100 years ago today, Canada’s black battalion set sail for WWI and made history

Part of our history:

They faced racism and discrimination, and they had to fight a battle at home before they could represent Canada in the First World War.

Now families of the so-called black battalion say the soldiers’ struggles carry new relevance, given the state of the world today.

Many black men were rejected from enlisting during the First World War because of the colour of their skin.

In 1916, Canada allowed them to form the No. 2 Construction Battalion based in Pictou, N.S. It was Canada’s first and only segregated military unit. Nearly half of the battalion’s 600 members were from Nova Scotia.

“When they were told ‘This is not your war, this is a white man’s war,’ they were in effect being told ‘This is not your country,” said Douglas Ruck.

‘Wall built of bigotry’

Ruck’s father, the late Senator Calvin Ruck, is credited for bringing the battalion’s untold story to the forefront when he wrote a book about their struggles. Douglas Ruck continues to act as a public speaker, championing their accomplishments.

Douglas Ruck

Douglas Ruck says its unimaginable that the Construction Battalion had to fight to represent a country that didn’t want them. (Carolyn Ray/CBC)

“They were in effect separated by the rest of the forces and the rest of the country by a wall,” said Ruck, drawing parallels to race debates ongoing in the United States.

“A wall built of bigotry, a wall built of prejudice, a wall built of irrational fears, a wall built of hatred.”

Saturday marks the 100th anniversary of the battalion’s departure to Europe. Even getting on the ship was a struggle. They were blocked from getting on their scheduled vessel because they were told they couldn’t travel with white soldiers.

Cultural history

Craig Smith, president of Nova Scotia’s Black Cultural Society, agrees that the timing of this anniversary is significant, coming days after the International Day to Eliminate Racism.

“If there was a time for us to need to come together, for the need for cohesion, the need to bring organizations together, now would be the time,” he said.

“It’s an amazing piece of cultural history in Nova Scotia, not just here, but one that resonates across the country.”

Source: 100 years ago today, Canada’s black battalion set sail for WWI and made history – Nova Scotia – CBC News

Trump Copies the Worst Mistake of FDR – Scott McGaugh, The Daily Beast

Another example of those who forget history …:

Fear and vengeance have again gripped our nation. It’s not the first time that Americans have acted in a most un-American manner when we have been attacked or feel threatened. Throughout our history, we have branded entire ethnic groups as vague-but-dangerous threats. American communities have been forcibly unrooted without due process. Immigrants from China to the Middle East have been banned from our shore, in a passion first captured by Cicero when he wrote, “In times of war, the laws fall silent.”

February 19 marks the 75th anniversary of President Franklin Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066 that ordered the removal of more than 100,000 Japanese Americans from the West Coast in 1942, solely because of their ethnicity. There was no due process. No formal charges. Families were given only a few weeks’ notice to sell their businesses, homes, personal belongings, and even family heirlooms. “Japantowns” from San Diego to Seattle were gutted within a few months.

In this century, the 9/11 attack and jihadist-inspired domestic violence have spawned speculative calls for databases of Muslim Americans and mosque closures. Now President Donald Trump has tried to chaotically banish wide swaths of ethnic immigrants, for fear of unknown enemy combatants who may be among them. Out of fear of the invisible few, President Roosevelt authorized the equivalent 75 years ago this month, in what now is considered one of the darkest chapters of American history. President Trump has stopped short of condemning internment camps, despite national apologies by Presidents Reagan and Bush.

Shamefully, Trump is continuing an American tradition of retribution and vengeance against ethnic groups. When Native Americans were viewed as a threat to white settlement and expansion, tens of thousands were forcibly moved onto more than 300 reservations. Indeed, Cicero proved prescient when our Japanese-American neighbors were sent to internment camps about 65 years later in some of the same desolate regions that had been forced upon Native Americans.

It would serve President Trump and his allies well to reflect on Americans’ treatment of their Japanese-American neighbors in World War II. It was euphemistically called “relocation” and “evacuation” at the time. But the reality was far different. It was hysterical payback. Most victims endured nearly two years in a prison-camp environment of barracks where families lived in a single room. They were surrounded by barbed wire and guarded by armed soldiers, weapons turned inward.

Were they truly the American enemies that some feared—just as President Trump views large swaths of Muslims today?

