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House of Commons Hansard #32 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was money.

Topics

Interim SupplyGovernment Orders

6:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

(The House divided on the motion, which was agreed to on the following division:)

Vote #40

Interim SupplyGovernment Orders

6:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

I declare the motion carried.

(Bill read the third time and passed)

Interim SupplyGovernment Orders

6:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

It being 6:15 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

Italian-Canadian Recognition and Restitution ActPrivate Members' Business

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

Liberal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Italian-Canadian Recognition and Restitution ActPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

Liberal

Maria Minna Liberal Beaches—East York, ON

Mr. Speaker, while I was the president of the National Congress of Italian-Canadians, I spent a great deal of time trying to get the Government of Canada, at the time and subsequently, to address these issues.

I must say that when the previous government decided to apologize to the Japanese community, and then the current government to the Chinese-Canadian community, I was angry and hurt. When I asked a member why, on the day when the government chose to apologize to the people on the ship, Komagata Maru, and others, that it did not include the Italian Canadians and the member looked blank.

I want to ask my colleague a question. Last week the government announced that it would be setting up an advisory committee with members of the Italian community for historical recognition and to set up some projects. It has chosen three members of the community and so on but none of it has to do with apologies. Is this belated action on the part of the government as a result of his private member's bill, which I think it is? Also, what good does it do when—

Italian-Canadian Recognition and Restitution ActPrivate Members' Business

6:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

The hon. member for Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel.

Italian-Canadian Recognition and Restitution ActPrivate Members' Business

6:35 p.m.

Liberal

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

Mr. Speaker, in terms of the announcement that was made last week it was in typical Conservative fashion. One of the members chosen to be on the advisory board is the president of the Conservative Party association in my riding. The government was supposed to name seven people but it was not able to find seven people so it named three.

I have a press release put out by the National Congress of Italian-Canadians which reads, “A shameful attempt to divide and conquer”. That explains everything.

Italian-Canadian Recognition and Restitution ActPrivate Members' Business

6:35 p.m.

Conservative

Paul Calandra Conservative Oak Ridges—Markham, ON

Mr. Speaker, in 1990, then Prime Minister Brian Mulroney actually apologized to Italian Canadians on behalf of the government. He further pledged that we would not go down that road again and he accepted the principle of redress.

I also note that it was a Liberal prime minister who actually identified Italian Canadians as enemies--

Italian-Canadian Recognition and Restitution ActPrivate Members' Business

6:35 p.m.

Liberal

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

You're full of shit.

Italian-Canadian Recognition and Restitution ActPrivate Members' Business

6:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Order, please. The member may continue.

Italian-Canadian Recognition and Restitution ActPrivate Members' Business

6:35 p.m.

Conservative

Paul Calandra Conservative Oak Ridges—Markham, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would hope that the hon. member would withdraw his comments and I will give him an opportunity to do that.

I wonder if the hon. member could outline for me the progress that was made during the St. Laurent government, the Pearson government, the Trudeau government, the Chrétien government and the Martin government. I know that hon. gentleman was elected in 2000. I wonder what initiatives he brought forward and what initiatives previous Liberal governments brought forward with respect to redress.

Italian-Canadian Recognition and Restitution ActPrivate Members' Business

6:35 p.m.

Liberal

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

Mr. Speaker, I will take back the comment I made. I just cannot handle this partisanship.

This apology is long overdue. There have been Liberal governments and Conservative governments. An injustice was done in the past. The Italian community has not been up to par in handling the situation. We are now asking for redress.

I must correct the member. I was elected in 2002 and tabled a private member's bill on this subject in 2002.

In fact, I will give him credit. Forty-five years later, Brian Mulroney said that it was legally wrong and immoral ane he was asked to repeat that in a public place. He said that in a private meeting. I have an excerpt of that speech, but nothing has been done. I do not understand why I need to table this bill when there was recognition made by the previous Liberal government, but an election was called.

All I am asking is for the Conservatives to continue doing that work. That member, who is of Italian origin, should be ashamed of himself for making partisanship an issue on this.

Italian-Canadian Recognition and Restitution ActPrivate Members' Business

6:35 p.m.

St. Catharines Ontario

Conservative

Rick Dykstra ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

Mr. Speaker, I know this is a passionate issue for the member who has moved the bill. The government has shown over the last few years, in terms of redress, apology, and acknowledgement of where we as a country. In some dark moments, we have made some mistakes and we have acknowledged those mistakes. I would ask him only the same that he has asked of everyone in this House, and that is to treat this as an issue that is not partisan but as an issue that is a private member's bill.

