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.


Massimo Pacetti  Liberal

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


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


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.


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.


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.

Members not seeking re-election to the 42nd ParliamentGovernment Orders

June 10th, 2015 / 8:20 p.m.
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Massimo Pacetti Independent Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel, QC

Mr. Chair, over 13 years ago, I answered the call and agreed to run in the byelection in the riding of Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel. With the support of my family, friends and constituents, I managed to get elected and then re-elected for five consecutive terms.

As one of the rare MPs who was born in his riding and has always lived there, I was very proud and humbled to agree to represent my riding here in Ottawa. I was very touched that my peers would entrust me with this great responsibility.

Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel is one of the most diverse ridings in Canada. Although that diversity presents some challenges, I have always considered it to be a great source of strength and vitality. Since I was first elected in 2002, I have sought to advance the issues that are important to our community, but always with a view to improving our country.

It would be hard to list every single thing that I accomplished in these 13 years. However, having served under two Liberal prime ministers, I had the opportunity to support a number of very important decisions—both national and international ones—that benefited Canada. In this time I also had the opportunity to help my community more directly by playing a role in ensuring that the Canadian Grand Prix would remain in Montreal, under the right hon. Jean Chrétien. Then, under the right hon. Paul Martin, I am proud to have helped the Italian channel RAI International obtain a broadcasting licence in Canada.

Other moments in my career as a member of Parliament that come to mind are when I was elected chair of the Standing Committee on Finance in 2004, after less than two years as a member of Parliament; when the House of Commons passed my private member's bill, Bill C-302, the Italian-Canadian Recognition and Restitution Act, on April 28, 2010; and when I worked with representatives from the Department of Finance to amend the regulations to make it easier for the people who need it most to access the registered disability savings plan.

However, the most rewarding part of my work here was when I was able to help people deal with issues that did not fall under my direct mandate. What I will remember most about my time as a member of Parliament is the opportunity to have a direct impact on another person's life, since the main reason I decided to run for public office was to help others.

Meeting Canadians from all over our great country and visiting their communities has also been an extraordinary experience for me. We live in a big, beautiful, eclectic country. I had opportunities before being a member of Parliament to travel this country, but as MPs, we are inspired by how amazing Canada is, which is why I was motivated to introduce a private member's bill called the discover your Canada act. The goal was to facilitate and encourage all Canadians to travel in Canada to get to know this country. Unfortunately, the House was not as enthusiastic about my idea as I was, and the bill did not pass, which is one of the disappointments of being a member of Parliament.

We all come here thinking we are going to change the world, and sometimes we succeed, even if it is in a small way. There are also times when we come up short, and for one reason or another, moments like that can be frustrating. In those times, I have always remembered that the most important thing is to never stop listening and to never stop trying to help people.

As many members know, being a member of Parliament is an extraordinary experience and privilege that gives us an opportunity to take action that can improve the lives of our fellow Canadians. When we see something that needs to be changed, that is a priceless gift I have appreciated immensely.

As well, I am grateful that this job has allowed me to cultivate a closer relationship with my community. Whether as a school trustee, a volunteer soccer coach for my daughter or hockey coach for my son, or a member of various community-based organizations, I have always been active in my community, before and during my tenure as a member of Parliament. As an MP, I have learned to be much more, because my constituents shared their concerns, their hopes, their frustrations, and their opinions with me on a daily basis in one way or another. This job has given me a perspective few people have the privilege to experience, and that will stay with me for the rest of my life.

I would be remiss if I did not take a moment to thank all the people who have walked this journey with me or simply made doing this job possible. I salute the staff of the House of Commons and the Parliament of Canada for their dedication and professionalism. This place could not function without the support of clerks, librarians, assistants, pages, support staff, maintenance workers, IT specialists, shuttle bus drivers, and of course, security staff, and many who are the engine of our democracy.

I thank my own staff, past and present, for giving 120% when I needed them to go above and beyond, and for not giving less than 80% even on those long summer days when Montrealers are more interested in spending time on terraces than in calling their local MP.

I say a special thanks to my employees who spent more than five years working for me. I actually have more employees who have worked more than five years than who have worked less: Sylvie Vogels, five years; Adele Cifelli, six years; Ben Niro, seven years; Pina Frangella, 12 years; and Suzanne Bertrand, more than 12 years.

To my constituents, it was an absolute honour to serve them. We come from a very special place, where in spite of all our differences, we never forget that we are all in this together and that our ability to show compassion and understanding is the truest measure of our community's success.

This kindness we have in Saint-Léonard Saint—Michel has sustained me during these last few months, which have been the most trying of my career. I can wish no person what I have gone through over this trying time, but good and bad things happen, especially in politics, and we must always be ready to deal with them. I remain positive and look forward to the future with my head held high, knowing that I have done no wrong and have represented my constituents honourably.

