Public perception

Popular perception of internment was mixed but generally positive. Ethnic tensions inspired by xenophobia, the economic downturn of 1913-1914, and a fear of German-American attacks from across the border in Fenian-style raids, as well as war hysteria contributed to this sentiment.

The press further inflamed these tensions, by displaying daily stories of ‘mouthy Germans’, terrorist plots, and spy rings.

Harry Lauder’s Story, This is ‘Kultur’ [1914-1918], Library and Archives Canada, Acc. No. 1983-28-44

Alien Rioters Given Quietus: Prisoners Rebel at Doing Chores at Kapuskasing Internment Camp

Toronto Daily News, May 16, 1916

Boches / dessins de J. Charlebois [1915], Hartland Molson Library Collection, The Canadian War Museum, REF PAM D 526.25 C2 C48 1915

However, Canada was not entirely unified in this xenophobic stance. Some journalists testified to the hard work that most of the ‘enemy aliens’ had done in developing Canada prior to the War and called out the injustice of punishing individuals for being born in the wrong country.

In striking contrast with the contention that Canadians are fighting for freedom, democracy and the observance of national obligations, is the mean and unworthy spirit of persecution displayed towards the so-called “alien enemies” who are quietly attending to their own business here. These people are here on our invitation.

Phillips Thompson, “Alien Enemies” in The Globe (March 29, 1918) ​

The government was not entirely invested in maintaining the camps. Their preoccupation was often with keeping costs down and making sure that perceptions of the camps did not resultin harsher treatment for Canadians in POWs abroad.