Italian-Canadian Recognition and Restitution Act

An Act to recognize the injustice that was done to persons of Italian origin through their “enemy alien” designation and internment during the Second World War, and to provide for restitution and promote education on Italian-Canadian history

This bill was last introduced in the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session, which ended in March 2011.

This bill was previously introduced in the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session.

Sponsor

Massimo Pacetti  Liberal

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)

Status

Introduced, as of Dec. 9, 2009
(This bill did not become law.)

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

The purpose of this enactment is to recognize and apologize for the treatment that persons of Italian origin received in Canada during the Second World War in spite of the contribution that they have made and continue to make to the building of Canada.

The enactment also provides for restitution to be made in respect of this treatment. The restitution payment is to be applied to the development and production of educational materials relating to Italian-Canadian history and promoting ethnic and racial harmony, and to other projects agreed to by the Minister of Canadian Heritage and an educational foundation established for this purpose.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Votes

April 28, 2010 Passed That the Bill be now read a third time and do pass.
June 3, 2009 Passed That the Bill be now read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage.

Italian-Canadian Recognition and Restitution ActPrivate Members' Business

March 30th, 2010 / 6:05 p.m.
See context

NDP

Glenn Thibeault NDP Sudbury, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am glad to have the opportunity once again to speak in support of Bill C-302, An Act to recognize the injustice that was done to persons of Italian origin through their “enemy alien” designation and internment during the Second World War, and to provide for restitution and promote education on Italian-Canadian history. The New Democrats are pleased to support this bill and to assist with its movement through Parliament.

Our great nation has a history as colourful and as varied as its people. Like many countries, however, Canada has experienced some dark points in its 143 year history or, as Canadian author Kenneth Bagnell would say, this chapter in Italian Canadian history is known as the days of darkness or the days of despair. These dark days took place during the second world war.

The entry of Italy into the second world war brought considerable disruption to the Italian Canadian community. While these communities were able to withstand a number of economic challenges due in large part to their strong family networks, there was one challenge they could not overcome.

In 1935 the actions on the other side of the ocean began to be felt by thousands of Italian Canadians and all Canadians who had settled in Canada, and that year Canadian hostility toward fascism had reached its climax. With Italy joining Germany in the war, Canadians became increasingly antagonistic toward Italian Canadians.

As a consequence of Italy's alliance with Germany in World War II, Italian Canadians were designated as enemy aliens and, as such, were the victims of widespread prejudice and discrimination. Canadian authorities believed that these strong family ties among the Italian community posed a serious potential threat to national security. Men lost their jobs. Shops were vandalized. Civil liberties were suspended under the War Measures Act. Hundreds were interned at Camp Petawawa in northern Ontario.

One of the Italian Canadians who would later be interned at Camp Petawawa was Italian-born Sudburian Dr. Luigi Pancaro. Dr. Pancaro was born on July 8, 1897 in Cosenza, Italy. After graduating with his medical degree from the University of Rome at the age of 28, he made his way to Canada where he became the first Italian-born medical doctor in Canada's north.

During the early 1930s Dr. Pancaro and his wife settled in Sudbury with the large Italian community and became a member of the staff at St. Joseph's Hospital and at the Sudbury Regional Hospital. In addition to joining the hospital staff, Dr. Pancaro also opened a private practice and became the family doctor for many members of the Italian community.

Dr. Pancaro's life dramatically changed on June 11, 1940. That day, Dr. Pancaro was suddenly pulled away from the patient he was seeing, placed in the back of a police van and transported to the Sudbury jail. In his cell, Dr. Pancaro met other Italian-born men, most of them his patients. Dr. Pancaro's abduction happened one day after Italy entered the second world war.

The evening before Dr. Pancaro was taken away in a police van, Prime Minister Mackenzie King ordered the internment of hundreds of Italian Canadians identified by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police as enemy aliens. The roundup of Italian Canadians continued until October 1940.

Camp Petawawa was made up of 12 large barracks which housed 60 or more people in each. The entire camp was surrounded by two large barbed-wire fences. Those interned there were boys as young as 16 to men in their 70s. The internees were made to wear jackets adorned with a large red circle on their backs, a target for guards to shoot at if any tried to escape.

While at the camp, none of the internees saw their families. Letters from their loved ones were censored. Some men would stay for months, while others would remain for years. Dr. Pancaro remained at the camp for two years.

After that bitter experience, Dr. Pancaro returned to Italy. He ultimately returned to Sudbury in 1956, where he continued his successful medical practice until 1981.

These men, like Dr. Pancaro, as well as their families, who were denied relief bore the brunt of hostilities during this dark time in Canadian history. As a result, many Italians later anglicized their names and denied their Italian background. It is because of this hostile and hurtful treatment that many second generation Italian Canadians do not know nor fully understand their history.

The fact that this dark chapter in Italian Canadian history has led many to deny their Italian background makes it imperative that the government take the steps outlined in this bill; that is, provide for restitution and promote education on Italian Canadian history.

While our communities wait for governments to do the right thing, many in my riding of Sudbury have proudly carried forth and shared their Italian heritage and achieved success. In fact, despite being one of the city's hardest hit by these days of despair, Sudbury's Italian community has continued to make significant steps toward preserving and passing on its Italian culture and traditions to its future generations.

Nowhere are these Italian traditions of hard work and dedication to family and community more visible than in the vibrant Italian community in Sudbury. Sudbury is home to the Caruso Club, one of the largest Italian associations in all of Ontario. I had the distinct honour of being a guest at the club's membership meeting this past Saturday. Formed in 1947, the club is a not-for-profit organization that promotes, enhances and preserves Italian culture and heritage within the Canadian multicultural mosaic.

For those who are in the Sudbury area in the first week of July, I encourage them to come to the Italian festival and have a fantastic porchetta sandwich.

Something which is very important is that the club also renders assistance to persons of Italian nationality in need. It also maintains a library and archives of Italian heritage.

I would once again offer my thanks to the current board of directors of the Caruso Club, Sav Doni, John Santagapita, my cousin Egidio Manoni, Linda Zanatta-Beaudoin, Danilo Monticelli, Lina Sanchioni, Bob Armiento, Ugo Rocca, and board president Tony Nero, for the club's continued contributions to and support for the local community.

I would also like to extend my thanks to the Caruso Club's umbrella groups, which also make significant contributions to the Sudbury Italian community and to the overall community: Associazione Marchigiana di Sudbury, whose president is Ezio Campanelli; Associazione Veneta, whose president is Leo Silvestri; and the Calabria Social Club, whose president is Sav Doni. There are many others organizations, such as the Caruso Club Choir, the Caruso Club Children's Choir and the Caruso Club Ladies Auxiliary, to name a few.

We have a vibrant Italian community in Sudbury, and that is something I am very proud of.

For documenting and preserving this rich local history and sharing it with me, I would like to thank Diana Iuele-Colilli, who kindly supplied me with her book, Italian Faces: Images of the Italian Community of Sudbury.

Given that official apologies in the House of Commons have been offered for past actions of the Canadian government, I urge all members to join me in voting in favour of sending Bill C-302 to committee.

We will stand again in support of this bill so that the wrongs committed against Italian Canadians in the past can be made right.

