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Interned Without Cause, by Peter Krawchuk


Each prisoner who was a citizen of Canada had the right to express in writing to the Minister of Justice his objection to his internment. Having received such objections the Ministry informed the internee why he had been imprisoned and enumerated the charges against him. At the same time the Ministry notified the internee when his case would be heard before the commission. The prisoner had the right to retain a lawyer for himself. However, the Ministry did not permit an accused to call witnesses who might prove his innocence. The commission based the charges against the internees on complaints by the RCMP. Even if the commission were to recommend the release of an internee, the Minister of Justice had the right to ignore its proposal and further detain the prisoner in camp. Thus the fate of an internee depended upon the Minister of Justice or, in reality, upon the RCMP.

When the group of antifascists from Winnipeg were interned they immediately protested. They were heard by Judge Haymen. He dealt very quickly with the antifascists' hearings; he put to them three or four questions which essentially did not have any relationship to the charges. His favourite questions were "What do you think about Stalin?" and "Do you approve of the system in Russia?"

He did not give the prisoners any opportunity to state their views on the question asked but resolutely demanded, "Answer yes or no!"

Judge Haymen tried psychologically to terrorize the faint of heart. To do so he selected persons who were not strong physically, and particularly those who had family problems. He thus picked on Michael Sawiak who even long before his internment had been seriously ill and suffered great material hardship at home.

After the hearings all antifascists except three (Nick Krechmarowsky, John Protsak and Jim Petrash) immediately received from the Ministry of Justice notification that "it was necessary further to detain them in camp". There was talk going around that Judge Haymen had proposed releasing the ailing Michael Sawiak and two other antifascists. The Minister of Justice ignored this recommendation, however, and for many long months the three remained behind barbed wire. Thus from June, 1940, to July 21, 1941, while we were in Kananaskis, not a single antifascist was released from the camp.

However, the matter was quite otherwise for the Germans. Even before the internment of the antifascists in the concentration camp at Kananaskis many Germans were released, among whom was Doctor F. Schneider from Lockport, Man., a great landowner whom the Hitlerite government had appointed as its representative in negotiations with the Manitoba government with regards to the sale of machinery and the purchase of oil. He was released through the patronage of Manitoba Premier John Bracken because he was a personal friend. True, due to strong protests by members of the Canadian Legion, he was interned and put in the camp anew.

We were witnesses to the release of German Nazis. Every day during roll call, near me stood a wealthy farmer from the vicinity of Ottawa who did not hide his Nazi opinions and demonstrated his anti-semitism. His wife was reportedly working in the Dominion Bureau of Statistics. One day he vanished from camp. He had been set free. His release was afterwards explained by noting that, as it were, the road from the Dominion Bureau of Statistics to the Ministry of Justice was indeed not long.


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