24. THE STRUGGLE FOR RELEASE
The struggle to release the interned antifascists in internment camps Kananaskis and Petawawa started in the first days of their exile behind barbed wire. The wives and mothers of the prisoners initiated the campaign. At first they believed that they would succeed in freeing the internees after the commission's hearings, so they retained a lawyer to defend them.
However, as has already been mentioned above, those hearings which, for example, took place in Kananaskis were merely a farce and parody of any semblance of a fair trail. The judge (at first the commission comprised one judge) accused an internee not of a crime committed against the state but of the possibility that he might commit a crime if he remained free. All charges, therefore, were stuck together from hypotheses based on groundless conjecture. By the way, at the hearing the commissioner would put questions to the interned antifascist which had no relation to the case whatsoever, but which were of an abstract nature.
When not one of the antifascists went free from Internment Camp Kananaskis, the mothers and children of the internees initiated a public campaign to release their dear ones from behind barbed wire. The struggle was supported by the underground Communist Party of Canada and other progressive organizations, particularly the electrical and seamen's unions, because their leaders and activists were in Internment Camp Petawawa.
At the beginning the campaign to release the antifascists from Petawawa and Kananaskis was restricted to sending letters to the Ministry of Justice in Ottawa. But in Ottawa they put those letters into some "dead letter box" or they restricted themselves to laconic answers confirming receipt of the letters.
Even so the struggle did not stop. On the contrary, it acquired even greater renown and concerted, resolute actions. At the end of March, 1941, a delegation of internees' wives was organized which went to Ottawa to present to the government their demand for the release their husbands from the concentration camps. The delegation included fifteen wives of interned antifascists: Jenny Freed, Bessy Holwell, Stella Chopowick, and I. McEwen from Toronto, Kay Magnuson from Port Arthur, Mary Prokop and Helen Krechmarowsky from Winnipeg, R.S. Murray from Halifax, T. H. McManus from Regina, H. Richard, D. Sinclair, J. Bourget and J.C. Chapman from Montreal, R. Billings (Bilinsky) from Timmins, and M. Huculak from Windsor.
The delegation spokesman was Norman Penner the son of Jacob Penner, the interned communist alderman for Winnipeg. The delegation brought to Ottawa a memorandum which contained argumentation about the unlawful internment of the antifascists as well as a demand for their immediate release.
From various cities of Canada, the delegation arrived on March 30, 1941. They wanted to meet with the Minister of Justice Ernest Lapointe, the same person who had signed the orders to intern the antifascists. At first, however, he refused to receive the delegation. The chairman of the special parliamentary committee and the secretary of the Ministry of Justice told the delegation to leave the memorandum with them and return home. Nonetheless, the delegation resolved to remain in Ottawa and to try to obtain a meeting with the Minister of Justice. Individual members of the delegation met with members of parliament and representatives of the press. They informed them of the contents of the memorandum. The case became ever more public.
On Monday, March 31, the delegation met with 16 members of parliament and recounted the aim of their coming to Ottawa. Unexpectedly telegrams started coming to Ottawa from public organizations, trade unions and individuals in all corners of Canada. The telegrams demanded that the government receive the delegation and listen to its presentation. The daily press and the Canadian radio network discussed the delegation and its demand. All this forced the government to change its mind.
The delegation received notification that on the morning of Wednesday, April 2, the special parliamentary committee would receive them and in the afternoon of the same day the Minister of Justice Ernest Lapointe. The audiences were short and formal. They promised the delegation that their presentation "would be taken into consideration". Though the delegation was not given any concrete assurances, it was no small victory because the public had forced the government to listen to their case, and the mass media, which until then had been silent, discussed it.
The delegation delivered to the Ministry of Justice a document in which were enumerated these demands:
Immediately after the delegation's visit to Ottawa a brochure "They Fought For Labor Now Interned" was published in which was recounted in detail the delegation's activity in Ottawa. In the brochure were published the memorandum presented to the Minister of Justice, a list of all interned and imprisoned antifascists, some of the wives' letters to their interned husbands and short biographies of several interned antifascists (Jacob Penner, John Naviziwsky, William Taylor, Andrew Bileski, Bruce Magnuson and others).
Day after day, week after week, month after month passed, but the authorities in Ottawa had no intention of releasing the antifascists from Internment Camp Kananaskis. So it continued until June 22, 1941, until the invasion of the Soviet Union by Hitler's Germany.
Some hope of our quick release now began to grow in our friends, relatives and ourselves. Our friendly relations with the Soviet Union, which till that time had had a non-aggression pact with Germany, had been the first accusation directed against us. But now that the Soviet Union had become an ally of Canada in the battle against Hitlerite Germany this sham charge should have fallen away automatically.
But those illusions, which for a certain time grew in us and our friends and relatives, swiftly dissipated when we saw that that charge had only been a screen with which the authorities had covered up the real reason for our internment our activity in the Canadian labour movement which was hostile to the ruling class. Our observations were completely confirmed by the further actions of the Canadian authorities with regard to the interned antifascists.
True, the new political situation gave the struggle for our release new and more powerful impetus, making it even bigger.
From the letters which we received from the outside we learned about public meetings which occurred in various localities, where those present passed resolutions demanding our immediate release.
In Canada was formed the National Council For Democratic Rights, which was headed by A.E. Smith who, until the Second World War, had been leader of the Canadian Labour Defence League which defended the victims of the class struggle in Canada, cared for political prisoners and their families, and fought against the deportation of the unemployed to countries with fascist regimes (Germany, Poland, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria).