To my friends, who are too many to name, I thank them so much for their unwavering support. Of course, I thank my family for their love—my wife, Danielle; my son, Carlo; my daughter, Briana; my parents, Alessandro and Filomena; and my sister, Silvana, and brother, Franco, and their families. Without them, these last 13 years would not have been possible. I got to live out a dream because I had them all backing me up, and words cannot begin to express the depth of my gratitude to all of them.

I leave here with a sense of accomplishment.

[Member spoke in Italian as follows:]

Grazie. Buonasera.

Italian-Canadian Recognition and Restitution ActPrivate Members' Business

April 22nd, 2010 / 6:05 p.m.
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Massimo Pacetti Liberal Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel, QC

Mr. Speaker, the facts are in. We just heard speakers from all parties and the issue is pretty well decided, that this legislation is quite clear, events in the past happened and it is time to turn the page and move forward.

It is true that Italian Canadians were interned, detained and enveloped in a cloud of suspicion during the second world war because the government of the day decided to succumb to fear instead of granting these Canadians, for they were Canadian, the same consideration as other Canadians.

Over 60 years ago, our government allowed itself to be guided by fear rather than facts. That was wrong. Clearly, the government's actions destroyed families, reputations and communities, and debased our moral sensibility. These facts are undeniable. Clearly, the government took those measures based on some Canadians' ethnicity and a fear of that ethnicity. We all know that this is true and we all know that it was unfair.

Bill C-302 takes these facts into account and what it is proposing is quite simple. It calls on the Prime Minister to make an official apology here in the House of Commons to the Italian community. It proposes making Canadians aware of this chapter in our history in order that we may never commit the same mistake again. It proposes entrusting the task of deciding how to achieve the bill's educational goals to respected community groups that are closely linked to this issue. Bill C-302 proposes that we commit to facing this issue directly once and for all instead of sweeping it under the rug.

The government is opposed to the bill, but it has not been able to present one witness. Not one plausible reason has been given to justify voting against it. The only thing it claims is that an apology already was issued by a former prime minister to the Italian community to address the wrongs of the past. This was done at a dinner banquet in front of a small crowd and is not comparable to an official apology in the House of Commons. That is what this bill is asking for.

It is similar to those apologies we have seen under previous and current Conservative governments, for residential schools, the Chinese head tax and the Japanese internment during World War II. The proper setting for an apology by the government to address a wrong of the past is in the House of Commons and not in a banquet hall.

I have also heard that this bill is divisive, but nothing could be further from the truth. The bill seeks to unite Canadians. The bill is about Canadians apologizing to other Canadians. When a Canadian apologizes to another Canadian, it builds a bridge of respect, understanding and friendship.

I have heard that the bill is divisive because it singles out one cultural community, the Italian Canadian community. I argue that we were able to bring several witnesses before the heritage committee, and not one spoke against this bill. We were able to hear from all the important predominant organizations representing the Italian community, including the Canadian Italian Business and Professional Association, la Fondation Communautaire Canadienne-Italienne du Québec, the Order Sons of Italy of Canada, the Casa d'Italia, and of course the National Congress of Italian Canadians.

I want to thank everybody who spoke in favour of this bill. I want to thank the member for Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher who spoke more Italian than he ever has spoken English in this House. I have never spoken Italian in this House, so I want to compliment him on his Italian, which is very good. I also want to compliment and thank every other member who spoke on this bill.

As the debate on Bill C-302 comes to a close, I want to thank my colleagues. As I said earlier, this is a very emotional issue that has been ignored for far too long.

I would like to conclude by simply asking my colleagues to consider the history of this issue, the facts that have been stated, the intent of this bill and the essence of what it means to be Canadian. I ask them to consider all of this and to vote in favour of Bill C-302.

Let us turn the page on a sad chapter in our history once and for all, so we do not repeat it in the future.

Italian-Canadian Recognition and Restitution ActPrivate Members' Business

April 22nd, 2010 / 5:45 p.m.
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Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to Bill C-302.

At the outset, I want to congratulate the member for his perseverance in bringing forward this bill. A lot of work goes into a private member's bill. He has gone to considerable lengths and efforts to get the bill this far.

I recognize there is some disagreement between the supporters of the bill and the Conservatives, but that is to be expected in a House such as this. However, I encourage him. We in the NDP certainly support the bill. We are strongly behind it.

I also want to congratulate the member for Thunder Bay—Rainy River and the member for Vancouver Kingsway who made excellent presentations on this bill. I have read most, if not all, of the other speeches on this bill in Hansard.

This bill 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. As I indicated before, my party is universally in support of the member's efforts in this regard.

On September 3, 1939, the Government of Canada issued regulations that empowered the minister of justice with the full authority to act as he chose to destroy any subversion during the time of war. This allowed him to detain without trial any person and created a class of aliens who were not foreign nationals but were Canadian citizens.