In 1943, President Roosevelt authorized the segregated Japanese-American 442nd Regimental Combat Team. He asked the sons of those incarcerated and others to volunteer for an army commanded by white officers and to possibly die for their country in Europe and the Pacific. Remarkably, 10,000 volunteers from Hawaii stepped forward. Together with about 1,300 volunteers from the internment camps and draftees, army recruiters were overwhelmed by the response.

The 442nd suffered horrendous casualties on near-suicide missions as it compiled a remarkable war record. Ultimately the 442nd became the most-decorated unit of its size in World War II. One of its battalions, the 100th from Hawaii, brutally earned the moniker “Purple Heart Battalion.” The 442nd ultimately earned more than 18,000 awards for valor, more than one for every man. (Yet Japanese-American soldiers were denied Medals of Honor until President Clinton issued 21 in 2000. Only seven were alive to receive them personally.)

They returned home after the war and some suffered continuing hatred from their neighbors. Yet they endured and rebuilt their lives as parents, teachers, merchants, church leaders, and mechanics. Even though their families had been treated as a faceless, homogenous, and undefined internal threat against America, for the most part Japanese Americans suffered silently as they rose above America’s fear and vengeance.

Today their legacy sounds a cautionary note against partisan political talk of Muslim-American databases, muddled policy statements about Muslim Americans abroad, Muslim immigrant banishment, and the dangers of American mosques.

Today’s sweeping characterizations of Muslim Americans and Middle Eastern immigrants are a dangerous echo of America’s World War II treatment of Japanese Americans, as articulated by Oregon Governor Walter Pierce: “Their [Japanese American] ideals, their racial characteristics, social customs, and their way of life are such that they cannot be assimilated into American communities. They will always remain a people apart, a cause of friction and resentment, and a possible peril to our national safety.”

His statement sounds eerily familiar today. It is a sentiment that continues to sully the American spirit. Fear and vengeance must be stifled if thoughtful and constructive decisions are to be made that intelligently protect America’s national security.

Source: Trump Copies the Worst Mistake of FDR – The Daily Beast

John Ivison: Langevin was a man of his time, not a monster, so don’t take his name off an Ottawa building

While I understand the pressures for renaming, I much prefer keeping the original names but with historical plaques that capture both sides of the legacies of historical figures. There are risks in erasing or forgetting history:

To damn Langevin is not only to judge him with the benefit of 135 years of hindsight but also to ignore the political leadership he showed during his nearly 30 years as a cabinet minister. He was not a monster — he was a man of his time.

Brian Lee Crowley, managing director of the Macdonald Laurier Institute think-tank, was not referring to Langevin in his remarks at a “Canada at 150” dinner Thursday, but he may as well have been.

“It is easy to criticize the past and the decisions made there. But it is a conceit of each and every generation that they alone are free from poor judgments and intellectual shortcomings. Looking solely at our past efforts is not the right standards by which to measure Canada and its great achievements,” he said.

Crowley referred to a recent Angus Reid poll that suggested less than half of 18-24 year olds feel a sense of pride and achievement in this country.

Since Canada’s prominent historical figures are increasingly portrayed as a parcel of racists, homophobes and militarists, is it any wonder?

This country is addressing many of the wrongs that have been wrought and has committed not to repeat them. But that does not require we repudiate our past by renaming every bridge, road and building that bears the name of someone whose actions we now deem ill-advised and unacceptable.

As the American poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou, said: “History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived. But, if faced with courage, it need not be lived again.”

Source: John Ivison: Langevin was a man of his time, not a monster, so don’t take his name off an Ottawa building | National Post

Africville residents carry on fight for compensation 47 years after black community bulldozed in Nova Scotia

Interesting that the 2010 apology and settlement, which did not include any personal compensation, has effectively been challenged by this case.

But as in federal historical recognition, the likely form of compensation is ex gratia payments, as was the case for Japanese Canadian wartime internment (who also lost property) or those Chinese Canadians who paid the entry head tax:

The Supreme Court of Nova Scotia will hear arguments this week about whether to certify a proposed class action lawsuit for dozens of former residents of Africville, the black community in north-end Halifax that in 1969 was cleared of its residents and demolished to make room for industrial development.