Italian-Canadian Recognition and Restitution ActPrivate Members' Business

March 30th, 2010 / 6:15 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Joe Volpe Liberal Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

Mr. Speaker, on a point of order, I welcome the member's interventions. However, on three separate occasions, he said this is a dark chapter in Italian Canadian history. I am sure that what he meant was that this is a dark chapter in Canadian history, because there is not yet a recognition that there was an Italian Canadian history. This all happened in the context of Canadian history, where some members of Italian origin were victims of the War Measures Act.

Italian-Canadian Recognition and Restitution ActPrivate Members' Business

March 30th, 2010 / 6:15 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Maria Minna Liberal Beaches—East York, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak in favour of the bill. I want to thank my colleague for putting forward the bill.

I do not want to go into too much detail, as my hon. colleague and others who have spoken in favour of the bill have gone into great depth as to the impact on the individuals and the community at the time.

I myself became involved with this particular issue when I was the president of the National Congress of Italian Canadians. In fact, I lobbied and held this file for quite some time, trying to get it approved by the government at the time and by the Conservative government as well.

Many things have been said about what happened. We all know that these were innocent people who were interned, put into military camps, called prisoners of war. Imagine that. The whole community at that time was also fingerprinted, which I think is important, and declared enemy aliens. In other words, in essence they were called enemies of the state. Imagine being a child growing up in that environment, in that community, at that time and how difficult that was.

Many of the people were not only interned, but sometimes after about a year or so, depending on how long, they would come out and be sent to the front to fight in the Canadian military. They would go off to the front lines with a uniform for Canada. So they were good enough to go and get killed serving the country, but at the same time they were not good enough to maintain their freedom, which is rather strange.

Nonetheless, that also happened. It is another element of what went on at the time.

The most important thing is that these were Canadian citizens, all of them. They were never charged with anything. Some them were born here.

The Conservatives have apologized to the Japanese Canadians a decade ago and the Chinese Canadians with respect to the head tax more recently, and then they have worked out arrangements with the Ukrainian Canadians and so on, but not for the Italian Canadian community.

Here they have a problem, and later I will identify what their problem is. It seems the Italian Canadians only deserve an apology in a ballroom somewhere, and maybe that was a mistake because they are not prepared to repeat it in the House of Commons.

That is the apology part, and I think it is high time it happened for that community, given all that has happened.

However in terms of the other aspect, which is the financial settlement issue, the community representatives from the Italian community negotiated on November 12, 2005, with the Government of Canada. The agreement was a settlement of $12.5 million at the time to be administered by a foundation of the community represented by the National Congress of Italian Canadians and other organizations, which I will mention in a moment.

However the government did not think that was good enough. It gave the Ukrainian community a fund and it could administer its own funds, but not the Italians. Italian Canadians somehow are just not good enough or at least are not capable. Therefore the government then set up, according to the minister, what it called a community historical recognition program, which is to be administered by a committee of three, chosen by the government with no consultation with the community at all.

Think of the insult. The Ukrainian community and other communities can administer their own funds, but not the Italian Canadians. No, that is not possible.

I am going read excerpts from a letter from the National Congress of Italian Canadians. It is important to put this on the record.

The National Congress of Italian Canadians (NCIC) deplores the manner in which the minister of immigration, citizenship and multiculturalism...has chosen to bypass the legitimate community organizations who have been negotiating with the Government in good faith to arrive at a fair and equitable resolution on the issue of redress for the internment of Italian Canadians during World War II.

It goes on to say:

That agreement, reached within the parameters of the ACE program, provided a settlement in the sum of $12.5 million to be administered by the community through the NCIC Foundation. This would be in keeping with the administrative process, which has been put in place for the Ukrainian-Canadian community. Unfortunately, the current Canadian Government unilaterally breached the Agreement without notice nor consultation and introduced a new program which is totally unacceptable to our community.

This program clearly indicates the lack of trust by the current minister towards the Italian-Canadian community and its legitimate representatives. Is there any other reason why the Ukrainian Canadian community can be trusted to administer its own program funds while a government administration, with the advice of an appointed committee, is required for the Italian Canadians? The establishment of an advisory committee made up of people who do not represent the community and who cannot pretend to give advice on behalf of our community is an insult. We question the motives of the minister and find his approach to this very sensitive issue repugnant, divisive and insulting.

That is the reaction of the Italian Canadian community leadership with respect to the government's actions thus far on this issue.

I should say that in addition to the National Congress of Italian Canadians, which is an umbrella organization of Italian Canadian organizations across Canada, Casa d'Italia was also involved in supporting this and was a witness at committee. Order Sons of Italy of Canada, the Italian-Canadian Community Foundation, and all of the regional chapters of the National Congress of Italian Canadians right across Canada were the community that was totally bypassed by this government.

However the insult does not stop there. There was no consultation on the so-called committee that the government set up in the community to advise on the use of these funds. At committee, when I asked the minister who he asked, who he consulted to get these people appointed, there was no real answer because obviously no one was consulted.

I will tell members who they are, however. One of them is the president of the Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel riding for the Conservative Party, so I see why he was appointed. Another one works in the Italian Canadian community but has never been involved with this issue, and I believe he is a Conservative as well. Again I see why he was appointed, but the kicker, the real insult, is the third person. This is where it comes right down to where it really is. I do not even know how to say it.

One of our colleagues read to the minister what this man has written with respect to the issue of internment. This is what this gentleman, this third appointee, has written:

We have watched with concern the campaign of Canadian redress. Its leaders are guided by simplified versions of events, drawing on selective evidence, ignoring contrary views and glossing over the fascist history of the Italian communities.

This is what the third gentleman wrote, and when the minister was asked if that was his position, he said,“Well, I think as much as possible we should take the politics out of redress...”.

Excuse me, politics out of redress? They appoint a man who actually believes this was a fair thing, this should have happened? This is what he is saying. Does that mean that is what the minister believes? I have to ask the government. I do not know. The minister never gave me an answer at committee.

Is this what the government truly believes? Is that why this man is on that committee? This guy is Mr. Perin. Is that why he is on the committee? I know what the guy might have written, but why does the government choose him? It totally ignored the elected people from the Canadian community right across this country and arbitrarily appointed three people, one of whom in fact believes maybe there was some truth or some reason why these people were interned, and this is a way to justify, without evidence of course. None of them was every charged or convicted of anything, but one never knows. Therefore, there is no apology, no funds, no respect, and the final insult is maybe we have this committee.

I would ask this House to make it right. I have to ask the House, because it is not going to be done by the government, to make it right, to support this bill and put this behind us once and for all, and to show respect to a community that has done a great deal to build this country.

Italian-Canadian Recognition and Restitution ActPrivate Members' Business

March 30th, 2010 / 6:25 p.m.
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Conservative

Paul Calandra Conservative Oak Ridges—Markham, ON

Mr. Speaker, I wish I could say I am happy to be rising today to speak to this bill that I mentioned earlier is flawed in so many different ways. But it is actually quite nice to follow the member for Beaches—East York because her comments identified just how divisive this bill is.

The member opposite had an opportunity to approach government members of Italian Canadian descent before drafting this bill, but he chose not to do so.