On June 10, 1940, Italy declared war on Canada. That very evening, Prime Minister Mackenzie King announced that he had ordered the internment of hundreds of Italian Canadians identified by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police as enemy aliens. That order was applied to Italians who became British subjects after September 1, 1922.

The government also established a judicial mechanism to administer internment proceedings. It passed an order in council which ensured the registration of all people of Italian birth. Furthermore, the office of the custodian of alien property was authorized to confiscate the property of enemy aliens.

Like the internment of Japanese Canadians, Ukrainian Canadians, German Canadians and others, the forced registration and internment of Italian Canadians is a sad chapter in our history. In some respects it is a forgotten chapter because people my age and younger only learned of this history many years after the fact. It is very appropriate that legislatures across the country have dealt with these issues over the last few years. It is certainly better late than not at all.

The RCMP rounded up approximately 700 Italian Canadians. Often, parents were separated from their children and husbands from their families. There were 17,000 people designated as enemy aliens for no other reason than their birth. There was no reason to suspect that those interned posed any threat to Canada or Canadians. In fact, many of them were first world war veterans who had fought for their adopted country. That is a very hard fact to come to grips with and swallow, that someone who had served this country during the first world war, some 20 years later would be part of a group that was interned. It is very hard to get one's mind around that.

Presumably there were records. We have dealt with that. Everyone knew from the records who was who. It is hard to think that the RCMP would just simply take somebody who had been in this country for 20-plus years, who had served in the first world war and, after exemplary service and an exemplary work record, would round him up and take him away. It was not uncommon for men in uniform to come back home only to find that family members had been interned. I cannot think of a worse situation than that.

The roundup of Italian Canadians was virtually completed in October 1940 and, as we all know, most of them were sent to Camp Petawawa situated in the Ottawa River Valley. It is difficult to establish how many Italian Canadians were interned, although estimates range from 600 to 700. I read a lot of very good information on Italian community websites, which explain the history of what happened during that period.

Although the majority of those interned were from areas with the highest concentrations of Italian Canadians at the time, Montreal, Toronto and other centres in Ontario, there are also documented cases in western Canada.

The internment was brutal. Families could not visit or write interned people for the first year. They had to go a whole year without knowing where their family was. Italian Canadians were penalized financially. A spontaneous boycott of Italian businesses, whipped up by the prejudice of the times, took place throughout Canada. Provincial governments ordered municipalities to terminate relief payments to non-naturalized Italians. Travel restrictions were imposed on Italian Canadians and their ability to occupy certain jobs was prohibited.

We were half a world away from where the war was at. For Italy to be a threat to the North American continent at that time I would think would be absolutely non-existent. Why there would be so much concern about interning people on such a big scale in a vast country like this does not make any sense, certainly not in the context of the times. However, those were different times and people obviously had different attitudes.

Italian Canadians were forced to report on a monthly basis to the RCMP. Activities, such as teaching the Italian language and meetings of the Roma Society, were declared illegal. As a matter of fact, the previous Bloc speaker indicated how the Italian language could not be spoken in churches in Quebec and that French had to be used.

Internment was up to three years and the average interned person was held for almost 16 months. To put some feelings on this, these are not just numbers we are talking about. Some of the people interned were doctors, lawyers, carpenters, bakers, contractors and priests. I believe a doctor from Sudbury was interned at the time.

It was just as bad for families because these actions added to their psychological scars. They suffered constant harassment and ridicule from neighbours and co-workers and the fearmongering being perpetuated by elected officials of the day.

The federal government went even further. It froze bank accounts. It forced Italian Canadian families to subsist on $12 a month. Many Italian families were forced to sell their homes, businesses and valuable assets.

If we were to face something like that right now, I can imagine what our overwhelming reaction would be. We would find this hard to believe.

The Liberals, Conservatives and NDP members can be cats and dogs in this House some days, but without getting into a political fight, the fact is that members should note that it was New Democrats under the CCF who stood alone for decades against internment and against the War Measures Act and in favour of civil liberties. The forefathers of our party stood up against the erosion of civil liberties at a time when the Liberal Party was in power and was doing things like this. We have a very pristine history and a good position when it comes to issues like this.

Italian-Canadian Recognition and Restitution ActPrivate Members' Business

April 22nd, 2010 / 5:35 p.m.
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Jean Dorion Bloc Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher, QC

Mr. Speaker, in addition to the merits of Bill C-302, which is about recognizing and redressing, albeit in a small way, the injustice done to our fellow citizens of Italian ancestry during the second world war, I have very personal reasons for rising here today and supporting it.

Since several members of the Italian community are no doubt listening to this debate, I would like to begin by saying a few words to them in their mother tongue.

[Member spoke in Italian ]


For the benefit of my hon. colleagues who are not bilingual, I will translate what I just said in Italian.

