Mr. Speaker, it is an honour today to rise in the House of Commons in a most historic moment. This is a moment when we are on the soon to be election trail, yet all sides of the House have agreed to the importance of Bill C-331.
I rise today to address this important and unfortunate chapter in Canadian history.
Bill C-331 is an act to recognize the injustice that was done to persons of Ukrainian descent who were interned at the time of the first world war. It will provide for public commemoration and for redress devoted to public education and the promotion of tolerance.
I would like to thank my colleague, the Conservative member for Dauphin—Swan River—Marquette, for not only presenting the bill, but for holding the torch high for the people of Ukrainian descent to ensure redress became a reality and to right this historic wrong.
Today in the House of Commons I will concur with what the member across the way from Winnipeg North said. Tonight we need to ensure that the bill is passed, signed, sealed and delivered for the good of our Canadian history and for the good of the people of Ukrainian descent in our country.
Between 1914 and 1920 thousands of loyal Canadians were systematically arrested and interned in 24 camps throughout the country simply because of their national origin. This happened because at the outset of the first world war the western Ukraine was occupied by the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and at that time Canada was at war with Austria-Hungary.
In the midst of wartime hysteria, people of Ukrainian descent were automatically connected to Austria-Hungary and were deemed to be a threat to our nation. This was a gross mistake that would prove to place a black mark on our Canadian history.
In actual fact, many of the Ukrainian Canadians fled their homeland and were refugees of Canada's wartime enemy, and were not enemies of Canada at all. They were loyal British subjects, allies of our wartime cause. In fact, many who were interned were born in Canada, but bore the wrong name.
When interned, men, women and children were forced to perform hard labour and live in their own homeland of Canada under very trying circumstances.
We cannot rewrite history. Nor can we change the fact that this injustice occurred. However, as heirs of our society we can acknowledge injustice and we can ensure that never again will this be allowed to happen on our Canadian soil.
Again, commend the member for Dauphin—Swan River—Marquette for his perseverance, for holding his torch high to ensure that this injustice was corrected. To his great efforts, I commend my colleague for his perseverance and for him being able to witness tonight this historic event where all members on all sides of the House will join together to ensure that Bill C-331 is acclaimed.
Our modern history will mark its pages with the heroes of the Orange revolution in Ukraine. It is the recent history that will mark the people of Ukraine and the people of Ukrainian descent in Canada.
I spent my last Christmas in eastern Ukraine in Luhansk, helping with the election which was eventually won by Yuschenko. The beautiful countryside that spread out just 30 kilometres from the Russian border housed the courageous residents of Ukraine. These were people who wanted one thing. They wanted to be able to vote for the leader of their country and vote for whomever they wanted.
I grew to love the people and admire their hard work and dedication to their country. I was amazed when I walked the streets of Kiev and visited with the many people undergoing hardship, again to ensure they sent a message to their government that they wanted to be free to vote for whomever they chose.
The people of Ukraine became the heroes and the leaders of the world because they accomplished something no other nation had been able to achieve, the right to independence, the freedom to vote for whomever they wanted, without shedding one drop of blood.
The people of Ukraine have become my heroes because they are an example to the rest of the world. They are an example of the perseverance that we have seen from the member for Dauphin--Swan River--Marquette. They are an example of the perseverance, the good heart and the hard work that it takes to make things happen.
Under the tents in Kiev, many people underwent hardship, but they had a vision for their country, the same as today where members on all sides of the House have a vision for this bill.
Today in the riding of Kildonan--St. Paul, leaders in Ukrainian communities such as Lesia Swaluk and Ostap Skrypnyk, do much to enhance and support the Ukrainian community, not only in my riding but in my province of Manitoba and throughout the world. They too are part of the courageous heritage that holds the banner high, a heritage that is an example not only to our nation but to the global community.
I support Bill C-311, the Ukrainian Canadian restitution act, and I am proud to do so. In these turbulent times in the House of Commons, we are able to come together for a common good, and that common good has a leader in the member for Dauphin--Swan River--Marquette who has done much to ensure that the leadership had a very conciliatory genre to it, so in the end this could happen.
It is a miracle, as he said a little earlier, that there has been unanimous consent on all sides of the House to ensure that the bill is passed in the House of Commons and that the Ukrainian Canadian restitution act will give due respect and diligence to the people of Ukrainian descent who were put through so much trauma during the first world war.
This is a good thing tonight. We can all hold our heads high. This will mark the fact that many immigrants and many people who have come to Canada have made up the mosaic of our great nation.
It is with much pride that I have had the opportunity to speak to the bill. I congratulate all members of the House on its success.