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.

Italian-Canadian Recognition and Restitution ActPrivate Members' Business

April 22nd, 2010 / 5:30 p.m.
See context


Paul Calandra Conservative Oak Ridges—Markham, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak again about this private member's bill.

When we last spoke, I had the opportunity to outline some of the over 70 years' worth of time where the previous Liberal governments and Liberal prime ministers had completely ignored the Italian Canadian community. I had mentioned it was divisive to bring the bill forward at this time.

I was also asked about some of the problems with the bill and why I had not brought forward some amendments during the committee stage. I want to point out some of the really big problems with the bill.

It is a short bill. It is not a very indepth bill. Perhaps that is one of the problems with it. Obviously not a lot of time or care was put into the drafting of it. The member who introduced it did not take the opportunity to speak with those of us on this side of the House, who are Italian Canadian, to get our thoughts so we perhaps could have drafted something a bit better.

One of the initial problems was the bill directed responsibility to the wrong minister, the minister of culture. Historical recognition is now in the hands of Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism. Right at the outset, we would have had to modify the initial part of the bill.

Then it asked that only one organization be responsible for the funds as outlined in the bill. The one organization, the National Congress of Italian Canadians, would be responsible for negotiating with the government how these funds would be distributed.

There are many different Italian Canadian organizations across the country. Organizations in my home town of Richmond Hill, in Stouffville, in Markham and in B.C. and across the country do a lot of good work. This bill, if adopted, would ignore what they have asked for and would see the government only negotiate with the National Congress of Italian Canadians.

During the testimony, I asked a past president of the congress a question. I said that I was concerned because I believed the bill was very divisive. I asked him, specifically, if I was any less of a proud Italian because I did not support the bill. I had hoped I would get a quick answer, but unfortunately I did not. It showed the level of frustration and the level of divisiveness. I was told that I had to look at my own conscience. He could not quite say the word no, that just because I disagreed with him on this bill, I was still a proud Italian Canadian. This is one of the other major problems with the bill.

Let us look further into another big problem with the bill. It also talks about restitution. It does not go indepth as to what an apology or what restitution would entail. Does this leave the Government of Canada open for other challenges? Are we open to court challenges from other groups?

As I mentioned earlier, there is 70 years' worth of time when previous Liberal governments ignored the Italian Canadian community. There are no survivors of that time left.

The language in the bill leaves Canada extraordinarily vulnerable to a charter challenge.

Another part of the bill called on the minister responsible for Canada Post to issue a postage stamp commemorating this time. We have heard from Canada Post officials that the minister has no such power, and that this could be a problem. The hon. member who introduced the bill did say that he would be willing to modify that.

However, we have a very short bill with a problem or a mistake on almost every line that would make the committee completely change the impact of the bill.

When we talk about something like this, when we talk about an apology to the Italian Canadian community, we have to take the time. We have to look at more than just an apology to the Italian Canadian community. We have to put the Government of Canada first. We have to look at the implications such a bill would have, not only on the Italian Canadian community but on all other things the Government of Canada does. Clearly, this bill did not do that. It left us vulnerable to charter challenges. It did not define the form of an apology.

I spend a lot of time at committee, talking about the differences in apologies and how they should be handled. Again, I want to focus and centre on what I think is the major problem. The bill has been brought forward without consultation with other members of the House. It does not identify the correct minister. It ignores all other Italian Canadian organizations, to the exclusion of the preferred organization of the member opposite. It leaves Canada vulnerable to court challenges. It is completely divisive. It does absolutely nothing to reflect on all the amazing things Italian Canadians have accomplished in our country.

As I said at committee, my parents came to Canada in the late 1950s and the early 1960s. They accomplished a tremendous amount. Unfortunately, my parents have passed away. They did not have the opportunity see me sworn in as a member of Parliament.