I was raised, both during and after the war, in Ville-Émard, Montreal. At that time, there were many residents of Italian descent in that neighbourhood, as there are today. These people were our neighbours. We children all played together. Our parents were all from the same social background—labourers like my father or small business owners, people who worked hard. When my parents spoke about the internment of Italians during the war, it was always with sympathy and indignation. I think that my parents, if they were alive today, would be proud to see their son speaking in the House about legislation to acknowledge the injustice committed against our fellow Canadians of Italian descent.

In a 1957 book in Italian, Father Guglielmo Vangelisti described what the Italian community experienced when war was declared between Italy and Canada. Here is my translation of a passage from his book titled Gli Italiani in Canada.

Faced suddenly with such dreadful news, our compatriots in Montreal were dumbfounded and had scarcely enough breath to exclaim, “Poor us.” From then on, against their will, they became enemies of their beloved country. And even though they had previously been held in high esteem and loved as cousins and brothers, they would be looked on as enemies and traitors worthy of the utmost scorn. The RCMP swung into action immediately. With a list of our compatriots in hand, they ran here and there, like hounds on a trail. They went into homes, stores and offices and picked out the heads of family and the most prominent people in our community. Once they had found them, the RCMP handcuffed them and loaded them into the van, as their appalled wives and children looked on, crying and wailing.

Meanwhile, other police officers searched the house from top to bottom. They searched clothing, beds and cupboards, leaving nothing untouched. Once a good number of our compatriots had been rounded up, the van sped them away to the city's jails, where they were kept prisoner under close watch. This process was repeated until hundreds of people were being held.

In the jails of Montreal, our poor prisoners remained isolated in cells for days before being transferred to the concentration camp in Petawawa, without knowing how or why they were to stay there for months or even years, separated from their families and the rest of the world.

In this city without women, as Mario Duliani described it in one of his books, the men were constantly filled with fear and anxiety. They yearned to be free and gave up hope even when freedom was within their grasp.

As the detention camps filled up, the government ordered the seizure of Italians' assets as enemy property. The Casa Italia was seized. Our compatriots' property was seized along with what little money they had scrimped and saved to put in the bank. How did their families manage to support themselves? They had to wait and try to save money as best they could. By the end of it, they were up to their ears in debt.

Mr. Vangelisti went on to say—I am still translating from Italian—that while the second world war had disastrous consequences for many of our families, it was just as bad for our churches and parishes. Cherished popular celebrations were no longer held, processions and concerts were prohibited, raffles and all organizations were banned, even for charitable purposes. We were not allowed to gather, even just a few of us at a time. Although Italian was not banned in church, many people at Notre-Dame-du-Mont-Carmel in Montreal felt it was prudent given the overheated atmosphere to speak French instead. In Ottawa's Saint Anthony church, people began speaking only English.

We have come a long way. I believe that we are not always aware of just how fragile the protection that is supposed to guarantee our rights and freedoms is. Nothing will correct the injustices perpetrated on our fellow citizens of Italian origin some 70 years ago. Nevertheless, the bill introduced by our colleague from Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel will, among other things, make succeeding generations more aware of just how precious and fragile that protection is and of how important it is to defend and broaden it.

That is why I, like my Bloc Québécois colleagues, will vote for Bill C-302.

Italian-Canadian Recognition and Restitution ActPrivate Members' Business

March 30th, 2010 / 6:05 p.m.
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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 p.m.
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Carole Lavallée Bloc Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I understand the Liberal members taking offence at the comments by the hon. member for Peterborough. He is often more partisan than anything else.

The Bloc Québécois is in favour of the bill of the hon. member for Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel.

Bill C-302 asks three things of the Conservative government: to recognize the injustice that was done to persons of Italian origin through their “enemy alien” designation and internment during the second world war; to provide for restitution; and to promote education on Italian-Canadian history.

I am not the one who chose the term “Italian-Canadian”. I do not really see the difference between Canadian of Italian origin and Italian-Canadian.

If Bill C-302 is passed, Parliament would recognize this injustice. And I emphasize “Parliament” because that is what was discussed in committee.

It is important to mention that it is Parliament. Former Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney has already made public apologies, but that was at a gathering held outside Parliament. It was not as solemn as it might be if the current Prime Minister rose in the House and apologized on behalf of the Canadian government.

In committee an attempt was made to study the bill. At least three groups came to testify. First there were three Canadians of Italian origin or Quebeckers of Italian origin, who are members of a committee created by theMinister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism and who were hand-picked by the minister and who represented only themselves. These persons came to tell us that all this was unnecessary and that Italians did not want these apologies. I was quite surprised at this, but three persons who seemed to me quite credible came to tell us that.

At the following meeting of the committee on November 24, a great many Quebeckers and Canadians of Italian origin testified: the National Congress of Italian Canadians, Casa D'Italia, the Order Sons of Italy of Canada, and the Italian-Canadian Community Foundation of Quebec. All of these people told us that Brian Mulroney’s apologies were not enough and that they absolutely wanted to make known the history of Canadians of Italian origin. So be it.