Let us talk about what we have here. The member for Beaches—East York actually mentioned that on November 12, 2005, a mere two weeks before an election was called, after a number of Liberal majority governments between 1993 and 2005, the Liberals magically came to realize that there needed to be some recognition for the Italian Canadian community and some funds needed to be apportioned to it. On the back of a napkin, they showed the ultimate disrespect to the Italian Canadian community. They put forward this election goody to the Italian Canadian community after ignoring it for some 70 years.

The member who sponsored this bill has asked why I keep bringing up the seven Liberal prime ministers who completely ignored the Italian Canadian community for so long. I bring them up because of the 70 years that the Liberals ignored the Italian Canadian community. The fact is that no Italian Canadians who were put in these camps are alive. By ignoring them for 70 years, the Liberal government has ensured there is nobody around to accept this apology that they want. Thankfully, Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney took the apology right to the Italian people. He apologized to them for the injustices of the internment.

Our Prime Minister brought in the community historical recognition program. We took our time with the community. We came to realize that some funds were required to remember what Italian Canadians suffered. I was extraordinarily pleased when the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism announced a $5 million program to recognize everything the Italian Canadian community has gone through and also all the good things Italian Canadians have brought to Canada.

It is interesting to hear so many Italian Canadian Liberal parliamentarians get up and speak to this bill. They alone carry the burden of the fact that they have been here for many years and have failed the Italian community over and over again, to the point where they are now bringing forward a divisive bill in a minority government at a time when there are no Italian Canadians who were interned alive today. They alone shoulder that blame.

Italian-Canadian Recognition and Restitution ActPrivate Members' Business

May 28th, 2009 / 5:30 p.m.
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Conservative

Paul Calandra Conservative Oak Ridges—Markham, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to this bill and I do so somewhat with mixed feelings. I am always proud to get up in this House and speak to the successes of Italian Canadians over the years and everything that they have accomplished in Canada. However, today we are also being asked to remember and to speak about what I think is one of the darkest days in Canadian history with respect to Italian Canadians and their treatment while in this country. I think it is important that we take a look back at some of the history with respect to Italian Canadians and their internment.

It is important to note that it was at the onset of World War II that then Liberal Prime Minister Mackenzie King decided that Italian Canadians, despite everything they had accomplished in this country for the many years they had been here, all of the successes, somehow should be deemed as enemy aliens. Some 632 Italian Canadians were interned and placed in camps. Others were forced to identify themselves with local police. This was the treatment of Italian Canadians for many years.

Following the end of the war, Italian-Canadians waited for an apology. They waited through many different governments. They waited through Liberal Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent, and still no apology. They waited through Liberal Prime Minister Pearson, and still no apology. They waited through Liberal Prime Minister Trudeau, and still no apology. They waited again until, finally, in 1990, then Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, addressing the National Congress of Italian Canadians, apologized.

On November 4, 1990, speaking to the biennial convention of the National Congress of Italian Canadians, Prime Minister Mulroney acknowledged the injustices committed against Canadians of Italian origin during World War II and apologized to all Canadians of Italian origin on behalf of the Government of Canada for the injustices perpetrated on a quiet, law-abiding community. In his speech, he pledged that the violations of democratic rights so apparent during World War II should never happen again; and finally, he accepted the principle of redress for the wrongs committed to the Italian people and he suggested, again, that this should never happen again.

Italian Canadians have accomplished so much in Canada. There are over 1.4 million Italian Canadians. They are leaders in business. They are leaders in industry. They are professionals. They are tradespeople. It has often been said, in the greater Toronto area where I am from, that the first generation of Italian Canadians built Toronto and the second generation owned Toronto.

Over the past weekend I had the pleasure and the privilege of being in Halifax. I was able to visit Pier 21, where my father and my mother entered Canada with my aunts and my uncles at that time. These are proud Italian Canadians: my father Tony Calandra, my mother Franca, my uncles Peter, Ross and Carmen. They came to Canada to build a better life for themselves. They did not come to look back. They came to be productive members of society.

Italian Canadians identify themselves not by the injustices perpetrated against them by previous governments in World War II, but by what they have accomplished since coming to Canada. They identify themselves as strong family people, people who helped construct the streets that we came to work on, helped on this building, helped build Toronto, helped build Montreal, helped accomplish so much across Canada. That is how Italian Canadians identify themselves.

Earlier today I was speaking to my uncle, Peter Salvino, who came to Canada a little more than 34 years ago. I asked him how he felt about this, and he said he was not here at that time, but it did have an impact on Italian Canadians all those years that they waited, because people used the fact that there was no apology until 1990 as a reason to be racist in many instances toward Italians.

My uncle has ultimately built a great life here in Canada. He celebrated in 1972 when Paul Henderson scored that goal. He was proud when we launched the Anik II. He remembered when Terry Fox started his run and was sad when it ended. He remembered 1996, because he was in Atlanta when Donovan Bailey won the gold medal for Canada. He could not stop cheering. He lost his voice when the Canadian team won the relay. He was at the Olympics in Canada in 1976, and again in 1988. He was also one of the proud Italians who in 1982, when the Italian team won the World Cup, flooded onto the streets of Toronto to celebrate.

Italian culture is strong, but first and foremost, they are Canadians. They are Canadians who have moved on. They are Canadians who have accepted the apology by Brian Mulroney, then Conservative Prime Minister, for the wrongs of previous Liberal governments. They have accepted the apology on behalf of all Italian Canadians.

We have done so much more as a government, and we are moving on, just as Italians have moved on. But we are not ignoring what Italians suffered. That is why our government recently provided funding in recognition of what Italian Canadians went through, so that we could educate other Canadians on the Italian Canadian experience during the internment.

One of the reasons I am so opposed to this legislation is because, indeed, it looks back. Wrongs were committed. Italian Canadians, as I said earlier, waited a long time, but in 1990 they received an apology.

I object to this legislation because we have already done so much. Not only did we apologize in 1990, but as I said recently, we have provided, through the community historical recognition program, $5 million in grants and contributions over four years, which will begin in 2008-09. This money will fund projects to commemorate and recognize the experiences of the Italian Canadian community in relation to the second world war internment in Canada.

I want to focus as an Italian Canadian parliamentarian not on the injustices of the past, but on the accomplishments of the Italian Canadian people. I want to focus on the things that my parents accomplished, on the things that my aunts and uncles accomplished. Most Italian Canadians want to focus on that.

We can look at the bill and ask, as I would suggest the opposition has done, how can we gain cheap political points? How can we seek to divide the Italian community? Where can we get some seats? How can we use Italian Canadians to break into communities where we have not been successful? That is why the bill is so shameful. We need to focus on what we have accomplished.

A Conservative government recognizes the accomplishments of the Italian people. A Conservative government apologized to the Italian people. A Conservative government provided the millions of dollars that will be spread across this country to help the rest of Canadians understand what was perpetrated against Italian Canadians in World War II by a Liberal prime minister. A Conservative government will help Italian Canadians move on and will help share with the rest of Canadians why Italians have been so successful, why I am proud to be an Italian Canadian.

I simply will not support a bill that seeks to divide the Italian community, that seeks to earn cheap political points over what has been the darkest period in Canadian history.