Through the efforts of the National Council For Democratic Rights, a public meeting for the release of antifascists in internment camps and prisons was held in Winnipeg on March 10. At the meeting Winnipeg school board trustee Joe Zuken, Manitoba MLA William Kardash, and the wife of trade union activist Jock MacNeil spoke.
A second meeting took place in Winnipeg on November 16. Six hundred people attended. The general secretary of the National Council For Democratic Rights, A.E. Smith, spoke.
In a letter to her interned husband, Mary Prokop wrote that in Walker Theatre (Winnipeg) there was a mass meeting on July 25. The spacious hall was filled with people. The well-known lawyer J. McMurray, trade union activist Robert McCutcheon, and Judge L.C. Stubbs spoke. The speakers and participants demanded the release of the interned antifascists.
In Winnipeg in December another meeting was held in the Hebrew Sick Benefit Auditorium, in which more than 900 people took part (more than 200 were forced to return home for lack of room). Those present strongly protested the further detainment of antifascists in internment camps. Robert McCutcheon, lawyer Steve Sawula, A.E. Smith, Michael Ukas and William Kardash spoke at the meeting. Joe Forkin chaired the meeting. Similar meetings occurred in Point Douglas and in the Polish Labour Temple. At all the meetings resolutions were passed by those present and were sent to the authorities in Ottawa.
I would like to note the role that the newspaper "Ukrainian Life" played in the fight for our release from the camps and prisons. The paper began publishing in August, 1941, in Toronto. So that it would not fall to the reactionaries and the authorities, "Ukrainian Life" was silent on the matter of the interned antifascists for sometime. However, after a month, on September 18 the newspaper reprinted the "Toronto Daily Star" editorial of September 13 in which there was sharp criticism of the Ottawa authorities for the continued detention in Internment Camp Hull of trade union activist Clarence Jackson, director of the United Electrical Workers.
On October 2, the paper "Ukrainian Life" ran, under the headline "Hold the Fort For We Are Coming", a reprint of a letter by Jennie Freed, wife of interned Norman Freed, from the September 27 "Toronto Daily Star". She wrote that the wives of interned antifascists had tried to visit their husbands in Internment Camp Hull but the guards had driven them away from the prison building. They had even been forbidden to wave their hands in greeting to their husbands who were crowded around the prison windows.
In the letter Jenny Freed wrote that the internees' wives had sent Prime Minister Mackenzie King a telegram protesting against the further unjust detention of their husbands and sons and all other antifascists in Hull Jail. They protested against the denial of the right to relatives to visit the internees, which made the hardship and the grief of separation even more severe.
Commenting on this letter, the newspaper "The Toronto Daily Star" wrote in the same issue that the Minister of Justice, Ernest Lapointe, who had not even answered the wives' telegram and who continued to detain the enemies of Nazism in prison, was answerable for much that had happened in connection with the internments, which would not look good in history and which was not to the honour of Canada as a democratic country.
On November 13, "Ukrainian Life" published the full text (in English) of a memorandum of a Ukrainian delegation which presented the document to the Minister of Justice on September 29. The memorandum said that at the very same time that the government was applying unjust measures against Ukrainian antifascists and had confiscated their property, it had honoured the Ukrainian friends of Hitler and Mussolini and had handed over into their disposition the Ukrainian Labour Temples in a series of localities.
The delegation demanded the suspension of the ban on the Ukrainian Labour-Farmer Temple Association and the return of its confiscated property to the rightful owners. In addition to Michael Dushnitsky and Alexander Melnychenko, included in the delegation were Drummond Wren, general secretary of the Workers Educational Association and Fern Sales, a member of the city council of Crowland and a United Church minister.
Parallel to the struggle for the release of the interned antifascists, the fight for the legalization of progressive associations and newspapers was being conducted.
On December 25, 1941, "Ukrainian Life" published letters by Mary and Peter Prokop and photos of interned Ukrainian antifascists: John Naviziwsky, Mathew Shatuisky, Peter Prokop, John Boychuk, Andrew Bileski, John Dubno, Mike Biniowsky, and Peter Krawchuk.
In 1942 the struggle for our release was significantly strengthened when large segments of the Canadian public joined in. The matter was discussed even from the parliamentary rostrums in Ottawa.
On February 22 and 23, 1942, the National Conference For Democratic Rights was held at the Chateau Laurier in Ottawa. One hundred and seventy-three delegates participated. They represented 43 trade unions and 44 different public organizations. There were 20 noted public figures, 11 wives of interned antifascists, 6 lawyers and 2 journalists. The delegates represented more than 140,000 organized people in trade unions, cultural, educational, civic and political organizations. Delegates arrived at the conference from 31 cities from Montreal to Vancouver.
At the public meeting which was called by the conference, speeches were delivered by the general secretary of the National Council For Democratic Rights A.E. Smith, members of parliament Dorise Nielsen and William [Victor?SHP] Quelch, and lawyers John Kerry, Nigel Morgan and O. Vallieres.
On Wednesday, February 25, a delegation of 25 persons headed by A.E. Smith delivered a memorandum to the Minister of Justice Louis St. Laurent in which it was stated:
The memorandum concluded with the words:
The authorities in Ottawa were compelled to retreat from their hard line under the tremendous pressure of large segments of the Canadian public. First, visits by relatives with their interned husbands and sons in Hull Jail were allowed. Also some improvements were made' in the living conditions of the interned antifascists.At the end of 1941 several antifascists were freed from Hull Jail. At the beginning of 1942 the release of antifascists increased in frequency, first the sick being let go, then the "less dangerous". By the middle of September all antifascists were released from Hull Jail. The camp was disbanded.
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