Also in committee, the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism said that it would be undignified for the government to apologize too often. I do not recall if I had time to tell him, but I certainly remember this. I am pleased to have the opportunity to say this now. I wanted to respond to the minister that I do not believe it is undignified for a government to apologize too often. Instead, I think it is always dignified to recognize one's mistakes and apologize until our victims are satisfied. Whether in the case of a government or an individual, this shows dignity.

Of course, this bill is not perfect. We would have liked to amend it in committee, adding a suggestion to Canada Post Corporation to issue a postage stamp, rather than instructing it to do so. It seems that that corporation does not take instructions from anyone, especially not the Minister of National Revenue, as set out in the bill. It seems this is not within the powers of the Minister of National Revenue.

To accurately translate the wishes of the people who appeared before us and the sponsor of the bill, perhaps we should have insisted that it be amended in order to make it very clear that any apologies should come from Parliament, through the Prime Minister here in this House.

In the end, however, we ran out of time, because the Conservatives obstructed the committee's work for partisan reasons, forcing us to wrap up our work before we were done.

Despite these imperfections, the Bloc Québécois will vote in favour of the bill introduced by the member for Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel, because it is a way for us to pay tribute to all Quebeckers of Italian heritage and thank them for their support over the decades, particularly in Montreal, and for enriching our culture.

I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to all Quebeckers of Italian ancestry in my riding, especially the Italian senior's club in Saint-Hubert and its energetic and brilliant president, Guiseffina Vetri. In closing, I say grazie!

Italian-Canadian Recognition and Restitution ActPrivate Members' Business

March 30th, 2010 / 5:50 p.m.
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Peterborough Ontario


Dean Del Mastro ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to the bill, a bill that, when it was before committee, certainly stirred up strong emotions on all sides. When the bill was up for second reading I rose from my seat and voted against the bill because, while the bill has good intent, it is actually a very poor bill.

I am pleased to speak to an issue that concerns one of Canada's largest cultural groups. The last census indicated that there were about 1.4 million Canadians of Italian descent. I do not have an English name but I have never looked at myself as anything but a Canadian. I suppose I am a Canadian of Italian descent but I always object to the title “Italian Canadian”.

Italians were among the earliest Europeans to migrate to this continent. They have unquestionably contributed significantly to Canada and to North America if we look to our partners to the south in the United States. Americans of Italian descent have contributed significantly to that country. We can go back as far as 1881 when there were literally cascades of Italians immigrating to Canada and they were contributing toward massive construction projects, like the Canadian Pacific Railway.

This year will mark the 70th anniversary of the Italian internment in Canada. I would like to take members back to when Italy declared war on the Allies in 1940. The prime minister of the day ordered the internment of hundreds of Italian Canadians identified as enemy aliens. The prime minister invoked the War Measures Act known as the Defence of Canada Regulations. Today we look at the War Measures Act, which was repealed, by the way, by Prime Minister Brian Mulroney in 1988, the same Brian Mulroney who apologized to Canadians of Italian descent in 1990. I will get into that in a little while.

However, we look at that time and we look at the prime minister and Parliament invoking the War Measures Act at that time and wonder how they could do that. How could they have done that to Canadian citizens? The government also passed an order in council calling for the registration of all persons of Italian birth and for the confiscation of enemy aliens' property.

Despite the financial hardship and the shame suffered by some of their countrymen, hundreds of Italian Canadians enlisted in the Canadian armed forces because they felt the war against Fascism and Nazism was justified. The most decorated veteran from my city was a Canadian of Italian descent. He actually went to war serving in Italy on a battlefield where he met family members on the other side, but felt passionately enough about the cause to fight for Canada. It is an incredible story. There can be no doubt that Canadians of Italian descent have made enormous contributions to our nation and these historical facts constitute one of the saddest and most dramatic chapters in the annals of Canadian history.

As I said, the hon. member who brought forward Bill C-302, Italian-Canadian Recognition and Restitution Act, in relation to this dark chapter in our nation's history, has done so I believe with good intent, but it does not change the fact that it is a very bad bill and divides Canadians of Italian descent. In fact it looks backward at a time in Canadian history, but not backward enough to see that the apology that was offered some 20 years ago had a very profound effect on the Italian community.

I just want to reference something from a friend of mine, Annamarie Castrilli, who was the president of the National Congress of Italian Canadians. She was instrumental in obtaining the courageous admission of an apology by the then prime minister, Brian Mulroney. She wrote to me and said, “As you know, this year marks the 70th anniversary of the internment. To commemorate this, I have been asked to write a book which deals with what led up to the apology and the circumstances that existed in 1940. I am one of only two commissioners left who actually talked and corresponded with internees. There is only one left to my knowledge. The book is an analysis of the situation in Canada during World War II and the noble act of one prime minister where all else had failed. Whatever else may be said of Brian Mulroney, this was a significant achievement that set the record straight and profoundly changed the life of a community”.