I hope that all those Italian Canadians who are here today recognize the fact that on this side of the House there is a Prime Minister and there is a minister who appreciate everything that Italian Canadians have done. I as an Italian Canadian and member of Parliament will continue to stand up for them every day that I am privileged to be here.

Italian-Canadian Recognition and Restitution ActPrivate Members' Business

May 28th, 2009 / 5:40 p.m.
See context

NDP

John Rafferty NDP Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-302 is an act to recognize the injustice that was done to persons of Italian origin through their enemy alien designation and internment during the second world war and to provide for restitution and promote education on Italian Canadian history. This is the fourth time the bill has been introduced. It was previously introduced in three sessions of Parliament. I am very glad to see that it is back, and I am prepared, certainly, to support it.

I will give some historical background. In 1939, special wartime powers were given to the Canadian Minister of Justice to prevent the subversion of Canadian interests and loyalties. Italian Canadians were designated enemy aliens by the Government of Canada, and following Italy's declaration of war on June 10, 1940, our government ordered the internment of many of these so-called enemy aliens.

Between 600 and 700 Italian Canadians were reportedly interned as a result. Most were sent to Camp Petawawa on the Ottawa River.

Italian Canadians were required to register with the RCMP and report on a monthly basis. Travel restrictions were imposed. The teaching of the Italian language was declared illegal, as were various Italian organizations. Boycotts of Italian Canadian-owned and -run businesses started and many Italian Canadians lost their jobs.

In 1990, as my hon. friend who spoke just before me indicated, the National Congress of Italian Canadians briefed then Prime Minister Mulroney on these injustices and called for an apology and compensation. An apology was delivered and the money was announced but was not delivered.

Funding was announced again in June 2008 through Citizenship and Immigration Canada's community historical recognition program. I heard my hon. friend who spoke before me say that the Conservatives say the bill is shameful. I think that was his exact description. He was talking about money to come, but to date, the program's website lists no funds granted for projects related to the treatment of Italian Canadians during World War II.

I will talk briefly about Thunder Bay. Italian Canadians have a very long history in Thunder Bay. In fact, the Italian community was established in the late 19th century. The 1901 census shows 197 persons of Italian origin in Port Arthur and Fort William combined. By 1931, that community had grown to 2,500 people. Italian Canadians remain one of the largest ethnic communities in Thunder Bay, indeed one of the largest ethnic communities right across my riding of Thunder Bay—Rainy River.

I am a proud member of the Societa' Italiana Di Benevolenza Principe Di Piemonte. I am very happy to say, just to illustrate the longevity and how important Italian Canadians have been to Thunder Bay and to my riding, that this society started in 1909. This is the 100th anniversary of that society. It was started by a small group of Italian immigrants who wanted their heritage to stay alive in this new country that they had come to call their own.

The goal of their society was to promote and maintain good fellowship and the highest level of citizenship within members and the community.

A further goal of their society was the promotion and enhancement of Italian custom and culture in all its endeavours. This society and I am sure Italian societies right across this country have lived up to these ideals and continue to live up to these ideals and show how valuable their community is to Canada.

I would like to note that in September 1939, three days after German troops had invaded Poland, the Principe di Piemonte passed a motion pledging its loyalty to Canada. I have already outlined the historical background of what happened after that.

I would also like to mention the Canadian Italian Business and Professional Association of Thunder Bay that was incorporated in 1993. It promotes the recreational, cultural, social, artistic business and professional activities of Italian Canadians in Thunder Bay and the surrounding area. It encourages the participation of Italian Canadians in the economic and public affairs of that region and Canada.

What I am really trying to get at with this description is the importance and value that I am sure all of us in the House and right across this country see, not only in our immigrant population in general, but in particular today with our Italian immigrants. I believe that Canada would be a much poorer place without the contribution of Italian Canadians.

I would be willing to speak with the member later as to whether in fact the funds have flowed. I do not believe they have. As I said on the website, no funds are listed relating to projects associated with the treatment of Italian Canadians during World War II.

The Conservatives say that this bill is shameful. We can easily pass it with the co-operation of everyone in the House and, with the apology that has already taken place, we could ensure that the money that has been announced on numerous occasions is finally delivered.

Italian-Canadian Recognition and Restitution ActPrivate Members' Business

May 28th, 2009 / 5:45 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Joe Volpe Liberal Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

Mr. Speaker, I hope you will forgive me in anticipation of some errors that I might make in the course of my presentation. I feel so passionate about this that I know I will lapse into my mother tongue. I do not mean any disrespect to parliamentarians who may be listening or, indeed, the translators, but I hope everyone will forgive me in anticipation thereof.

I would like to begin in French, because I wish to thank some of the members who spoke before me, particularly, the hon. member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, a Bloc member. He talked about this bill a few weeks ago. He said it was the fair thing to do and that this bill needed the support of all members of this House. How incredible that a member of the Bloc, a self-described sovereignist party, and some might say one that is less Canadian—although I would disagree—but someone who defines his Canadian identity by the fact that he lives in Quebec. He defines himself as a Quebecker, and he believes that this bill should be supported by all Quebeckers and all Canadians from coast to coast to coast.

Why? Because Canada wronged its citizens, not others, but its own citizens. One needs to read the bill in French in order to grasp what the hon. member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie was trying to get across. My colleague from Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel deserves congratulations from all hon. members for introducing this bill. In English, we talk about Italian Canadians having been victims of the War Measures Act, while references to this in French make it clear that the Canadian government of the day felt that Italian Canadians should be treated as enemy aliens. They were Canadians. What does it mean to be Canadian? To be considered as subjects of another country, an enemy country? They had been here for over a hundred years, they were here as Canadians, as subjects of Canada.

My colleague from Oak Ridges—Markham spoke of wrongs that need to be forgotten. I know all about forgetting and putting things aside, but we need to keep in mind the rights that individuals acquired by birth or residence, their identity as Canadians. They were British subjects, they were Canadians.

Italian-Canadian Recognition and Restitution ActPrivate Members' Business

May 28th, 2009 / 5:50 p.m.
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Conservative

Paul Calandra Conservative Oak Ridges—Markham, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I think it is important to note that at no time in my speech did I say that we needed to forget what happened to Italian Canadians. What I did say was that we apologized to Italian Canadians in 1990. The Conservative prime minister—

Italian-Canadian Recognition and Restitution ActPrivate Members' Business

May 28th, 2009 / 5:50 p.m.
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Liberal

Joe Volpe Liberal Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

Mr. Speaker, I spoke in French and I may have made some mistakes, but I said nothing that was seriously wrong. I spoke of the wrongs done by the Canadian government to its citizens, not citizens of another country, but its own citizens.

They are citizens. One becomes a Canadian to become a Canadian. One is either born here, like many of my cousins and aunts and uncles, or they acquire citizenship by virtue of their residence, their responsibility and their civic duty toward this country. That is how one becomes a Canadian. One does not then become a subject of an enemy nation.

When my colleague from Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel proposes this legislation, my compliments go to him. My compliments also go to my colleague from Vancouver Kingsway who also stood on behalf of the NDP and said that he and his party supported the legislation because they understood the basic concept behind it and that they applaud the initiative of the member from Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel”.