The destruction of the site, especially the Seaview United Baptist Church that had stood there for over a century, is widely regarded as a shameful symbol of the treatment of black Nova Scotians, many of whom had fled slavery in America.

“I’m hoping for a settlement,” said Flemming Vemb, a plaintiff and former resident who recalls being forced out of the four-bedroom house on the waterfront where his father had tried to build a dry dock, but was refused permission by the city. “It was an abrupt thing,” he said of his family’s removal from their home.

After years of slow negotiations and growing awareness of the historical outrage, in 2010 then Halifax mayor Peter Kelly signed off on an almost $5-million compensation deal, from three levels of government, which included an apology. As a result, a replica of the church has been built and a park established on the site.

Library and Archives Canada

Library and Archives CanadaThe destruction of Africville, especially the Seaview United Baptist Church that had stood there for over a century, is widely regarded as a shameful symbol of the treatment of black Nova Scotians.

“We apologize for the heartache experienced at the loss of the Seaview United Baptist Church, the spiritual heart of the community, removed in the middle of the night. We acknowledge the tremendous importance the church had, both for the congregation and the community as a whole,” Kelly said.

That deal involved no personal compensation and no admission of liability by Halifax, however, and it led to discord, with some plaintiffs saying the settlement was signed over their objections.

The lawsuit is led by the Africville Genealogy Society, which represents the estates of 48 former residents whose identities are known, as well as those who are as yet unknown.

The lawsuit was filed in 1996, the same year Africville was designated a National Historic Site. It includes nearly 40 plaintiffs who are still alive, and families of many more who have died, who claim they were not compensated for the loss of their lands. Many of the named plaintiffs are related, with Carvery, Flint, Izzard and Vemb especially common surnames.

As a judge put it, they claim “Halifax is liable to the former residents and their descendants for a broad array of tortious conduct and breaches of contract over the span of the community’s existence.”

U.S. owes black people reparations for a history of ‘racial terrorism,’ says U.N. panel – The Washington Post

Others have argued differently Black Lives Matter is ‘woke’ to old problems — but still sleeping on solutions – The Washington Post):

Reparations presents the most acute challenge. This sounds sensible enough, but a thoroughly “woke” person might say black America has already received reparations.

They’re not called “reparations,” of course, but that’s just an issue of terminology. Affirmative Action has been reparations; the 1977 Community Reinvestment Act battling redlining was reparations; the original intent of No Child Left Behind was to identify disparities between black and other children in scholarly achievement and therefore qualified by definition as reparations; in the late 1960s, nationwide, at the behest of the National Welfare Rights Organization and other movements, welfare programs were reformed to make payments easier to get. This, too, was a form of reparations.

The UN-affiliated group in contrast:

The history of slavery in the United States justifies reparations for African Americans, argues a recent report by a U.N.-affiliated group based in Geneva.

This conclusion was part of a study by the United Nations’ Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, a body that reports to the international organization’s High Commissioner on Human Rights. The group of experts, which includes leading human rights lawyers from around the world, presented its findings to the United Nations Human Rights Council on Monday, pointing to the continuing link between present injustices and the dark chapters of American history.

“In particular, the legacy of colonial history, enslavement, racial subordination and segregation, racial terrorism and racial inequality in the United States remains a serious challenge, as there has been no real commitment to reparations and to truth and reconciliation for people of African descent,” the report stated. “Contemporary police killings and the trauma that they create are reminiscent of the past racial terror of lynching.”

Citing the past year’s spate of police officers killing unarmed African American men, the panel warned against “impunity for state violence,” which has created, in its words, a “human rights crisis” that “must be addressed as a matter of urgency.”

Source: U.S. owes black people reparations for a history of ‘racial terrorism,’ says U.N. panel – The Washington Post

Reflecting on the Canadian government’s apology to Japanese-Canadians | Paul Kariya

28 years after, Kariya, one of the negotiators for the apology, reflects:

What heinous crime was committed that necessitated such harsh treatment with no recourse to justice?  The War Measures Act was employed to infringe human rights and property title and brand these people enemy aliens.  Although the cloak of national security was used to justify the government actions, no evidence has ever been found of sabotage or espionage on the part of any Japanese-Canadian.