She goes on to include a copy of the speech given by the then prime minister, Brian Mulroney.

This bill calls for an apology on behalf of Parliament, the Government of Canada and the Canadian people. The problem is that it suggests that there was an injustice, that the government acted illegally. We can look back at that time and ask how they could have done this. How could we actually have a law like the War Measures Act in place in a country like Canada that believes in rights and freedoms? We have the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It was a Conservative prime minister in 1958, I believe, who brought in the bill of rights protecting the rights of all Canadians.

We look back and wonder how that was possible but, unfortunately, it was not illegal. The then Liberal government acted within the law in enacting the War Measures Act. Bill C-302 calls for restitution to Italian Canadians in the form of educational projects that provide information on Italian Canadian history and promote ethnic and racial harmony. However, it also opens the door for unlimited liability from the Crown to persons who would seek damages from the Crown.

The member referenced other apologies. I acknowledge that we did have an apology for the Chinese head tax. I know that an injustice is an injustice and a crime is a crime, but the scale of what happened to Chinese Canadians or Canadians from the Chinese community occurred over decades of discrimination by the Crown. It was profound. It was unquestionably a sad time in our history. I know that we as Canadians are proud that we have moved beyond that but the scale of it was much larger. However, an agreement was arrived at.

Italian-Canadian Recognition and Restitution ActPrivate Members' Business

March 30th, 2010 / 5:30 p.m.
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December 3rd, 2009 / 12:40 p.m.
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Dean Del Mastro Conservative Peterborough, ON

Thank you.

I have a subamendment to the motion that reflects the legal concerns I brought forward, and I think it would also reflect a lot of the evidence we've heard at this committee. The subamendment would read as follows, picking up on the amendment proposed by the member for Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel. It says that Bill C-302 in clause 3 be amended by adding after line 16 on page 2 the following:

The Prime Minister shall, in the House of Commons, offer

--striking the words “the apology”--

his thoughts referred to in subsection (1) on behalf of the Government of Canada and the Canadian people.

Then I've added:

These remarks should specifically comment on the wrongs committed to the Italian Canadian community at that time and be made within the context that what occurred at the time is regrettable, but consistent with the laws of the nation at that time. The Prime Minister should also thank former Prime Minister Mulroney for his understanding in ensuring that history would not repeat itself by repealing the War Measures Act.

I referenced several times, and I think it's critically important, that this bill does not recognize the facts of what occurred at the time. In fact, I read legal opinion this morning that indicates the bill seeks to rewrite history. That's a problem, because Canada's history is not perfect. No nation's history is perfect. In fact, we have become, I think everyone would agree, a more civilized society. We have more rights. We have more privileges, and our Canadian Forces today continue to fight for our freedoms and to protect that democracy. But we can't rewrite history. We can't change what's been done.

In the days following the apology for residential schools, I remarked specifically that there is nothing I can do about the past, and the only thing we can hope for moving forward is forgiveness. It's the same thing with the Italian community. If we don't have forgiveness at this point, after what has already been done, then it's unlikely it will ever occur, because what's missing is not the apology. We cited many times that this event has been referenced. It was referenced in 1988. That's why this subamendment is important, because in 1988, when Prime Minister Mulroney repealed the War Measures Act, he did so specifically referencing the internment of Italian Canadians. Again, in 1990, when he addressed the National Congress of Italian Canadians in Toronto, an event organized by them, as outlined by Mr. Calandra, he specifically referenced the fact that they had repealed the War Measures Act, that we had learned from our history, that we would ensure that it would not occur again. Mr. Pomerleau indicated at some time previously in the committee that the War Measures Act was enacted in Quebec in 1970. While I disagree with the premise wholeheartedly that there's any similarity, Prime Minister Mulroney did in fact repeal the War Measures Act.

Mr. Pomerleau and I can have a conversation someday as to whether then French Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau was right for taking the actions that he took. We can have that discussion, that debate, someday. I'd love to hear his thoughts on it, but it's not material to this matter.

Clarifying this amendment with the subamendment is critically important, because as I've indicated previously--and I can get an awful lot more legal opinion that will back me up on this--the word “unjust”, the word “restitution”.... I typed those words into a legal database yesterday because I wanted to get legal definitions of the words “unjust” and “restitution”. What I found is that while there may be definitions in a dictionary, in law they mean something quite different. A definition in law is established by precedent. And the precedent with respect to these issues is incredibly unclear.

In government we're expected to do due diligence. We are legislators. We write laws. That's what we do. We should be responsible when we're passing bills and when we're suggesting that actions be taken by the government that could, whether intended or not, open the crown to significant liability under the War Measures Act. That could involve everyone who has ever been affected by the War Measures Act. If you can rewrite history on this, you can rewrite history on any wrong that has ever been carried out by the crown.