When I ask my uncles and aunts whether they think the Government of Canada owes them an apology, they tell me Brian Mulroney, the Conservative prime minister, apologized to Italian Canadians, and they respect that. They respect the Office of the Prime Minister and they respect that apology. They are extraordinarily grateful to the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism and to this government for recognizing this and, through the historical recognition program, finally providing funds so we can educate Canadians and Italian Canadians on why this is such an important thing.

If we look at the testimony of people who testified, they said that the most important thing was education. We have the funding. We have the apology. This is nothing more than a bill that seeks to divide the Italian Canadian community for partisan political points. I certainly will not be supporting the bill.

Italian-Canadian Recognition and Restitution ActPrivate Members' Business

April 22nd, 2010 / 5:35 p.m.
See context


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

April 22nd, 2010 / 5:45 p.m.
See context


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 / 5:55 p.m.
See context


Joe Volpe Liberal Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

Mr. Speaker, a serious topic like this one requires a much more thoughtful and methodical approach than what is normally given in debates.

Today, we are looking at a part of Canadian history. Contrary to what some of my colleagues opposite have been saying, this is about Canadian history, and the actions of a Canadian government against some of its own citizens. It is about remembering what we should not do against those who are for the moment much more vulnerable, when we have a position of responsibility.

For this, I want to give a special thanks to my colleagues who just spoke a moment or two ago.

The member for Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher, who spoke in French, was able to recognize all the good, the harmony and the productivity of his fellow citizens, even at a young age.

I wish to thank my colleague, the member for Elmwood—Transcona, for giving us some of the historical events that related to a very serious part of Canadian history.

When a Canadian government, as we have seen happen at other times, issues the War Measures Act and under its cover determines to move against its own citizens by labelling them as enemy aliens, completely ignoring whatever history they have built up in this country prior to that, is not something that we should again allow to happen.

Regrettably, this happened again more recently. Some will always find a reason to justify it but we in this place should never tolerate it. I acknowledge that we live in a different time and we share different values. I also acknowledge that our society and our government have established a different infrastructure of law and rights than those that existed in the 1940s.

However one of the principles that we have established over the course of the last couple of generations is that governments are prepared and willing, notwithstanding the challenges, to look back, to reflect, to remember and to reconcile.

This is an issue that needs reconciliation. It does not require partisanship. Colleagues opposite have been talking about those people from a different party who did some things at another time and so on. I feel a little pained by that.

On a personal basis my grandfather and my great grandparents came here in the 1880s. My grandfather left this country after 35 years as a Canadian citizen and his children followed him back here immediately after World War II. There was an interruption of about 10 years. Many of us felt ourselves to be Canadian even though we did not live here at the time.

Therefore, when people say that we are being divisive, that my colleague from Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel is being divisive, by introducing legislation that calls on the government to remember and calls on all Canadians to reflect on those issues, and those actions that were very un-Canadian by today's standards that says that we have a model for reconciliation, let us reconcile, I feel disturbed by those who would suggest that that is somehow divisive.

I am not here to trumpet my own values or to beat my chest about the culture into which I was very fortunate to be born and which generated some of the values that I bring to this place. Good, bad, or indifferent, they are values that allow me to make a contribution as a Canadian.

Those Canadians who found themselves at the mercy of a government that was determined to vilify them during World War II deserve, at the very least, the thoughtful approaches of today's legislature, a Canadian Parliament that looks back and says, “That was wrong”. We know it was wrong. No charges were ever laid against any of the individuals who were interned.

It matters not that the number might have been 700, 7,000 or whatever the number one wants to find historically accurate. What matters is that not one of them was charged with anything, let alone sedition and betrayal of Canada, the country that was theirs. This is not a bill that came out of the blue. It is a bill that talks about what happened in the past and how governments have taken a look at this. They have simply asked for some of those records to be expunged.

Maybe the people are not alive anymore, but their children and grandchildren are and they live with the stigma of having their family identified as enemy aliens, undesirables and a people whose lives as a result were separated away from the growth of the community, not for just those two to three years where it took place, but for virtually a generation afterwards and more.