 Canada was at war with Japan, Italy and Germany. But the same actions were not taken against all residents of Italian and German descent.  Why Japanese-Canadians?  The instigation and motivation was racism and economic opportunism led by a small number of politicians and other interest groups who used the Second World War as a cover to whip up hysteria and manipulate government to destroy a vibrant, peaceful and contributing community.

Only a few institutions of society opposed the mass uprooting, suggesting it was wrong and unjust.  Municipal governments, political parties, labour unions, service clubs and mainstream churches either led the charge or passively stood by.  Only the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation Party and some evangelical churches said it was wrong.

Could this happen again?  I don’t think so. The Japanese-Canadian community helped draft the emergency Measures Act (successor to the War Measures Act) and today we have a Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  But as we see in the current U.S. election campaign, the ugliness of racism can emerge in seemingly legitimate circumstances.

The only other group of people treated racially in this manner in B.C. with far more devastating impacts and horrors were First Nations peoples.  And despite progress in health, education and economic development, are we really dealing with the very difficult fundamental subject that a past mentor, the late James Gosnell, Nisga’a leader, named 40 years ago, as “the Land Question.”

My father and mother never got their house, fishing boat or possessions back.  The Custodian of Enemy Alien Property was supposed to keep all confiscated private properties in trust for later return, but instead these were almost all immediately sold off.  It was heart breaking to have my father point out to a twelve year old me, “that boat named Marine K used to be ours.”

In 1988 symbolic individual compensation of $21,000 was awarded to surviving internees. But of course, title, property, possessions, lives and communities could not be returned.

I expect reconciliation with First Nations in B.C. will not see all former lands and resources returned. But we can pick up the pace to resolve the injustices through negotiation.

Let me say, I have never felt prouder to be a Canadian than when Prime Minister Brian Mulroney turned to us in the House of Commons Gallery that September day in 1988 and introduced us Japanese-Canadians and then proceeded to read the government’s apology.

Source: Reflecting on the Canadian government’s apology to Japanese-Canadians | Vancouver Sun

The Devouring: It’s time to recognize Roma genocide

Gina Csanyi-Robah, Robert Eisenberg and Vahan Kololian on the Roma:

A slaughter that in many ways paralleled both the Armenian genocide perpetrated by the Ottoman Empire in 1915-16 as well as the Jewish Holocaust. August 2 is the official date designated by the worldwide Roma community to commemorate the Devouring. So why have so few people heard of it?

Unlike Jewish history and what has become the best recorded genocide of the modern era, the Devouring is still little known. While the history of the Roma genocide has been passed on orally through the generations, only recently has there been a movement to record this tragic history. Following the war the Roma community was so devastated it took 60 years to rebuild.

As a result, estimates of the number of Roma killed by the Nazis vary significantly, ranging between 250,000 and 1.5 million. Dr. Ian Hancock of the University of Texas, a world renowned expert on the Roma genocide suggests “… of the estimated 20,000 Romanies in Germany in 1939, fully three quarters had been murdered by 1945. Of the 11,200 in Austria, a half were murdered. Of the 50,000 in Poland, 35,000. In Croatia, Estonia, the Netherlands, Lithuania and Luxembourg, almost the entire Romani populations were eradicated.”

And there are many more in the field of genocide studies who have supported Dr. Hancock’s theory. Indeed, it is telling that the only country at this point that has recognized the Devouring as a legitimate genocide is Germany.

Like Eastern European Jews, they were designated as Untermenschen, unworthy of life. Along with the Jews, they were rounded up from their nomadic villages and thrown onto cattle cars destined for death camps. Indeed, it is said that Roma and Jews walked hand in hand into the gas chambers of Auschwitz.

The designation of genocide has always been emotionally charged. Motivated by both the Armenian genocide and the Holocaust, international legalist Raphael Lemkin coined the term to give specific meaning to the systemic and systematic murder of an entire people. Today, the United Nations genocide convention, which has universal acceptance, defines it as “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.”

If denoting genocide is emotionally charged, its political ramifications can be even greater. The Armenian community struggled long and hard to have Canada finally recognize their tragedy. Threatened economic and diplomatic repercussions from Turkey – which has steadfastly refused to accept the slaughter – were lodged with Canadian authorities when it discussed recognition in Parliament. Nonetheless in 2004, the Parliament of Canada began the process that was completed two years later by the Harper government with full recognition.