At the time, the crown may have acted in what it thought was the best interests of the people. Today, we may think the decision was wrong. I've maintained from the outset that what happened to my family in 1940 was wrong. They didn't deserve it. Nevertheless, I don't think anyone in my family wants the crown, the taxpayers of Canada, open to billions of dollars of liability. There is no way we can contain it. We live in a litigious society.

December 3rd, 2009 / 11:30 a.m.
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Dean Del Mastro Conservative Peterborough, ON

Thank you for that clarification, Mr. Chairman.

Subsequent to our meeting in which we were discussing the very significant legal ramifications of clause 3 of this bill, considerations I think this committee should be well apprised of because it seems that members are reluctant to consider the implications it could have for all Canadians who were ever affected by the War Measures Act, I did get a legal opinion on Bill C-302, which I'd like to share with the committee. It deals specifically with this matter. I'd like to share that with the committee, because I think it's very important. I can share more of the letter if people would like more background, but I'm going to deal with the potential legal risks arising from Bill C-302.

This opinion I received from Mr. George Barry, counsel, legal services unit, Citizenship and Immigration Canada. He writes:

One area of legal risk that exists should the Bill become laws concerns the possible increased liability to the Crown in the context of the Giacomelli case. In Giacomelli v. R. the plaintiff, an Italian-Canadian who had been interned in World War II, brought legal proceedings against the government seeking damages based in part on an apology given in 1990 outside the House of Commons by then Prime Minister Mulroney to the Italian Canadian community. Since Giacomelli is still before the courts, the passage of Bill C-302, in particular its formal apology by Parliament could have an adverse effect on its outcome. While Mr. Giacomelli passed away 2 years ago, his estate is continuing the proceedings, but only on non-Charter arguments since the Courts have ruled that Mr. Giacomelli's estate cannot invoke Charter arguments in his stead.

As well, the Bill must be considered in the context of the Agreement-in Principle entered into between the government of Canada and representatives of the Italian-Canadian community. While this agreement did not create specific obligations on the part of the Crown with respect to compensation, it did arguably create an obligation on the Crown to negotiate. Bill C-302, at the least, creates a parallel obligation to negotiate.

Up to now Canadian courts have been reluctant to conclude that an apology is an admission of liability. This said, all court cases so far on this issue have been concerned with material or physical damages from motor vehicle accidents, commercial transactions and the like. In many cases the apologies were made verbally, and on the spur of the moment. No court has ever had to determine whether an apology contained in a statute or made by a Prime Minister in the House of Commons or by another representative of the Crown is akin to an admission of liability. It is consequently uncertain how the court in Giacomelli would interpret an additional apology, this time in a statute, when the case is actually pending before the court. But it seems safe to say that it increases the risk against the Crown.

It is also important to note that any risk represented by Giacomelli may be clarified in the near future as a hearing before the Ontario Divisional Court in this case took place on November 4th. The appeal here is by the Crown challenging the Ontario Superior Court's decision not to allow the Crown's motion to strike the plaintiff's claim. While our litigators view the Crown's chances of success in this appeal as good, an assessment of the ongoing impact of this case on C-302 will have to await the release of the Court's decision, which is anticipated in the near future.

Notwithstanding the courts' reluctance to link apologies to liability, there is concern about this in the legal and parliamentary communities. Evidence of this is that 2 years ago the Uniform Law Conference of Canada adopted a motion encouraging all provincial legislative assemblies and the Parliament of Canada to enact legislation which states that an apology is not an admission of liability and cannot be used in a court of law to prove liability. So far, 4 provinces have enacted such legislation (BC, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario). At the federal level, some discussions have taken place between the Department of Justice and the Department of Canadian Heritage with no outcome yet.

At this point, I would note that in the province of Ontario the provincial government did enact the Apology Act 2009. What the Apology Act does--and what the federal government is not protected from--is the act stipulates that in civil proceedings, administrative proceedings, or arbitrations, evidence of apology is inadmissible as evidence of fault or liability in connection with that matter. It's significant. The federal government has no such legislation. So an apology, especially one that's passed by Parliament, could very well bring the crown into a significant case of liability in all cases where the War Measures Act was in fact undertaken.

I'll continue on with the letter:

As well, and perhaps more significantly, the Bill appears to be seeking to alter the legality of things done in the past. The Crown has argued in the Giacomelli case that its actions were appropriate and measured, in terms of the situation that existed at the time, and that these actions were entirely within the law. This Bill seeks to reach back into the past and to retroactively render these acts illegal.

If C-302 is enacted, it would be the first time that an apology is provided to ethno-cultural communities in a federal statute. Apologies have been made by Prime Minister's in the House.

An example is given for the internment of Japanese Canadians during World War II, which was made in 1988, and there was one for the residential schools in 2008. Outside the House, prime ministers have apologized for the internment of Italians during World War II, in 1990, and the turning back of the Komagata Maru ship to India in 1914.