They asked for that. They did not ask for money. They asked for a simple recognition and apology. It is fine and maybe it is fine to say that it was a particular party with prime ministers in power who were indifferent to these people. I remember talking to some of those prime ministers. They had a particular view of the way the world should have worked and might have worked, except that all of that changed.

Prime ministers from both parties changed all of the rationale for not doing anything and for not recognizing that they had slighted their own citizens, jailed and detained their own citizens, disrupted family life, interrupted community and severed growth without saying so much as, “We apologize”. Today, we do that. It is done. In the government of which I was a part, there was a negotiation with all the representatives of that particular community. A foundation was put together, a coordination of all of those groups, and asked how we can reconcile. It was their decision on the processes that took place.

Today's government said no. I am sorry about that. I do not want to engage in partisanship, but as I said, I am sorry that the Government of Canada today hides behind two members whose parents fit the profile. The member for Peterborough and the member for Oak Ridges—Markham talk about dividing the Italian community. This is not about the Italian community.

This is about the Government of Canada reconciling itself with the citizens of Canada, citizens it valued and it values today, citizens who asked for nothing but respect and the opportunity to integrate and contribute. They asked for the records to be expunged and for an apology to be made in the House of Commons, because it was the House of Commons where the government of the day sought the authority to detain them.

They asked for an opportunity to build that into the history, not as those who have been vanquished, but as part of the victors of the new Canada so that their tale, their story and their history can be part and parcel of the history that we are building and that we all love. It is the history that we today call Canada and it starts with remembering, reconciling and vowing not to do it again. That is why this bill has to be supported.

Italian-Canadian Recognition and Restitution ActPrivate Members' Business

April 22nd, 2010 / 6:05 p.m.
See context


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

March 30th, 2010 / 5:30 p.m.
See context


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

moved that the bill be read the third time and passed.

Mr. Speaker, as you said, this bill seeks 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.

It is a pleasure for me to rise on this bill. This is the first hour of the third reading.

It is a parliamentary tradition that debates in the House tend to be repetitive, but today I will try not to repeat what I said during my speech to Parliament at second reading. That will be difficult.

The summary does a good job of explaining the bill:

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.

I want to begin by saying that this apology is long overdue.

Here it is a question of the injustice that was done to Canadians of Italian origin through their enemy alien designation during the second world war.

There is no question about the internment actually happening. There are some questions as to the actual number of Italians who were interned. If we do some research and a bit of reading, not all the documents are in order. So there are different numbers that have been thrown out there. There are numbers of up to 6,000 people who were arrested after the internment happened.

No one was ever charged.

Not one person was ever charged. Some people were arrested and were simply held overnight, and some were held up to three or even four years in prison camps. So there are extremes from one end of the spectrum to the other. Some people were fingerprinted and then had to report to the police station on a weekly basis. Some of these registers were lost. That is why we cannot have an accurate account of how many were actually affected. The only count that we actually have is of the ones who were held in Petawawa. They were taken as young as 16 years of age and as old as 70.

Most of the people arrested were men, but there were also some women.

In some cases, some were picked up in the middle of the night and taken 3,000 miles away. Imagine that. Of course, not all were Italians. Some were arrested simply because they had a name ending in a vowel.

The exact number of people held in internment camps is unknown, but we know that roughly 700 were held in Petawawa alone. Others were detained in three other camps. There was one on Saint Helen's Island near the island of Montreal, and there were two other camps in Atlantic Canada. My understanding is there was one in Fredericton and one in Nova Scotia.

Just to put the whole item in context, Canada versus the States, the war happened and Canada reacted in the fashion it did, but in the U.S., only 228 were interned out of a possible 300,000 U.S. citizens of Italian origin. In Canada, those of Italian origin were estimated to number about 112,000, roughly 40,000 of whom were born in Canada, and as many as 30,000 were on an undesirable list.

