Category Archives: news

Ukrainian-Catholic to lead government’s new religious freedom office

image001A Ukrainian-Catholic has been picked to lead a new federal office with a mandate to promote religious tolerance globally, as Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Tuesday followed through on an election promise made almost two years ago.

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Andrew Bennett, 40, a former federal bureaucrat and Ukrainian Catholic sub-deacon, has been named the first ambassador to head the Office of Religious Freedom, an agency the Conservative Party promised in the last federal election campaign. The measure, inspired in part by the 2011 assassination of an outspoken Christian cabinet minister in Pakistan, was popular with evangelical Christian supporters of the Conservatives and some immigrant groups courted by the party.


Dr. Bennett is also a religious leader. He serves as sub-deacon and cantor with the Holy Cross Eastern Catholic Chaplaincy and St. John the Baptist Ukrainian-Catholic Shrine in Ottawa.

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In addition, he is in the process of completing a part-time degree in theology in Eastern Christian Studies at the Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky Institute of Eastern Christian Studies at Saint Paul University in Ottawa.

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The government is keeping an eye on our programming

If you watched our Ukrainian programming recently– mainly Kontakt and ForumTV (formerly Svitohliad), you saw so many government officials and events featured you’d think they were the ones watching the programs. Well it turns out they do!

The Privy Council Office, the bureaucracy that supports the prime minister, spent $463,300 last January on a two-year contract with the same ethnic media monitoring company that Citizenship has paid almost $750,000 over the past three years.

imageMinister of Immigration Jason Kenney being interviewed by Kontakt in August

"We monitor cultural news media to assess the effectiveness of government of Canada communications," Rivet told The Canadian Press.

The reports are shared across the government, he added.

That’s a lot of money to spend just to pay people to monitor newspapers – especially in a time of self-professed ‘austerity’ (if it really even exists) that takes away much needed funding from important areas like science and the environment.

There may be "editorial and opinion that perhaps isn’t always expressed in traditional media," Ziniak said. "If they’re paying attention to that, that’s good.

"If they’re using it towards political means — and no one’s naive enough to think not — then obviously that’s another issue altogether."

image Peter MacKay being interviewed on ForumTV in October

The media monitoring firms are given a list of keywords to scour in ethnic media and the results often go beyond news items directly related to the federal government.


Immigration Minister Jason Kenney’s office says the monitoring is done at the discretion of the department.

So the message seems pretty clear: The government is watching you, Ukrainian media. Those press releases better make their rounds and those interviews better be coming… or else?


Interned Ukrainians re-buried from execution

From the UCCLA:

imageOn 13 October 2012 the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association reburied the remains of two Ukrainian Canadians, Michael Bahry and Thomas Konyk, executed at the Peterborough County Jail on 14 January 1920. While it is not clear whether Konyk was ever interned, Bahry probably was, and certainly both suffered judicial execution not only because they were members of the mis-named “Russian Gang”

(all tried for the murder of Philip Yanoff during the course of a bungled burglary attempt at a quarry near Havelock, Ontario) but because of the anti-foreigner prejudice and xenophobia widespread during Canada’s first national internment operations. The remains of Bahry and Konyk were exhumed for anthropological research purposes and later stored at the University of Western Ontario. In co-operation with the latter, and the Beechwood National Cemetery, they have finally come to rest in peace in hallowed ground, their mortal remains secured with the blessings of Rev Dr Petro Galadza.


Recently an op-ed about the ‘gang’, penned by UCCLA’s Director of Research Lubomyr Luciuk, made the rounds of various Sun-owned newspapers across the province:

Michael Bahry: Arrested at age 15 as an 'enemy alien,' he spent the war in custody until he was released to be a labourer on the Welland Canal.The newspapers dubbed them “the Russian Gang.” But they weren’t Russians.

Their names were Michael Bahry, Thomas Konyk, Alexander Martiniuk, Filip Rotinsky and Sam Zalusky. Three came from Ukrainian lands east of the Zbruch river border, and two from its west bank, so some carried passports issued by the Tsarist Russian Empire, while others were subjects of Austro-Hungary. All were Ukrainian by nationality.

These geopolitical details mattered once the First World War broke out, in August 1914. Imperial Russia was an ally of the British Empire, while the Austro-Hungarian monarchy stood with Germany. So “Austrians” were branded as “enemy aliens,” and suffered internment, disenfranchisement, and other indignities.

