vote and live in British Columbia. However, when the Japanese were forced to leave their homes, the government seized much of their property, including fishing boats, houses, and cars and auctioned these possessions off in an attempt to keep the Japanese from returning to British Columbia. Therefore, in 1949, many Japanese-Canadians were left with no home or possessions to return to. Seventy-five percent of the Japanese interned or registered were Canadian citizens.

Making Restitution

After adopting a policy of multiculturalism, the Canadian government began to consider apologizing for its actions. In 1988, Prime Minister Brain Mulroney officially apologized for interning the Japanese, seizing their property, and taking away the rights normally afforded Canadian citizens. The government also compensated people directly involved in events of the war years.

Learn More

Japanese Internment

Albertans — Who Do They Think They Are: Japanese

Japanese-Canadian History: The War Years

Italian Internment

Celebrating Alberta's Italian Community: Internment

Albertasource Website Resources

Albertans — Who Do They Think They Are: Human Rights

Celebrating Alberta's Italian Community: Discrimination

Albertans — Who Do They Think They Are: Nativism

The Famous 5 — Heroes for Today: Status of Women, Citizenship

Celebrating Alberta's Italian Community: Audio

Albertans — Who Do They Think They Are: Racism

Great Alberta Law Cases: Regina vs. Wiebe

Albertans: Undercurrents of Intolerance: Swimming in KKK Waters

Women of Aspenland: Settlement.html

Elders' Voices: Urban Aboriginal Peoples

Albertans: Peak of Controversy in Canmore

Women of Aspenland: Aboriginal and Ethnic Minority Women


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