We are talking about 40-odd years ago. We can imagine the impact the internment would have had on people's lives. We have to understand Italian culture and how they would have taken something like this.

I have something to read, right out of a magazine or newspaper article in Il Postino, in English, from May 2007. I will read an excerpt, which says:

But my grandmother didn't speak with her daughter about the internment until the 1950s, and then only briefly. “There was no reason to discuss it,” my grandmother, [a]...citizen of English descent, says unquestioningly. “We put it out of our minds and behind us. I didn't tell any of the children until they were grown. We were so ashamed.”

Imagine. There are families out there who do not even know that this happened to them. It is probably explained best as the article goes on to say:

When my grandfather died in 1957, the story of precisely what he was thinking [at the prison camps] died with him, as he wanted. My grandmother will say only that he was terribly depressed during his weeks there, that he feared the ruin of his career, that his health declined.

It goes on and on, talking about how this single family just kept it secret from the rest of the family. Many who were interned were just sons of Italian parents. Of course, the Italians who came to this country were not the most educated. Many were illiterate, and they were accused of being spies. Imagine a spy not being able to read.

Families were receiving mail that was marked “POW”. Imagine people going down the street to pick up their mail and receiving a big envelope marked “POW”. They could just imagine what their next door neighbours thought of them.

Think again: 40 or 50 years ago, the people who were arrested were primarily males, which meant they were the breadwinners. In those times, people did not necessarily have money put aside but were just living day to day, if not week to week. If they did not have a paycheque, the family could not pay the rent or for groceries. The families had to go and live with another family. Families were directly impacted.

Some were fairly well off. The males were arrested and their family businesses were lost. There are tons of stories about that. If people go on the Internet, there is actually a film by the National Film Board on the internment that shows well-to-do Italian families that lost their businesses.

Even if they were just arrested for a week or a month, rumours and stories continued after they were released. This destroyed families. It destroyed people's character. More importantly what it destroyed was the community, a community of people, some of whom, because of their embarrassment, came home and decided to change their name, to get rid of that vowel at the end of their name, and they decided not to be associated with anybody in the Italian community.

This was 50 years ago, and we can imagine how many of these individuals would have been professionals today, whether it be accountants, my favourite type of profession, or lawyers, doctors, dentists, and so forth. There may have been even a few politicians along the way.

Simply put, their liberty was taken away.

This is a private member's bill. It is very simply drafted with the limited amount of resources we have. I am hoping that we can work together to get this bill passed, as it is supported by members of every party in this House.

What we are doing, very simply, is requesting an apology in the House of Commons. Some people thought this would be a problem. It would be on the record. The bill is asking the Parliament of Canada to hereby acknowledge the unjust treatment received by persons of Italian origin. Obviously that apology would be given by the Prime Minister.

In fact, I do have to be up front here and say that there had been an apology to the Italian community about what happened 45 years earlier, by the then prime minister, Brian Mulroney. It was at an Italian dinner. He did call the event legally wrong and immoral, but the problem was that he never officially apologized in the House of Commons. It is on the record that he was going to apologize in the House of Commons.

Nonetheless, he never did.

The purpose of this bill is to recognize the injustice that was done to Canadians of Italian origin. It is not complicated. This is not a precedent setting measure. This has already been done in the House. This was done during the Brian Mulroney years for the Japanese community. And a few years ago, the current Prime Minister made an apology to the Chinese community.

I also have some of the bills and they are on the record, so this is not something that is made up. The Library of Parliament prepared a report, a research paper. So there were official apologies. We could even include the official apology that was made to the residential schoolchildren.

The other thing that the bill is asking for is compensation. The compensation is not the important part. The compensation is mainly to educate Canadians, and I am not just talking about Canadians of Italian origin, as to what happened in the past, because it is a way to correct the mistakes of the past. We need to keep those, I will not say memories, alive, but we need to find a way to educate our young people. That is what I am getting these days in my office, Italians of third and fourth generation asking me about the internment. They understand that I have a private member's bill. A couple of students have actually won awards across Canada for doing a project on the internment, and they are astounded that most people my age are not even aware of what happened with the internment. Older Italians just want to forget about it. Here we are, as I said before, having lost a couple of generations and not being able to understand what happened to us before.