The Roma community in Canada, indeed worldwide, has neither the clout in government nor the institutional presence necessary to convince governments to recognize the Devouring. Sadly, global systemic discrimination was also a key factor for ignoring their history. Indeed, to this day the Roma, especially in Eastern Europe, remain persecuted targets of neo-Nazi and other extreme right-wing groups. However, time has certainly come for this recognition.

We lost Elie Wiesel last month, a Nobel laureate and a chronicler of the Holocaust. Mr. Wiesel once wisely noted: “Without memory, there is no culture. Without memory, there would be no civilization, no society, no future.”

Source: The Devouring: It’s time to recognize Roma genocide – The Globe and Mail

Viola Desmond’s ‘singular act of courage’ paid tribute with Halifax ferry named for civil rights pioneer

Good person to recognize:

A black businesswoman whose contribution to the civil rights struggle in Canada went largely unrecognized for decades has begun to assume her rightful place as a national hero, according to historians.

On Thursday the city of Halifax launched a new harbour ferry named for Viola Desmond, whose simple act of defiance nearly 70 years ago exposed the injustice of racial segregation in her home province and elsewhere in Canada.

Handout / AFP / Getty Images

Handout / AFP / Getty ImagesDesmond is on the short list of potential women to be the first featured on a Canadian banknote, due to be issued in 2018.

It’s the latest in a growing list of tributes for Desmond, who was briefly jailed in November, 1946, for sitting in a whites-only section of a segregated movie theatre in New Glasgow, N.S. A stamp was recently issued in her honour, and Desmond is also among the candidates to become the first woman featured on a Canadian banknote.

Graham Reynolds, a history professor at Cape Breton University, said Desmond’s story has gained more prominence over the past decade — in particular since 2010 when the Nova Scotia government apologized and granted a special pardon to Desmond, who died in 1965.

“There has been a tremendous raising of public awareness,” said Reynolds, the university’s Viola Desmond Chair in Social Justice. “More so in Nova Scotia, but she does have national stature.”

Desmond, who sold beauty products, was on a business trip to Sydney, N.S., when her car broke down. She decided to kill time while it was being repaired by attending a movie at the Roseland Theatre in New Glasgow.

Reynolds said Desmond, who had vision problems and wanted to be closer to the screen, would not have automatically assumed that the main section was whites-only. He said there was no legal underpinnings for segregation in Canada, where segregation became the norm under the principle of freedom of commerce.

She wasn’t an activist, she was a citizen that faced a situation and had the courage to stand up and resist

“In Canada … the practice of racial segregation was really a matter of local business practices,” he said.

Police were eventually brought in by management and Desmond was forcibly removed after refusing to leave her seat and she subsequently spent the night in jail.

She was eventually convicted of defrauding the province of a penny, which was the difference in price between the main seating area and the balcony. Desmond paid a $20 fine in addition to the theatre’s $6 court costs.

But her fight didn’t end there. Desmond returned to Halifax, where she rallied the black community to help her launch an appeal of her conviction.

However, that effort went down to defeat when the Nova Scotia Supreme Court dismissed an application for judicial review in 1947. Desmond eventually left Nova Scotia and died in New York City at the age of 50.

Source: Viola Desmond’s ‘singular act of courage’ paid tribute with Halifax ferry named for civil rights pioneer | National Post

B.C. Japanese-Canadian internment-camp photos offer glimpses of normalcy in traumatic times

Good exhibit and reminder:

The black and white picture shows teenage girls posing for the camera with their clothes neatly pressed, their hair in perfect movie-star pin curls, but the background of a dilapidated Second World War internment camp doesn’t fit the image.

That paradox is one of the reasons Carla Ayukawa donated her mother’s photo album to the Canadian War Museum. The pictures document some of Michiko Ishii’s young life in a Japanese Canadian internment camp in southeastern British Columbia.

“These four girls, they’re all posing, but what are they standing in front of? It’s not a movie theatre or some kind of arcade, it’s a shack,” said Ayukawa. “It’s the irony of what’s going on around them and they’re still continuing on as teenagers.”