A number of court cases, initiated by ethno-cultural communities, followed the apologies and redress package provided only to the Japanese-Canadian community in 1988....

--the Giacomelli case in 2005 on the World War II internment, and the Ukrainian Civil Liberties Association in 2007 with respect to the World War I internment--

In order to mitigate risks, the Prime Minister's apologies for the Chinese Head Tax and for the Komagata Maru incident referred to the legality, at the time, of the measures taken.

This bill, as stated previously, seeks to rewrite history and deem these things as illegal, which is a problem.

Passage of C-302 could also expose the government to a significant risk of...litigation based on s. 15 of the Charter by members of other ethno-cultural communities who suffered comparable treatment as the persons of Italian descent in World War II.

The example given is German Canadians, or in “World War I (Germans, Ukrainians and other members of the Austro-Hungarian Empire) who would not benefit from C-302.”

Risk of a successful s. 15 Charter challenge was mitigated in the case of the apologies and redress made to the Japanese- and Chinese-Canadian communities, in 1988 and 2006...because these two communities each suffered treatment that was deemed unique and unparalleled.

Legislation related to the internment of persons of Ukrainian origin during World War I received Royal Assent in 2005. This legislation was amended such that a number of legal issues identified above were addressed.

So they actually took time to deal with this and head off the potential legal implications for the crown prior to royal assent.

As well, while requiring the Government of Canada to undertake negotiations with the representatives of the affected community, it did not require that these negotiations concern restitution for unjust treatment. Considerable discretion was provided for with respect to the various measures that might be addressed in the agreement (including that the parties “may request the Canada Post Corporation to issue a commemorative stamp”).

In s. 3 of the Bill the treatment of the persons concerns is said to be “unjust” and to represent “an infringements on their rights”. While this language does not explicitly and retroactively alter the legality of what was done, it might, as noted above, be argued to have this effect. An amendment would be advisable to reflect...what...was legally authorized at the time and to clarify the current Bill is not making any retroactive change to the law in effect at the time. It should also be noted that, while the Bill (in terms of the apology and the acknowledgement of past wrongdoing) is aimed at individuals, the compensation referred to would not be individual in nature.

Therefore, by referring to individuals, and wrong done to individuals, it could well be interpreted that the compensation, or any kind of funding that would be forwarded, as the bill seeks negotiations, could be deemed to have been directed at the wrong individuals, representing, again, a significant liability for the crown.

The letter continues:

Therefore any argument that the Bill is intended to address all issues with respect to the right to compensation is diminished by the fact that the Bill speaks in terms of wrongs done to individuals but compensation that is not to be provided on an individual basis.

As well, the Bill identifies the wrong Minister: the Minister of Canadian Heritage. If this Minister were given the authority set out in this it is unclear that the negotiations could be carried out under the current authority of the CIC Minister. The most straightforward method to address this would be to amend the Bill to name the correct Minister.

In addition, as noted above, the Bill as currently drafted runs the risk of being viewed as a money bill. Even if this were not the case, and as also noted above there is an argument to the contrary on this point, the fact that the Bill would require a pay out of funds still creates a problem. Parliament's approval of a negotiated agreement by any mechanism other than enacting a money Bill would have no ability to unlock the consolidated Revenue Fund so as to enable payment to be made.

I could continue, because the letter does continue, but it's very important. I understand that several members opposite feel that we should just vote on this, we should get it done, we should move it through. That's all we should do, because it's a short bill, and you know, what harm can be done by a short bill? But the reality is—as I stated at the last meetings—the ACE agreements specifically limited the liability of the crown, and this bill does not do that. It simply does not.

As I indicated earlier, by indicating that measures, as undertaken through the War Measures Act, which was repealed by Brian Mulroney, then Prime Minister, in 1988.... His government repealed the War Measures Act, specifically citing experiences of cultural communities, including the Italian Canadian community, as a reason for repealing the War Measures Act. The actions taken under it were just at the time. They may not have been right, but they weren't illegal in Canadian society. And when the previous government undertook its ACE agreements, it said, again—I just want to find it—that this “this Agreement-in-Principle, premised on the principles of ‘no compensation’ and ‘no apology'”. The reason they did that specifically was because of the potential liability, into the billions of dollars, that can be created by literally rewriting history in this fashion. It's irresponsible, and it's not expected by Canadian society.

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

December 3rd, 2009 / 11:30 a.m.
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The Clerk of the Committee Mr. Richard Dupuis

For Bill C-302.

December 3rd, 2009 / 11:30 a.m.
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The Chair Conservative Gary Schellenberger

Welcome to meeting number 41 of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage, pursuant to the order of reference of Friday, March 6, 2009, 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.

Just before we start, I've been asked by the clerk to bring forth the budget for our witnesses. I would like to get it out of the way quickly, if I could.

The budget is for $16,400. Witnesses' expenses are $14,400, and $2,000 is for miscellaneous.