In terms of the compensation, basically I will just read from the bill what we are asking for:


The Minister of Canadian Heritage, in cooperation with the Minister of Finance, shall negotiate with the National Congress of Italian Canadians an agreement for a suitable payment to be made in restitution for the unjust treatment described in section 3, which agreement shall be proposed to Parliament for approval.

The proposed agreement is more or less the same as the one that was reached with the Italian community in another parliament.

I do not think there is any controversy here. We have people from all parties supporting it. I want to put on the record that I thank the Liberals. Pretty well everybody from the Liberal Party supported it, although I think there were a few missing. The NDP, of course, and the Bloc Québécois were very supportive of the bill, not only through their voting but also in committee and through issuing press releases trying to force the government to get its act together and get this bill through so that we can send it to the Senate and move on with history.

I did attend a couple of meetings when this particular bill was studied in committee. We heard from different Italian associations or organizations. There was the Canadian Italian Business and Professional Association, the national chapter and some local chapters. We had la Fondation communautaire canadienne-italienne du Québec. We had the Orders Sons of Italy of Canada. We had the National Congress of Italian Canadians, the national and the Quebec chapters. Those were the four organizations that actually signed an agreement with the Government of Canada three or four years ago for some type of restitution in the ballpark of around $12.5 million, but the Minister of Canadian Heritage can negotiate that part of the deal.

Not only do we have full support from these four national organizations, we added another one, Casa d'Italia, which was the first community centre in Montreal where the Italians congregated and they were probably the most affected during the time of the internment.

Oddly enough, we also had a partisan organization, the Italian Canadian advisory committee on this new program that the Conservatives decided they would have. There were three Conservatives on that advisory committee and they were all for the bill.

There is no question that the bill should be put forward. We also had the immigration minister come forward. I am not sure why he came forward. I asked for the heritage minister . I think the immigration minister , no disrespect to him, does not understand the file, and I do not think he should be in charge of the bill. I would like to see the heritage minister pick up the file and push it along so we can get this bill through the Senate.

Again I would like to thank all the MPs who spoke in favour of the bill during the second reading. I look forward to questions and comments from the members.

Italian-Canadian Recognition and Restitution ActPrivate Members' Business

March 30th, 2010 / 5:45 p.m.
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Paul Calandra Conservative Oak Ridges—Markham, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member knows quite well that, as an Italian-Canadian, I voted against this bill and I will vote against it again. As I mentioned before, this bill does not seek to unify Italian Canadians. It seeks to divide the Italian Canadian community.

The last time this bill came before this House I asked why the member felt that no less than seven Liberal prime ministers turned their backs on the Italian Canadian community. Under those different prime ministers, a number of Liberal majority governments never felt it important enough to reach out to the Italian Canadian community at that time and bring forward an apology bill.

As the member mentioned in his speech, we also know that an apology did come from former Conservative prime minister, Brian Mulroney, when he came to the Italian community and apologized for the internment.

I have two questions. First, why does the member think the Liberal Party, for so many years, so many prime ministers and so many majority governments, turned its back on the Italian Canadian community?

Second, why did he choose a minority Parliament to bring forward such a divisive bill that he knows would divide the Italian Canadian community and that does nothing to recognize all of the hard work that the Italian Canadian community has done to build this country?

Italian-Canadian Recognition and Restitution ActPrivate Members' Business

March 30th, 2010 / 5:45 p.m.
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Massimo Pacetti Liberal Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I did not address that before because I knew the member would ask that question. It is only about the 100th time that he has asked me the question on and off the record.