I had the privilege of being around the cabinet table when this proposal, enunciated in Bill C-302, was put on the table. What the member for Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel says is that the Government of Canada should honour the commitment that it made to the four representative institutions of the Italian Canadian community in the country. There was the Canadian Italian Business and Professional Association and the Congress of Italian Canadians.

There was also the Italian-Canadian Community Foundation in Quebec.

Finally, there was the Order Sons of Italy. All four organizations negotiated for the better part of 10 months in order to come up with what is called the ACE program.

The Government of Canada fell in 2006 and the current government took up this and said that it would not give them what they signed on to. It was not going to respect the contract the Government of Canada signed with the representatives of the community, the contract that called for a sum that was considerably higher than what has been proposed by the government, and, by the way, it would flow through this organization in order to establish a foundation to achieve the educational objectives, to achieve the commemorative programs and to gauge awareness for all of the country.

However, it did not close the door to individual considerations by the estates of the 632 individuals who were unjustly interned. They were never charged and no laws were broken. They were never given any indication as to why they were there except that they were citizens of an enemy nation. They were Canadian citizens.

I ask to be forgiven if I get excited about this but it is because we are talking about the human rights and the citizenship rights of everyone.

[Member spoke in Italian]

[English]

The Government of Canada has made excuses to others and has apologized. It is not a novel thing. We are not leaving ourselves open to any kind of legal liabilities by making an apology.

[Member spoke in Italian]

If a person is a Canadian citizen, it is of little importance where one came from or what political party one belongs to. One is a citizen, and that is all. So if apologies have already been given to other citizens, there is a need to apologize to the Italians as well. Why?

We should think about this for a moment. Six hundred and thirty-two families were disrupted during the war because the political situation in the world at the time dictated a circumstance that nobody here wanted, and yet the people of Italian origin who were here were automatically put on guard as subjects of an enemy nation.

A cousin of mine was in the Royal Navy and yet the entire family was under police surveillance for the duration of the war.

A former member of this House, whom we know well, had a brother enlisted in the RCAF and a family under police surveillance.

Nobody said, “Sorry, we made an error”. Nobody said that we were enemies of Canada. Nobody ever said that the Italian community committed an injustice toward the people, the country and the Government of Canada but they were interned and jobs were lost.

[Member spoke in Italian]

[English]

It is right that this legislation calls, at the very least, on the Government of Canada to respect the agreement signed by the Government of Canada in 2005 with the four institutions that represent the Italian community in Canada. That is the starting point. It is not the closing point.

I compliment the member for Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel for having brought this legislation to this point in the House. He deserves compliments and he deserves support, not negative criticism.

Italian-Canadian Recognition and Restitution ActPrivate Members' Business

May 28th, 2009 / 5:55 p.m.
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Peterborough Ontario

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage

Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak to this bill with great pride. I consider myself to be one of the most fortunate people in the whole world. I am very fortunate because of my ancestry. I am very fortunate to have come from such a strong family that taught me everything that I believe makes me successful today.

I want to talk about a number of people during my speech. I am going to make this very personal, because I do believe that this is a personal issue. I am going to go way back. I am going to go back to 1927, the year a young man named Arcangelo arrived at the port in Halifax from Italy. He came here with no money, but he came to a land of hope where he believed things would be better and where he could build a better life.

Over the years he sent money back to Italy. He brought his family over. He brought his sister and brother. His father came. They built a life and they built families. He landed in northern Ontario at a place called Britt, close to Parry Sound. He worked for the Canadian Pacific Railway. He married a woman named Marguerite. They had a family of nine children.

The War Measures Act came into place in 1939. They had been living in Canada for 12 years at that point. It had been 12 years of working, 12 years of building, 12 years of serving and 12 years of being a Canadian, but at that point, they became enemies of the state. It was a sad time in our history and it never should have happened. What did that cause? What came from that? They were under police surveillance. The people who lived in those neighbourhoods in that small town all knew that they were the Italian family. That was the Italian family and they were to be hated because they were enemies of the state. I will talk about the effects of it.

A young man was born on September 28, 1942. His name was Enrico Giuseppe. He grew up in that small town. He went to those small schools, where people knew that he was of the Italian family. They were the Italians. One did not want to be Italian in Canada then because of what had happened, because we shamed them, because we made them feel like they were lesser Canadians who should not be respected.

Arcangelo was my grandfather. Enrico Giuseppe was my father. He changed his name to Henry. He is one of the proudest Canadians I have ever known and he taught me to be proud of this country. He did not harbour any ill will, because the Italians of this country overcame that incident. They overcame that travesty and injustice that was committed against them by demonstrating a work ethic, a commitment and a love for this country that is to be celebrated by all Canadians.

What is disgraceful about this legislation is that it divides people. It tries to conjure up old wounds to make them look like they will never heal. Italians forgave. My family forgave. They went through a horrible situation. My father's family were beaten up. They were in fights. They had a tough childhood. They went through difficulty. It was hard getting jobs because of what they were, not who they were. They suffered discrimination the likes of which is similar to what one would hear for any other race or group living in Canada or anywhere else. It was because of this travesty that was committed against them.

My grandfather, Arcangelo, worked almost 50 years for the Canadian Pacific Railway. He was so proud. In the late 1950s, he learned to speak English. He had to teach himself. My grandmother spoke five languages, as a matter of fact. He learned to speak English. People always ask me why I cannot speak Italian, given that my grandmother could speak five languages. In the 1940s the last thing people wanted their kids to be was an Italian in Canada, so they hid it.

My father never said his name was Enrico. It was Henry. In fact, everybody knew him as Hank, because if he said his name was Enrico, and Enrico Giuseppe especially, he probably would not have much of a future. His father never even spoke to him in Italian, and my grandfather could barely speak English. My grandfather's English was so bad that when my wife first met him, she thought he was speaking Italian to her, but he was speaking English.

My grandfather and grandmother raised their nine children as Canadians, proud Canadians. They spoke English. They worked hard. They built lives. They contributed to this society and they are one of many families who did. There are millions of Canadians of Italian origin living in this country. The overwhelming majority of them have forgiven for this. They do not want to go back. They are proud Canadians.

When the Prime Minister speaks I think a lot of people listen. I know I listen when the Prime Minister speaks.

In 1990 Prime Minister Mulroney did something that nobody had done before. I think even my Liberal colleagues across the floor who have brought forward this legislation, which is very divisive, would acknowledge that when they were in power in the 1940s, when the Liberals were in power in the 1950s, in the 1960s, in the 1970s, in the 1980s, in the 1990s, when the Liberals were in power in the current millennium, they did not do this. Now there is a private member's bill on the issue. Where were they for the almost 70 years that occurred? Where were they?

In 1990 Brian Mulroney said, “On behalf of the government and the people of Canada, I offer a full and unqualified apology for the wrongs done to our fellow Canadians of Italian origin during World War II”. That was a full acknowledgement that what had been done was wrong, that what had been done should never have happened, and frankly, what that meant to the Italians who lived in this country, who called this country home, what that meant to them in their lives from the years that extended beyond that.

When my father met my mother, my mother was forbidden to see my father because he was an Italian. That is awful, but that was the reality. That was the situation.