I will note that in his speech he did certainly point out a number of issues that were critical of the government, so while he did respond in his answers in a way that suggests non-partisanship, it may do him a bit of good to have a look at his speech, reread it, and have a clear understanding that it too holds facts regarding partisanship. If we are going to work through this issue, it has to be the same on all sides.

I am pleased to have the opportunity to rise and speak to Bill C-302, an act to recognize the historic injustice done to Italian Canadians who were interned during World War II.

Let me begin by saying that, with over 1.4 million members, the Italian Canadian community has made an enormous contribution to the building of our nation. In the trades, in the professions and through their rich and colourful culture, Italian Canadians have made an indelible mark on our vibrant, ethnically diverse society.

The internment of 632 people of Italian origin as enemy aliens during the second world war was unquestionably a dark moment in our country's history. Families were separated and civil liberties were denied. Even those not interned were required to register with the local police.

Measures have already been taken to recognize the historical experiences of this community related to the second world war internment. We have chosen to take a comprehensive, forward-looking approach to recognizing the historical experiences of communities affected by wartime measures, including the Italian Canadian community.

That is why on June 22, 2006, our government announced that it would create the community historical recognition program and the national historical recognition program. This government is taking an inclusive approach. We have created a program that will provide funding to all groups that were subject to unjust wartime detention or immigration restrictions.

Formally established in 2008, the community historical recognition program is a grants and contributions program, funded by $29 million over a period of four years. It supports projects, for example, that acknowledge and commemorate the experience of ethnocultural communities affected by wartime measures and immigration restrictions or prohibitions that were applied in Canada; increase awareness and educate Canadians about the experiences of these communities; and finally, highlight the contributions the affected communities made to the building of our country. Projects eligible for funding include: monuments, commemorative plaques, educational materials and exhibits.

The national historical recognition program is a $5 million program that funds federal initiatives focused on increasing awareness and educating all Canadians, especially our youth, to educate them about Canada's history linked to wartime measures and immigration restrictions or prohibitions. This is twice the amount the previous government agreed to in the agreement in principle signed in the final days of that government.

Our government is focused on working with members of all communities that were affected by discriminatory measures. We welcome input from everyone and we are happy to work with our community partners. Since elected, this government has become more open and inclusive. Everything from our measures to increase accountability and transparency to our active outreach to members of cultural communities has shown that all of us in this House are committed to working with Canadians from all backgrounds.

Many years ago, when my parents immigrated to this country, they were accepted by the Canadian people and they had the opportunity to work hard, build their lives, and raise their children in a welcoming environment. Native-born Canadians respected the culture of our newcomers.

To this day, in my region of Niagara we celebrate our cultural diversity during the annual folk arts festival, which our government has contributed to generously. Indeed, last year it gave it the largest federal contribution it has ever received. With the help of this government, all of the people of the Niagara region have the opportunity to celebrate their diverse cultures, from Dutch to Scottish, from Polish to Somalian, to Italian, representing the mosaic that is my community.

On the national level, our government has been solidly committed to celebrating Canada's multicultural heritage. Whether native cultures, settler cultures or those who immigrated later, our government is committed to celebrating the accomplishments of everyone who has helped to build our country.

We are also committed to recognizing instances when in fact we did not live up to our high ideals and treated people poorly based on their ancestry or culture. That is why we launched the community historical recognition program and are committed to recognizing past instances of concern, and working with members of affected communities to give appropriate recognition to these instances.

Since the announcement of this program in 2006, representatives of this government have met and been in discussions with the Italian Canadian community. For instance, the former minister of Canadian heritage met with representatives of the community in November 2006, provided an overview of the community historical recognition program, and gave the community an opportunity to express its views on historical recognition.

The current Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, in his previous capacity as secretary of state for multiculturalism, has also had several discussions with Italian Canadian representatives and through the community historical recognition program this government has made available over $5 million in grants and contributions over four years to fund projects that commemorate and recognize the experience and experiences of Italian Canadians in relation to the second world war internment in our country.

This $5 million is twice as much as was in the agreement in principle of the previous government. This program is currently accepting funding applications. In fact, the deadline for submitting an application is May 22 of this year and I would encourage any interested groups to submit their applications in terms of their requests.

One more important component of this program is the establishment of individual advisory committees composed of community representatives. These committees ensure that the program is responsive to the sensitivities of communities and that their views are reflected in the types of projects that are selected for funding.