Basically, the Liberals have never apologized, and I am not so sure I agree with that philosophy that previous Liberal governments never decided to apologize. With consistency, the Conservatives have decided to just pick and choose who they will apologize to. They have chosen to apologize to the Japanese and the Chinese community but not the Italians. Therefore, if anybody is going to be divisive, it will be the Conservative government.

With the help of the hon. member across the aisle, we can make this bill bigger and better. We can do it with or without his help. I understand that he may not want to participate and that he had a lot to say during committee, but he was one of the few who did not present any amendments to make this bill better.

Italian-Canadian Recognition and Restitution ActPrivate Members' Business

March 30th, 2010 / 5:45 p.m.
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Joe Volpe Liberal Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

Mr. Speaker, as members know, I spoke in favour of this bill basically on principle, which is something some of the other members opposite may not appreciate. However, we have a circumstance that is purely Canadian. It involves Canadian citizens who were at the time known as British subjects and who were subjected to an indignity and some duress by a Government of Canada. When charges were not laid, nobody's record was expunged. People have asked for a recognition that there was a tort committed against Canadian citizens.

We have put a label on some of those Canadian citizens. They are called Italian Canadians. What this bill really asks for is a recognition that this indignity was put forward and there is a solution proposed, a solution that was negotiated by all the stakeholder organizations in the Italian community, not only on behalf of the people who had suffered those torts, but by extension, on the community that has dedicated itself to building this country.

There is nothing more that is being asked other than simply to recognize those events, to move forward on a negotiated agreement and to implement that negotiated agreement.

Italian-Canadian Recognition and Restitution ActPrivate Members' Business

March 30th, 2010 / 5:50 p.m.
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Massimo Pacetti Liberal Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel, QC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague from Eglinton—Lawrence has been a great defender of this bill, so I do not know if I can put it any better, but the bill is not about Italians. The bill is about Canadians apologizing to Canadians. Two wrongs do not make a right and in this case we have an opportunity to make a right a right. Let us do it and let us move on.

Italian-Canadian Recognition and Restitution ActPrivate Members' Business

March 30th, 2010 / 5:50 p.m.
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Paul Calandra Conservative Oak Ridges—Markham, ON

Mr. Speaker, the reason I did not bring any amendments forward is because I cannot amend what is an incredibly flawed bill from the beginning to the end.

The member again fails to answer the specific question of why it is that the Liberals have turned their backs on the Italian Canadian community for so long, why he has chosen a minority Parliament to bring forward a very divisive bill, and why he has chosen to ignore the current--

Italian-Canadian Recognition and Restitution ActPrivate Members' Business

March 30th, 2010 / 5:50 p.m.
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Massimo Pacetti Liberal Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I did not think he would have a second go-around but typical again where I have answered his question. Since I have been a member, I have tabled this bill on repeated occasions. The member chooses to ignore it and the government may choose to ignore it. The bill is very similar and almost a complete copy of other apologies that were given in the House of Commons. Therefore, if the bill is flawed, the Conservative apologies to the Chinese community and the Japanese community were also flawed.

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 / 5:55 p.m.
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Dean Del Mastro Conservative Peterborough, ON

I am pleased to hear that the member for Eglinton—Lawrence is interested in what I have to say.

This government has moved forward where other governments have failed. We have moved forward where every Liberal government, including the one in which the member for Eglinton—Lawrence served, failed.

They had opportunities. While the community was celebrating, healing, coming together, moving forward and celebrating the fact that they were Canadian citizens of equal standing after the prime minister of the day had apologized, then Liberal MP Sergio Marchi came out and berated that apology. He said that it did not matter. He said that there had to be an apology in the House of Commons. Successive Liberal governments, including the one in which the member for Eglinton—Lawrence served, did nothing about it.

Once I was older and knew about this, I often talked to my grandfather about coming to Canada. He grew up in a place called Carpino and he came to Canada in 1927. He arrived at Pier 21 in Halifax after a very difficult trip. He lived through this. He was in Canada for it and was proud to be Canadian.

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!