After Japan entered the Second World War in December, 1941, Michiko Ishii, known as Midge, her family and thousands of other Japanese Canadians were forcibly moved from coastal B.C. to internment camps.

Their houses, businesses and belongings were sold to pay for their upkeep.

News photos of the day show a bleak picture of people behind wire fences or boarding trains or trucks bound for the camps. But Midge’s photo collection of the Lemon Creek interment camp shows a different side of life that her daughter said needs to be viewed by a wider audience.

“These are good photos, such that they depict a very ordinary – or extraordinary – environment, for everyday people,” she said. “It’s not just about soldiers and guns and vehicles and war scenes. These are another dimension of the war.”

Carla Ayukawa points out Michiko in the album.

Source: B.C. internment-camp photos offer glimpses of normalcy in traumatic times – The Globe and Mail

Terry Glavin: The real story of the Komagata Maru

Terry Glavin provides additional historical and broader context:

It’s true that many, if not most, of the passengers later disavowed any seditious intent, but telling the story the way Trudeau told it does a grave disservice to the memory of the brave radicals who organized the Komagata Maru enterprise, from the outset, in the cause of India’s freedom.

A quixotic propaganda-of-the-deed collaboration between the Socialist Party of Canada and the revolutionary Ghadar Movement, the explicit purpose of the effort was to mount a legal challenge to the “continuous passage” immigration regulations that India’s British overlords had persuaded Ottawa to adopt to stem the flight of pro-independence Indian militants to Canada. The larger aim was to bolster the ranks of insurrectionists plotting India’s emancipation from the relative safety of North America or, failing that, to expose the cruel hoax of equal citizenship in the British Empire, first asserted by the Empress of India, Queen Victoria herself, more than a half-century earlier.

The slogan of the Komagata Maru campaign’s organizers was not: “We choose Canada, please be nice to us.” It was: “What is our name? Mutiny. What is our work? Mutiny.” This was a specific reference to the 1857 Indian insurrection known as the Sepoy Rebellion, named after the British Empire’s native soldiers in India, known as sepoys. In the Urdu language, “mutiny” is “ghadar.”

Ghadar Movement leaders saw to the organization of the ship’s voyage, led the “shore committee” activities while the ship was waylaid in Burrard Inlet, and eventually provided arms to Komagata Maru’s passengers during their stopover in Yokohama on the return journey to Kolkata. In the days after its forced departure from Vancouver Harbour, Ghadarite propaganda aimed at Vancouver’s Indian expatriates was explicit: “Go to your country and set up a rebellion at once.” Even before the ship weighed anchor and headed out to sea, the Socialist Party’s H.M. Fitzgerald was exhorting Vancouver’s Sikhs to heed the Ghadarite call and return to India to take up the fight. Within two years, half of British Columbia’s roughly 2,000 Sikhs had done just that.

The Socialist Party provided the Komagata Maru’s legal defence in Vancouver, which was no small affront to “progressive” thinking at the time. British Columbia’s labour movement and left-wing leadership had been rife with racist hooliganism ever since B.C.’s assortment of socialist leagues and union councils coalesced into the Provincial Progressive Party in 1902. Fractious and comically sectarian, the one thing the party delegates firmly agreed on at their founding convention was that Asian immigrants should be barred from Canada.

All this is not to say that the Komagata Maru passengers were not treated abysmally, or that none of the passengers intended to settle peacefully in Canada, or that they were not subjected to racist immigration rules, or that Canada has nothing to apologize for, or that the passengers were not unjustly denied permission to disembark in Vancouver. But to cast them all in the role of “victims,” as Trudeau put it, commits an indignity against the truth and dishonours the cause of Indian freedom to which the Ghadarites and their eccentric, ahead-of-their-time socialist friends were so passionately committed. Parliamentary apologies are all well and good, but a formal House of Commons’ acknowledgment of their bravery would have been a more worthy tribute.

During his apology for Canada’s role in the Komagata Maru affair last week, Trudeau said this: “When we make mistakes, we must apologize, and recommit ourselves to doing better.”

This is a fine sentiment. We might also hope that committing ourselves to being a bit more honest about Canada’s past, rather than just putting history to the purpose of making ourselves appear so much better than our forebears, should be something to strive for, too.

Source: Terry Glavin: The real story of the Komagata Maru | National Post