What is wrong with this bill? Why will I not support it? My name is about as Italian as it gets, and when a person runs for office with an Italian name in a city like Peterborough, it is quite an accomplishment to get elected. It would not have happened back in the 1940s. Why will I not support this bill? Because it takes the country backward, not forward. It does not represent the Italian community of Canada. This comes down to money. The Liberals are trying to boil this down to making an issue of, “The Government of Canada says it will give us $5 million. We want $12.5 million”. That is nonsensical.

I started out by saying that I feel that I am the most fortunate person in the world. My grandfather felt he was the most fortunate person in the world. My father felt that he was the most fortunate person in the world. His brothers and sisters felt that they were the most fortunate people in the world because this country was their home and they were proud this country was their home.

They do not like this because they are Canadians. They are not Italian Canadians. They are not Canadians from Italy. People do not say that I am from Italy. I am from Peterborough. I was born in St. Joseph's Hospital. I am as Canadian as it gets. They do not want to be broken down and divided into chunks by someone saying they are Italian Canadian, they were discriminated against and they should get $12.5 million. They do not want it.

This is a disgraceful piece of legislation. It divides Canadians at a time when we need to pull together, fight together and combat everything that is coming toward us, whether it is the economic crisis we are going through or all the other uncertainties in the world. Canadians of all cultural backgrounds need to pull together. This bill divides them.

Italian-Canadian Recognition and Restitution ActPrivate Members' Business

May 28th, 2009 / 6:05 p.m.
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Liberal

Joe Volpe Liberal Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

Mr. Speaker, on a point of order, this is a very serious topic and when I spoke on it I never made one reference to a partisan affiliation. It is important to keep in mind that the legislation calls on the government to honour what a previous government signed in a contractual arrangement. It is important to keep that in mind even though people get emotional.

Italian-Canadian Recognition and Restitution ActPrivate Members' Business

May 28th, 2009 / 6:05 p.m.
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NDP

Glenn Thibeault NDP Sudbury, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to commend the hon. member for Peterborough for a very passionate and a great speech tonight. I may disagree with some of the opinions on what this bill would do, but I truly appreciated what he had to say.

I am glad to have the opportunity to speak tonight to Bill C-302, An Act to recognize the injustice that was done to persons of Italian origin through their “enemy alien” designation and internment during the Second World War, and to provide for restitution and promote education on Italian-Canadian history. The New Democrats and I are pleased to support this bill and to assist with its movement through Parliament.

Let me begin my speech this evening by telling the story of an Italian born Sudburian who was the victim of the government's internment policy.

Dr. Luigi Filippo Pancaro arrived in Canada in the late 1920s after graduating with his medical degree from the University of Rome. During the early 1930s, Dr. Pancaro and his wife settled in Sudbury with the large Italian community and became a member of the staff at the Sudbury regional hospital. In addition to joining the hospital staff, Dr. Pancaro also opened a private practice and became the family doctor for many members of the Italian community. On June 11, 1940, Dr. Pancaro was suddenly and without reason pulled away from a patient he was seeing, placed in the back of a police van and transported to the Sudbury jail.

Dr. Pancaro's abduction occurred a day after Italy had declared war on Canada. The evening before he was taken away in a police van, Prime Minister Mackenzie King ordered the internment of hundreds of Italian Canadians identified by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police as enemy aliens. Once Dr. Pancaro reached the Sudbury jail, he was locked in a cell with many other Italian born men, most of them his patients. Dr. Pancaro was part of a group of Italians that were sent to the internment camp in Petawawa, situated in the Ottawa Valley, where he remained for two years.

The roundup of Italian Canadians was virtually completed by October 1940. Most of them were sent to Camp Petawawa. It is difficult to establish exactly how many Italian Canadians were interned, although estimates range from 600 to 700.

After that bitter experience, Dr. Pancaro returned to Italy to practise medicine. He did ultimately return to Sudbury in 1956 where he continued his successful medical practice until 1981.

The facts are simple, that people of Italian origin like Dr. Pancaro were subject to internment at the hands of the government during World War II and that this act of persecution was carried out upon these people for no reason other than their Italian origins. The internment of Italians during World War II has been acknowledged but never redressed officially in the House of Commons. This bill provides an opportunity to do what should have been done long ago with dignity.

To be clear, there have been steps taken to make amends for the disgraceful treatment of Italian Canadians. In 1990, the National Congress of Italian Canadians outlined the injustices in a brief sent to then Prime Minister Mulroney. The brief outlined the desire for an acknowledgement of the injustice, compensation paid and an apology. The PM did indeed apologize in 1990. He mentioned repatriations, and former Prime Minister Paul Martin also promised repatriations. Sadly, many of the commitments were empty promises. Despite these words, money has never really flowed and although money was announced with great fanfare and media attention, successive governments did not follow up on honouring their pledges and ensuring that Italian Canadians could access these funds.

Though Italian Canadians had to endure tremendous hardships 70 years ago, they were not thwarted in their drive to incorporate themselves into Canadian communities across the country and to become leaders in their own right in the promotion of Italian heritage and culture.

I would like to take this opportunity to recognize some of the tremendous contributions that certain organizations and individuals have made in my riding of Sudbury toward the promotion of Italian heritage and culture.

Sudbury is lucky to host the Caruso Club, one of the largest Italian associations in all of Ontario. Formed in 1947, the Caruso Club is a not-for-profit organization with a goal to promote, enhance and preserve Italian culture and heritage within the Canadian multicultural mosaic, to render assistance to persons of Italian nationality in need and to establish and maintain a library and archives of Italian heritage.

I would like to offer thanks to the current board of directors: Sav Doni, John Santagapita, Egidio Manoni, Linda Zanatta-Beaudoin, Danilo Monticelli, Lina Sanchioni, Bob Armiento, Ugo Rocca and board president, Tony Nero for the club's continued contributions and support for the local community. Felix Santacapita, who passed away a few years ago, is another one of the many committed community members who gave countless hours at the Caruso Club.

One of the largest events the club organizes is the annual Italian festival. During this four day event, Sudburians have the opportunity of participating in a variety of events and presentations, including sporting events like cycling, soccer, and bocce tournaments and the Ms. Caruso pageant, an event my daughter Trinity is excited to take part in this year. She is able to do that, as my wife is from Italian ancestry.

A key organizer behind this event is Ms. Benita Dellece. Benita has played a tremendous role in increasing the community's awareness and appreciation of Sudbury's Italian community through her efforts in organizing this event. In addition to the Italian pageant, she has played a huge role in educating hundreds of Sudburians about the city's rich Italian heritage and culture.

Another important member of the Sudbury and Italian community is John Fera, who was recently re-elected as president of the United Steelworkers Local 6500. Mr. Fera has spent many hours around the bargaining table advocating for his union brothers and sisters, and he continues the legacy of outspoken and community-driven Italians in Sudbury.

There is precedence for official apologies in the House of Commons. Given that official apologies in the House of Commons have been offered for past actions of the Canadian government to Canadians of Japanese origin, first nations, Canadians of Chinese origin and other communities, I urge all members to join me in voting in favour of sending Bill C-302 to committee.

The New Democrats have stood against internment and the War Measures Act for decades. We will stand again in support of this bill to ensure that Italian Canadians are given the formal apology that is so long overdue and that the wrongs committed nearly 70 years ago can be righted.