I am pleased to observe that the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism has appointed an advisory committee of Italian Canadian community representatives to provide advice to him on the merits of the projects. I heard from the member and if there are concerns or if there is work to be done on this committee, I offer it to him today. I extend my hand to try to work with him to make that advisory a strong functioning entity. I am certainly prepared to meet with him on that issue.

Through programs such as the community historical recognition program and the national historical recognition program, we are working to ensure that our nation's history is reflective of the valuable contribution that all ethnocultural communities, including Italian Canadians, have made to the building of our country.

It is important and imperative that at the end of the day we are an inclusive government and whether we sit on the government side or in opposition, that we work together to ensure that we are an inclusive group that leads our country from Ottawa.

Italian-Canadian Recognition and Restitution ActPrivate Members' Business

6:45 p.m.

Bloc

Bernard Bigras Bloc Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today on 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. Bill C-302 is intended to right the wrongs that were done through the internment of Canadians of Italian origin during the second world war. The Bloc Québécois will support Bill C-302 and will also support the necessary restitution.

Italians started to migrate to Canada around 1880 and settled all over the country. Many came to Montreal and that is why Our Lady of Defense parish was established in 1910 to serve the community in its own language.

Our Lady of Defense church is located in the heart of Little Italy in my riding of Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie and is considered the oldest church still standing that was built expressly for the Italian community in Montreal. More than 2,000 Quebeckers of Italian origin still live in the riding of Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie and their community has made many contributions to it over the years.

The RCMP began to investigate Italians living in Canada in 1935 when Mussolini invaded and occupied Ethiopia. At the time, there were as many as 3,000 members of the Italian fascist party in Canada.

On June 10, 1940, Italy declared war on Canada. Immediately thereafter, Prime Minister MacKenzie King ordered the internment of many Italians living in Canada, using the War Measures Act. This legislation allowed the government to take all measures necessary to ensure Canada’s national security against enemies within our borders. The Minister of Justice could therefore detain anyone who posed any kind of threat to national security. This decision by the federal government enabled the Canadian authorities to intern all nationals or immigrants from enemy countries.

After Canada entered the war against Italy, the RCMP quickly took steps to restrict the liberties and activities of Italians in Canada. All persons born in Italy had to register with the authorities. Some were forced to report monthly. They could not move about freely within Canada and had to carry identity cards with them at all times. All Italian associations were closed. As many as 700 Italian Canadians were interned in camps for the duration of the war. Most of these internees came from towns in Ontario and Quebec. Some spent two or three months there, others several years.

It is important to remember our history. In addition, there was a general boycott of Italian businesses all across Canada.

The Italian Canadians affected by these measures were never accused of anything or found guilty of anything. They were greatly penalized even though they were innocent. The measures taken by the government of the time were an injustice to Italian Canadians. I want to say that today.

This is why the Bloc Québécois feels that this community deserves apologies. What is more, there is already a precedent for it: the Canadians of Japanese origin who were interned during World War II.

The internment of Italian Canadians is similar to the treatment of Canadian citizens of Japanese origin during the second world war. Like the Italians, their first waves of immigration date back to the 19th century. These immigrants were often poor, and spoke neither French nor English. After Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, the Canadian government's immediate reaction was to confiscate the fishing boats of the Japanese Canadian residents of British Columbia.

On February 26, 1942, the Canadian Department of Defence declared that all Canadians of Japanese origin, regardless of whether they were or were not recent arrivals, were considered enemy aliens. People of Japanese origin were relocated to detention camps in the B.C. interior, in Alberta and in Manitoba.

Because of this injustice, in September 1988, the federal government decided to offer its apologies to Canadians of Japanese origin who had been interned in the detention camps.

Of course there were far more Japanese Canadian internees than Italian Canadians . Nonetheless we feel that what is good for the one has to be good for the other. The Japanese precedent leads us believe that apologies must in fact be made to Italian Canadians. What is more, that case can serve as an example for the compensation to be offered to a foundation for commemoration purposes.

The Bloc Québécois is therefore in favour of Bill C-302 in principle. We recognize the wrong done to Italian Canadians during the second world war. The war measures legislation sent numerous innocent people to the internment camps. We therefore support the principle of an apology and some compensation for Italian Canadians.

However, on November 12, 2005, the Government of Canada and the Italian community in Canada reached an agreement in principle.

That agreement in principle was drafted jointly by the Canadian government and the Italian community, and acknowledged that there would be no apology or compensation. According to that agreement, the government set aside $25 million over three years for the Canadian Heritage multiculturalism program. The purpose of that program is to encourage the recognition and commemoration of ethnocultural communities affected by wartime measures.