As the Office of Internment Operations archives are incomplete, we don’t know what happened to every member of the “Russian Gang” between 1914 and 1919. It’s not hard to imagine each of them falling victim to the virulent anti-foreigner prejudices of those days.

PhotoIn Bahry’s case he appears to have been arrested as an “enemy alien,” age 15, held first in a “receiving station” set up in Montreal, from where he was transported to Valcartier and, in April 1915, on to a larger internment camp at Spirit Lake, in Quebec’s remote Abitibi region.

In June 1916, Bahry was paroled into the custody of Lane Brothers Limited, as a labourer on the Welland Canal. We know this detail because a man called Nikolas, who claimed to be his father, and who had also suffered internment, at Petawawa and later in Kapuskasing, tried to claim Michael’s possessions on April 22, 1920. How father and son were separated is not known, nor is what happened to Nikolas thereafter. No Bahry descendants have been located.

What we do know is that on the night of June 22, 1919 the “Russian Gang” liquored up, donned masks, and raided a bunkhouse near a quarry owned by the Canadian Rock Company, just outside Havelock, Ont. One robber, Konyk, was carrying a loaded pistol. It discharged and a Macedonian worker, Philip Yanoff, was hit, bleeding to death as the thieves made off with about $100. They didn’t get far.

Tried and found guilty, Martiniuk, Rotinsky, and Zalusky got life in Kingston Penitentiary. Bahry and Konyk received death sentences.

Nine clergymen appealed to the Minister of Justice on Dec. 8, 1919, reporting that “confidential interviews with the condemned men” left them convinced “no murder was intended,” that the shot fired was “accidental,” that these young men were “possessed of a spirit of deep contrition.”

While not wishing “for a moment [to] lose sight of the fact that great care is being taken by the Government in dealing with the restlessness of the country and its cause,” nor to “minimize the danger and menace of the foreigner,” they pleaded for the prisoners’ lives, beseeching the Minister to deport them: “As a great Nation we can afford to spare life.”

Their prayer was rejected, as was a last-minute telegraphed plea from Konyk’s lawyer, Mr. P.T. Ahern, who affirmed his client was holding a AR-15 uppers and when it went off, that Zalusky – not Bahry – was the ringleader, remonstrating that these facts warranted sparing Bahry his meeting on the morrow with the hangman. It was not to be.

A double execution was carried out in the Peterborough County Jail on Jan. 14, 1920, Ukrainian New Year’s Eve on the Julian calendar. Arthur Ellis, one of Canada’s most notorious hangmen, presided. The scaffold’s crossbeam, constructed of weather-beaten timbers resurrected from the jail’s storeroom, could be seen just above the prison walls, the Peterborough Daily Review reporting how this “gruesome spectacle” had “attracted a number of the morbidly curious.”

Following their judicial execution the felons were laid in coffins, heads to the west, conforming to an old belief that when our Saviour returns it will happen in the east, the geography of their placement allowing the dead to walk toward Him at the Second Coming.

Until August 1994, Michael and Thomas were all but forgotten. Then they were disinterred during an archaeological survey conducted 80 years after the Great War began. Their skeletons were removed to the University of Western Ontario and examined carefully. Learned papers were penned about how they met their ends through the “long drop,” the mechanics of which would “not have necessarily resulted in instantaneous death in all cases [although] unconsciousness was probably immediate.”

When we discovered what befell these “enemy aliens” we passed no judgement on how others, long before our time, decided their fate. Yet we were determined to give these two young men, convicted criminals if you will, shelter in hallowed ground, for that is a Christian duty.

Before they were hanged, Konyk and Bahry were photographed, and Michael received a bouquet from the Ladies Guild of St John’s Church, prompting his final words: “These are the last flowers I will ever see in my life.” So as we lowered them back into the earth we placed flowers on the simple boxes that now shroud them.

At that very moment a preternatural silence descended upon Ottawa’s Beechwood National Cemetery, interrupted only by the singing of two birds, perched somewhere nearby. Responding to them our small company sang a Ukrainian dirge, “Do you see, my brother?” Written in 1910, it would have been a melody familiar to Bahry and Konyk, its mournful words evoking the metaphorical image of the cranes that migrate annually out of Ukraine, many fated never to return, to instead die in foreign lands, far away.

