Ottawa: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has delivered a formal apology for the internment of Italian Canadians during the Second World War.
In June 1940, after Italy joined the war as an ally to Germany, the government interned more than 600 people of Italian heritage, and about 31,000 Italian Canadians across the country were declared “enemy aliens”, and many experienced discrimination, lost their jobs, or saw their businesses boycotted or vandalised,.
Addressing the House of Commons on Thursday, Trudeau apologised to those who were interned, their families, and the Italian Canadian community for the pain and hardship they endured because of this historical injustice.
“To the men and women who were taken to prisoner of war camps or jail without charge, people who are no longer with us to hear this apology to the children and grandchildren who have carried a past generation’s shame and hurt, and to their community, a community that has given so much to our country, we are sorry.
“They were business owners, workers, and doctors. They were fathers, daughters, and friends.
“They were taken away to Petawawa or to Fredericton, to Kananaskis or to Kingston. Once they arrived at a camp, there was no length of sentence. Sometimes, the internment lasted a few months. Sometimes, it lasted years. But the impacts, those lasted a lifetime,” he added.
Trudeau said the government’s actions violated the values that the country was fighting to secure during the Second World War, including freedom, equality, and justice, and had serious impacts on the families and the Italian-Canadian community.
The Prime Minister said that while it was right that Canada stood up to the Italian regime that sided with Nazi Germany, to “scapegoat law-abiding Italian Canadians” was wrong.
“It is time to make amends.”
He recognised Italian Canadians’ many contributions, including in business, arts and culture, science and technology, politics, and skilled professions.
“Canadians of Italian heritage have helped shape Canada, and they continue to be an invaluable part of the diversity that makes us strong.
“Today, as we acknowledge and address historical wrongs against the Italian Canadian community, we also show our respect for their great contributions to our country,” Trudeau said.
In 1990, at a gathering of Italian Canadian organistions, then Prime Minister Brian Mulroney offered an apology for the mistreatment of the community during the Second World War.
In September 2018, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) Commissioner Brenda Lucki delivered an official expression of regret in a ceremony attended by family members of the internees, members of the Italian community, and RCMP employees.
Through the Community Historical Recognition Program, the government made C$5 million available in grants and contributions from 2008 to 2013 for eligible projects to commemorate and recognise the experiences of the Italian Canadian community in relation to the Second World War internment.
Currently, Canada has about 1.6 million Italian Canadians.