In addition, the government planned to provide the National Congress of Italian Canadians Foundation with $2.5 million under the acknowledgement, commemoration and education program

Bill C-302 does not specify the amounts of compensation to be paid. This is why we would like to see this bill studied in committee in order to determine the amount to be paid, taking into consideration what the Canadian government has already paid out.

Our party is very pleased today to support Bill C-302. We are anxious to have an opportunity to debate it in parliamentary committee.

Italian-Canadian Recognition and Restitution ActPrivate Members' Business

6:55 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

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

The New Democrats are pleased to support this bill and to help move this through Parliament.

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 sign of subdivision during a 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.

The RCMP rounded up approximately 700 Italian Canadians, often separating fathers from their children and husbands from their families. Seventeen thousand people were designated as enemy aliens in our country for no reason other 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. It was not uncommon for instance for men in uniform to come back home only to find that family members were interned.

The round-up of Italian Canadians was virtually completed by October 1940. Most of them were sent to Camp Petawawa situated in the Ottawa River Valley. It is difficult to establish exactly how many Italian Canadians were interned, although estimates range from 600 to 700.

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

Internment was brutal. Families could not visit or write interned people for the first year. Italian Canadians were penalized financially. A spontaneous boycott of Italian businesses whipped up by the prejudices of the times took place throughout Canada and provincial governments ordered municipalities to terminate relief payments to non-naturalized Italians. Travel restrictions were imposed on Italian Canadians. Their ability to occupy certain jobs was prohibited. Italian Canadians were forced to report on a monthly basis to the RCMP. Activities such as the teaching of the Italian language and meetings of the Roma Society were declared illegal.

Internment was for up to three years and the average interned person was held for almost sixteen months. To put some feelings to this, these are not just numbers. The people interned were doctors, lawyers, carpenters, bakers, contractors and priests. For families, of course, it was just as bad if not worse. These actions added to the psychological scars inflicted by constant harassment and ridicule from neighbours and co-workers and the fearmongering being perpetrated by elected officials.

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

Despite this, a number of Italian Canadians enlisted in the Canadian armed forces, some in an attempt to remove the stigma associated with the term “illegal alien”. Not one person was ever charged with sabotage or any act of disloyalty. We must acknowledge and make amends for that black chapter in Canadian history.

In 1990 the National Congress of Italian-Canadians outlined these injustices in a brief sent to then Prime Minister Mulroney. It wanted the injustice acknowledged, compensation paid and an apology.

Various steps have been taken to acknowledge and make amends for this disgraceful treatment. Former Prime Minister Mulroney did indeed apologize in 1990. He spoke about reparations. Former Prime Minister Paul Martin also promised reparations. Sadly, many of these commitments were simply empty promises. Despite these words, money has never really flown.

Money was announced with great fanfare and media attention, but successive governments did not think it was worthwhile to dedicate the time and energy to follow up on honouring their pledges and ensuring that Italian Canadians could access these funds.

In June 2008, just prior to the election I might add, the minister of Canadian heritage announced $5 million through a community historical recognition program that was specifically targeted to the Italian community for monuments, plaques, and community recognition projects around this issue.

I have spoken to members in the Italian Canadian community and to the National Congress of Italian-Canadians. Many did not even know about this fund; even fewer have applied for access to it. I cannot locate anybody who has received $1 from this fund, despite the fact that it was announced.

New Democrats support the bill because it seeks to raise awareness, educate our young people, and ensure that we never forget the terrible steps that we took in the name of national security. We must remember our actions during times of war because we face similar issues today.

It is not very long ago that we saw the actions of former President George Bush in the United States, in fact, actions that were copied by the previous Conservative and Liberal governments. We are well advised to guard our civil liberties today and in times of war or apprehended insurrection, because those are the times when our civil liberties are at risk.

These Italian victims would want this and their descendants today want this. We have a new term today for what happened in 1940, it is called racial profiling. People were rounded up simply because of their ethnicity. There is a lesson in that, when racial profiling is going on in 2009 in this country. We had better be vigilant to make sure that we stop it here today.

I would like to mention a few people who have done a great amount of work in this area. Mr. Elio Quattrocchi is a tireless and respected member of the Italian Canadian community in Vancouver. I want to speak about the people who work at Casa Serena, a home for seniors who come together in culture and recreation. I want to mention the thriving businesses on Commercial Drive, run by the same Italian entrepreneurs who were rounded up in 1940. I would like to mention the tireless efforts of the National Congress of Italian-Canadians.