Italian-Canadian Recognition and Restitution ActPrivate Members' Business

May 28th, 2009 / 6:15 p.m.
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Liberal

Massimo Pacetti Liberal Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by thanking the members who spoke in favour of my bill. The hon. member for Eglinton—Lawrence already mentioned a few of them. The member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie said he would be in favour of the bill, as did the members for Vancouver Kingsway, Beaches—East York, Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, Thunder Bay—Rainy River, my colleague and friend, the member for Eglinton—Lawrence and, more recently, the member for Sudbury.

I would also like to thank the Bloc Québécois, the NDP and my colleagues in the Liberal Party who have indicated their support for this bill.

I have some prepared notes, but I am going to try to summarize this. I know it is an emotional bill for people of my origin. I am a Canadian of Italian origin. I was born in this country, so I have a different perspective on how this bill is going to affect my community.

There has not been any contradiction of whether the internment ever occurred, so at least that is clear in everybody's mind. We do not have the actual numbers of how many times they were actually interned because the record keeping was never properly controlled. We are not really sure how many were interned. We know how many were interned in Petawawa, but there were three other prison camps, and we are not sure of the numbers. There were various studies done by different organizations and the actual number never came to light. There were a lot of people arrested when the internment started. They were imprisoned in different jail cells around the country, such as in Hamilton and mainly in the area of Montreal.

This is a regrettable chapter in Canadian history, and basically the bill is to provide for an official apology in the House of Commons for the injustices visited upon persons of Italian origin and the Italian community in Canada during World War II.

I would be remiss if I did not point out that there is a precedent for the Government of Canada to offer apologies in the House of Commons for past injustices that have occurred under previous governments. The immediate examples that spring to mind are the apologies offered to Chinese Canadians for the head tax, to first nations Canadians for the treatment of their people in residential schools, and a strikingly similar example of the apology offered to Japanese Canadians for the internment of persons of Japanese origin in World War II. It is roughly in the same time frame and circumstances that persons of Japanese origin and Italian origin were subjected to similar persecution by the same government for the same reason, namely their ancestry.

In one case, that of Japanese Canadians, an apology was offered in the House of Commons for the transgression. In another, that of the Italian Canadians, we are still debating whether or not an apology in the House of Commons is necessary or desirable. What makes one group deserving of an apology and another group less deserving?

I was talking with a member of the Italian community, Dominic Campione, who worked quite hard, and he said, “All you have to say is that it is a double shame”. The issue is a double shame because it was a shame that this actually happened then, and it is a shame now if we do not recognize what happened and we do not come to terms with apologizing. I cannot choose any better words than saying it is a double shame. It was a shame then and it is a shame now.

I am requesting an apology. There is no dollar amount in the bill, so if people are scared about dollar amounts, I do not think they have to be afraid. There is a clause for some type of restitution for educational purposes. That is up to the Italian communities. There are representatives. We had an agreement that was signed by the four major organizations: the National Congress of Italian Canadians, the National Federation of the Canadian Italian Business and Professional Association, the Order Sons of Italy of Canada, and la Fondation communautaire canadienne-italienne du Québec.

Italian-Canadian Recognition and Restitution ActPrivate Members' Business

May 28th, 2009 / 6:20 p.m.
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Liberal

Massimo Pacetti Liberal Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel, QC

And the federal government.

Casa d’Italia is also quite active on this problem because of its involvement during the internment. It actually helped a lot of Italian families during the internment process.

I want to get to two quick points. The member for Peterborough mentioned the part about the Italian community forgiving. I understand that the Italian community has forgiven. The problem is that they have forgotten. The idea of this bill is to remind people that we can forget, and if we do not learn from our history we are not going to learn for our future.

Again, I want to thank the members for their support and the community for its support.

Italian-Canadian Recognition and Restitution ActPrivate Members' Business

March 24th, 2009 / 6:15 p.m.
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Liberal

Massimo Pacetti Liberal Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel, QC

moved that Bill C-302, An Act to recognize the injustice that was done to persons of Italian origin through their “enemy alien” designation and internment during the Second World War, and to provide for restitution and promote education on Italian-Canadian history, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to present my private member's bill, Bill C-302, An Act to recognize the injustice that was done to persons of Italian origin through their “enemy alien” designation and internment during the Second World War, and to provide for restitution and promote education on Italian-Canadian history.

The historical context of this bill is broad and complex, but I will try nevertheless to explain briefly, despite the little time I have, the importance of passing this bill.

Needless to say with a surname like Pacetti and a first name like Massimo, my Italian origins are no secret.

This bill is not just about Italians; it is about making a wrong into a right for all Canadians. The purpose of this bill is to demonstrate that Canada's history is not much different from one era to another, including the stories of one immigrant group versus another.

Canada was and continues to be the promise of a land that offers opportunity, where the principles of peace, order and good government triumph over the chaos of war, corruption and poverty. Ours is a country that offers hope, freedom, prosperity, or simply a better life to thousands of people who just need to be given a fair chance to succeed.

Without history we have no future, and to ignore our history is even worse in that we deny our existence.

My bill, this bill, claims, simply, recognition of the injustices committed in the 1940s and the restoration of justice.

On June 10, 1940 Italy declared war on the free world. Though it was painful for some Italian Canadians to think of Italy as the enemy because of the family they left behind, their loyalty was to Canada, but to the Government of Canada this did not matter. Italian Canadians were still designated as enemy aliens in spite of the fact that a year earlier a report by Norman Robertson to justice minister Ernest Lapointe in 1939, the year before the internment of Italian Canadians commenced, made several recommendations against internment claiming that a large majority of Italian Canadians were not disloyal to this country. Robertson felt that it would not be in the public interest to recommend their immediate arrest at the outbreak of an eventual war between Canada and Italy and that any arrest on the grounds of disloyalty must be based on evidence and must be corroborated with proof that the individual in question was likely to act in a manner prejudicial to public safety. However, it has become clear over the years that individuals were in fact arrested on speculation alone.

What happened next was that the prime minister of the day, W. L. Mackenzie King, invoked the War Measures Act and took to the airwaves to issue the following statement: “The Minister of Justice has authorized the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to take steps to intern all residents of Italian origin, whose activities have given ground for the belief or reasonable suspicion that they might, in time of war, endanger the safety of the state”.

It was with these words that the nightmare began for many. Imagine, Canadians, some of Italian origin, others whose names sounded Italian, or just because they had Italian friends were designated as enemy aliens. They were forced by the RCMP to register their names and report to the RCMP on a monthly basis. In some cases travel restrictions were imposed upon them. Others had their assets seized by the state, while various Italian organizations were declared illegal, as was the teaching of the Italian language.

It was common for police forces to arrest and detain individuals they deemed to be security risks for no reason. These actions were enforced randomly based solely on ethnicity and affected anyone whose name ended in a vowel. This meant that Italians and non-Italians alike had to spend nights in jail.

These measures caused severe damage to the psyche of Italian communities in Canada. Within the Italian community there was a tremendous respect for authority and therefore a tendency to defer to authority figures, even in incidents where there were abuses. This was compounded by the fact that Italians simply wanted to fit in to their new homeland and be viewed as good Canadians by their compatriots. While there was a certain degree of indignation within the community, they mostly felt shame, so they suffered in silence.