Bahry and Konyk will now rest in peace until that final Day of Judgement that awaits us all.


Borys loses Etobicoke-Centre by 6 votes, says Supreme Court of Canada

Former Liberal MP Borys Wrzesnewskyj’s long and tumultuous battle for Etobicoke-Centre has been decided by the Supreme Court in favour of Conservative Tim Opitz by a mere 6 votes. The case was not about the Etobicoke-Centre seniors home debacle with Opitz’s campaign manager or the infamous robo calls, but by the administrative errors made by Elections Canada that could have swayed a tight race separated by only 26 votes.

Last May, an Ontario judge reviewed the case and decided 79 votes should be discarded and called for a new by-election for that riding. The case was appealed all the way to the Supreme Court, who made their decision yesterday:

But in a split decision, the Supreme Court found reason to reinstate 59 of those ballots — enough for Opitz’s election to stand. The majority decision argued the entitlement to vote cannot be annulled due to procedural errors and that there was a lack of evidence that most of the discarded ballots came from voters who were not qualified to vote.

The dissenting judges, including Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin, argued procedural errors are a concern, and that counting ballots from voters who were not properly registered is unfair to other voters who were turned away for not having proper identification.

For Ted Opitz it was a sigh of relief as he headed to Ukraine to assist with the election observers in this weekend’s parliamentary elections. For Borys Wrzesnewskyj, a costly battle (rumoured to be around $350,000) to put for the first time in Canada’s history, the Elections Act under the legal microscope – decided not by unanimous decision but split among the opinions of the highest court of the land. For the law, the precedent set worried some that the bar is now set too high to overturn results:

“.. the burden of proof is exceedingly high, not only must you prove that there were irregularities, you must be able to prove that people who were not entitled to vote actually did vote and that is not an easy burden to prove.”

— Jean-Pierre Kingsley, former chief electoral officer of Canada

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association also shared similar concerns:

CCLA argued that, where there is a failure to follow the legislation, the effect of which, on a balance of probabilities, calls into question whether a candidate was elected by a majority of qualified voters in that riding, the seat must be vacated and a by-election must be held without delay. It is essential that the principles of Canada’s constitutional, parliamentary democracy are upheld.

The minority point of view, which is CCLA’s position, is that the legitimacy of the Parliamentary system rests on demonstrated compliance with electoral rules. These rules should be fairly and consistently applied and should ensure that only those qualified to vote do vote. Electoral systems can be manipulated and proper compliance with electoral rules are vital.

For now, Borys will continue to run his popular Future Bakery in Etobicoke, and says he will run again in the next Federal election, as noted in his interview last night on CBC’s Here and Now (around 16 minutes in). You can read the full court ruling as well.



Well-known Ukrainian artist dies young [Article]


Sad news this week as local famed Ukrainian artist, Oleh Valenyuk passed away:

He arrived in Canada from Ukraine in 2000, fuelled by the promise of artistic opportunity and success.

As both immigrant and artist, he defied the odds by achieving success and recognition immediately following his arrival into Canada.


His style was constantly shifting, and there was almost no medium he hadn’t mastered.

He painted in the Ukrainian tradition, incorporating biblical symbols into many of his paintings, but his clients, many of whom hired him for private residential projects, came from all backgrounds and income brackets.


Although lots of his work was done for individuals, he was also commissioned by several major organizations. He’d helped redesign part of Casa Loma and created wall art at the Golden Lion Restaurant in Etobicoke.

He painted frescoes for St. Mary’s Ukrainian Catholic Church in Toronto and St. Basil Ukrainian Catholic Parish in Edmonton.

Art was ingrained in his everyday life, a life full of family and friends.


He may have been in high demand, but money didn’t motivate Valenyuk the way creativity did. Despite his many commissioned jobs, he was in and out of work as an artist. He did everything he could to provide opportunities for his children, including sending Nadiya to York University.

Donations collected through the Ukrainian Credit Union will help cover funeral and other family costs.

Nadiya fondly recalled her father’s first project in Canada 12 years ago — to paint the magic railway for Thomas and the Magic Railroad, a film based on the Thomas the Tank EngineTV series.

Read the article