1918: Raid and Internment

By S. Holyck Hunchuck and Peter Moore, as published in the Industrial Worker

On May Day 1918, 18 men identified by the local newspaper Ottawa Citizen as members of the “notorious IWW” were arrested during a meeting at 268 Rochester Street, meeting hall of Nove zhyttia, the Ukrainian Social Democratic Party of Canada.

The arrested men included travelling lumberjack and brewer Petro Haideychuk, brewer Nicholas Mucciy, shoemaker Paul Shawliak, labourer Yuri Skypnychuk, and Toronto-based IWW organizer Stefan Waskan. Their ages ranged from 18 to 53.

The IWW in Ottawa agitated against child labour, Canada’s war-time ally the Russian Czar and the war, demanded bread or work in street demonstrations, and advocated the creation of public works programs and the end of exploitative immigration policies in the predominantly francophone and anglophone Canadian capital.

The arrests came as part of systematic surveillance and harassment of radicals across Canada by federal and local authorities during the First World War (1914-1918). Canada passed Orders-in-Council that targeted Enemy Aliens, especially those from the Austro-Hungarian Empire. This Empire included a fifth of today’s Ukraine.

The Orders were in effect decrees that bypassed Canada’s elected officials, granting police extraordinary powers of seizure, destruction of property, arrest, detention, forced relocation, internment and deportation. The government interned about 8,000 people during World War One, two-thirds of whom were Ukrainian immigrants, a minority in Canada.

During the raid, police confiscated the branch’s library, files, musical instruments, theatrical costumes and even sheet music, which probably were destroyed. The men arrested, all immigrants, were sent to an internment camp in Kapuskasing in northern Ontario. It was a remote forced labour camp with the worst reputation among the 24 camps. Tasks included draining swamps, building roads, and logging in the Canadian winter. Private and government corporations enlisted this slave labour for their own profit.

“(Internment) was easy in Ottawa, pretty bloody hard in Kapuskasing,” said Canadian historian Desmond Morton.

Stefan Waskan was the only man arrested who escaped the internment camp, because he was a Canadian citizen and British subject. Orders-in-Council had stripped immigrants naturalized after 1902 of their citizenship, making them vulnerable to harassment, deportation, and internment.

On September 24, 1918, months after the Ottawa raid, the Canadian government banned the Industrial Workers of the World. Thirteen other primarily ethnic radical organizations were made illegal. Maximum sentence for IWW membership or affiliation with banned organizations was five years.

World War One ended on November 11, 1918, but the Kapuskasing prisoners were held into October 2, 1919. Petro Haideichuk, Nicholas Mucciy, Paul Shawliak, and Yuri Skypnychuk returned to Ottawa and began to organize in 1920 a branch of the Ukrainian Labour Temple Association, which affiliated with the Communist Party of Canada in 1924.

There is no record of what happened to the other thirteen Kapuskasing survivors or whether the IWW was revived in Ottawa. Today’s Ottawa-Outaouais General Membership Branch was chartered in November 15, 1993.

SOURCES: Articles typed in full or in part from Le Droit, Ottawa Journal, Ottawa Evening Journal, and the Ottawa Citizen. Please read these articles with a grain of salt – with World War I hysteria, it is possible these “IWWs” were never members.