But this bill does not only speak to those individuals. This bill speaks to the most tragic part of the story. It is the story of over 1,000 persons of Italian origin. I speak of those who were subjected to internment in prison camps, mainly in Petawawa, picked up in the middle of the night, put on a train and sent to prison camps. To those who were never charged, just detained and harassed, the toll that internment took on those individuals and their families is too great to do justice in such a limited amount of time, but their story must be told.

One may ask, what are a few hundred or a thousand people?

First, it is the untold story of an entire community that suffered, a story where many professionals of Italian origin at that time were too embarrassed or scared to be seen as they were, which is Italian, causing many of them to change their names. This dealt a crippling blow to the burgeoning Italian community as a generation of leaders was lost to them.

Second, let us remember the time in history that we are dealing with. During the internment most of those arrested were males, many of whom were the head of their household and the sole breadwinner for their family, which in the late 1930s and early 1940s was far more crippling to a family than it would be today. They were taken away from their families without reason. Mothers and children were left behind to fend for themselves in a land they were still trying to comprehend. They were left on their own with no social programs, no community based organizations, no charter of rights. There was a language barrier. Many were illiterate. There was no government to turn to. Such a dire situation befalling Canadian residents is unthinkable to Canadians today, but this was not the worst of it.

While the detainees were put to work on forced labour projects, such as the construction of roads and the clearing of land, many of their families, already stigmatized by the broader community, isolated themselves from other people of Italian origin as well. In order not to be viewed as a family in dire straits, many families turned inward to avoid further shame. The burden they bore was the heaviest of all, and I ask this chamber, for what reason?

Why? That the government of the day was shaken by the war is understandable, but it cannot justify the fact that people like James Franceschini were taken from their family. When Mr. Franceschini arrived in Canada in 1906, at the age of 15, he was penniless and spoke no English. He found work and saved what it took to set up his own excavation firm. He became Canada's largest road contractor.

When Canada went to war, Mr. Franceschini founded Dufferin Shipbuilding Company in order to build for the government what was probably the least expensive minesweepers in the country. When Italy declared war with Canada, the government seized the business, arrested James Franceschini and interned him in a camp as the subject of an enemy country.

Like Mr. Franceschini, most of the internees were people who were important in their community. Their arrest was to serve as an example to other Italian Canadians. The government's action also led ordinary citizens to attack Italians. Italian Canadian businesses were boycotted and employees were ostracized by their colleagues and fired by their employer. Even Italian gravestones were vandalized.

However, despite the blows to Italian Canadians during the war, there is no doubt as to their loyalty to Canada. The community made a significant contribution to the war effort. Many young men volunteered for combat in the Canadian armed forces, and young Italian women supported the war effort through their work for the Canadian Red Cross.

Since World War II, and in the decades after the internment, Italian Canadians continued to embrace Canada just as they had prior. The dream of integrating into their new homeland was pursued anew and the contributions they have made to Canadian society in fields such as arts, politics, business, sports, science, the humanities and any other sector one could think of has been of great benefit to Canada.

It is also true that Canadians have become aware of issues pertaining to human rights and cultural diversity over the years and, as a result, the inherent injustice of the actions taken against people of Italian origin as a result of being designated “enemy aliens” is evident to all Canadians who are aware of this issue.

As we are more enlightened now than we once were, I think that resistance to addressing this issue is nothing short of ridiculous. We know what happened and we know that what happened was wrong, so I have one question. Since 1940, why has a Canadian prime minister not stood in this chamber and apologized?

The Government of Canada has issued official apologies through the prime minister and this House of Commons to groups such as Chinese Canadians, Indian Canadians, Aboriginal Canadians and Japanese Canadians who were also interned during World War II, and our country has been strengthened in each instance because we did the right thing. Why will we not do the same for Italian Canadians? Why does the government continue to pit groups against each other for justice and recognition? Is there a moratorium on doing the right thing that I am not aware of or does the government believe that the injustice visited upon Italian Canadians during World War II was too insignificant to warrant a proper apology?

This is an apology for Canadians by Canadians. It is time for the Government of Canada to do the right thing and offer an apology in the House of Commons for the internment of persons of Italian origin during World War II.

This is why, in essence, we must pass this bill. As the member for Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel, a riding that has the highest concentration of people of Italian extraction in the country, I can assure you that my electors and my community feel the situation has gone on long enough and must be resolved once and for all.

The Italian community is united on this issue. They have been patient, and perhaps too patient as there are very few, if any, individuals alive out there today who were interned, but many of their children who also bore the brunt of this injustice and experienced this firsthand are still with us. Any action taken to address the suffering caused by the internment of their parents would be more meaningful if we could look them in the eye when that action is taken.

It would be tragic if we continued to allow a generation of Canadians to remain unaware of their own history. For better or for worse, it is our history and we must claim ownership of it. The longer we wait, the more difficult it will be to reclaim it. Soon it will be lost to us forever and with this the opportunity to better ourselves. Time is not on our side in this instance.

Again, this would not only be for the benefit of one ethnic community but for our entire country. If history has taught us anything, it is that those who forget the mistakes of the past are doomed to repeat them.

One wonderful thing about Canada is that it is a brave country. We have always had enough courage to look at ourselves objectively, recognize our flaws, own up to our mistakes and take up difficult challenges before they become too immense to handle. Every time we have done so, our country has benefited immensely.

This is why my bill proposes that the Government of Canada officially recognizes, apologizes and provides restitution that should be based on the agreement in place, signed on November 12, 2005 between the Government of Canada and the Italian Canadian community of which the signatories were the National Congress of Italian-Canadians, the National Federation of Canadian Italian Business and Professional Association, the Order Sons of Italy of Canada and La Fondation communautaire canadienne italienne du Québec which called for the Government of Canada to pay $12.5 million in restitution to the Italian Canadian community for the internment of Italian Canadians during World War II.

I am sure we can correct the error that the internment of Italian Canadians represents. To this end, I propose the production of educational materials relating to Italian-Canadian history and promoting ethnic and racial harmony and also providing an account of internments during the second world war and of the contributions Italian Canadians made to the advancement of Canada.

I propose as well that a stamp or series of stamps be issued by Canada Post. This would be the ideal way to make this story known across the country, since the process is simple, established and requires no additional investment.

I will close on a more personal note. My personal story is but a footnote in the ever-growing book of Canadian history but it is indicative of the progress Canadians of Italian origin have made over the years as a result of living in such a wonderful country.

This story does have a dark chapter that stands starkly in contrast with all the others. I say it is time to write a new ending to this chapter. Even if it is 69 years after the fact, we must acknowledge, apologize and redress the wrongs of the past so we can turn the page once and for all on this dark chapter in Canadian history.

I am a proud Canadian, born and bred, but I do not see this as being my battle but my country's battle to win the war against the most insidious enemy there is, and that is apathy. It is what stops a good person from being moved to fight against what they know is wrong. I have the honour of going to work every day and serving my country while honouring my heritage. My constituents and community have put their faith in me and I must always be willing to stand up against what I know is wrong to justify their trust.

All I am doing here today is standing up against what I know is wrong and I hope the good people who fill this chamber choose to stand with me.