There are other people, too. I would like to mention Mr. Victor Wong from the Chinese Canadian National Council, who has fought for redress and is still fighting for redress for full and adequate compensation for the families of Chinese head tax payers.

I was not in the last Parliament, but I understand the power of apology, redress and acknowledgment. I am told that during the residential schools apology, this was one of the most moving moments ever felt by members of Parliament.

The New Democrats and the CCF have stood alone in this country over the decades against internment and the War Measures Act and in favour of civil liberties. We New Democrats will do so again today and are proud to do it. We will stand and support this bill to ensure that Italian Canadians--

Italian-Canadian Recognition and Restitution ActPrivate Members' Business

7:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Beaches—East York.

Italian-Canadian Recognition and Restitution ActPrivate Members' Business

7:05 p.m.

Liberal

Maria Minna Liberal Beaches—East York, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask for unanimous consent to split my time with the member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine.

Italian-Canadian Recognition and Restitution ActPrivate Members' Business

7:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Is there unanimous consent?

Italian-Canadian Recognition and Restitution ActPrivate Members' Business

7:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Italian-Canadian Recognition and Restitution ActPrivate Members' Business

7:05 p.m.

Liberal

Maria Minna Liberal Beaches—East York, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will start by saying that the major issue is not about money but it is about recognition, acknowledging what has happened and apologizing to the community.

Some members on the government side earlier pointed out the fact that there was nothing done when the Liberals were in government.That is true.

Italian-Canadian Recognition and Restitution ActPrivate Members' Business

7:10 p.m.

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro Conservative Peterborough, ON

That's right.

Italian-Canadian Recognition and Restitution ActPrivate Members' Business

7:10 p.m.

Liberal

Maria Minna Liberal Beaches—East York, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is true that over the years Mr. Caccia and some of us tried but it did not happen because the government at the time agreed with the legal advice that this would cause problems. However, on November 12, 2005, under Mr. Martin's government, there was an agreement with all of the communities, not just one but all of them, for retribution, acknowledgement and an apology.

That is not what the Conservative government has done. It has chosen one group over another. When it decided to apologize to the Chinese Canadian community, I was pleased but also very hurt and disheartened that the Italian community was left out. When it apologized to the people who had been on the Komagata Maru ship that was moored off the shores of Vancouver, I was pleased but again, the Italian community was left out.

This is not a new issue. The CBC has done a major documentary on this. As the president of the National Congress of Italian Canadians, I held this file for quite some time. Everyone knows some of the facts. Men lost businesses. I know an individual whose business was taken away from him. He was arrested and the business was sold for $1 to someone else, obviously not of Italian background, and he was never ever convicted of anything. People were never charged for anything. In fact, men were brought in front of a judge who eventually resigned. He thought the whole thing was a sham because there was never any evidence of any kind against any of these people.

Canadian citizens, people who were born here, were held. One whom I knew personally was a professor at the University of Toronto. People were fingerprinted. The women and children who were left in the city and declared enemy aliens were fingerprinted, treated like enemies of the state. They were spat on. They were treated horribly. They could not get jobs. Think of the shame and humiliation they felt. When I came to this country in 1957, Italians who were here before me would not talk about themselves or their past.

Canadian-born children were held because they had parents of Italian origin. I remember one child in the documentary who was maybe 15 years old when he was taken to Petawawa. Illiterate people were accused of being spies. Imagine that. Families would receive mail stamped “POW“, prisoners of war. The stories continued even after the war was over. The charade continued for a long time. The names of these people were kept in archives as if they were criminals.

I worked on this file for a very long time. For the information of hon. members across the way, I worked with the German community, the Ukrainian community, and the Chinese Canadian community. After the Japanese Canadian community received its apology, we decided that we would work together to try to get the Mulroney government to do the same for the rest of the communities as he had done with the Japanese Canadian community. That was not done.

As a member of the Italian Canadian community, I spent 20 years working as a volunteer for immigrant rights in the city of Toronto. A large part of that work was with Italian Canadians. There was extreme shame felt by those people. Most Italian Canadian kids did not know their heritage. Their parents would not tell them because of the shame they felt. I did not know about that until I became the president of the congress. I was in my thirties.

This is not about money. It is about apologies. It is about taking away the shame and acknowledging the people who were born here. They were all Canadian citizens. They were not foreigners. They were citizens of this country. This is about Canadians apologizing to Canadians. What happened should never have happened and it is high time we did that.

Italian-Canadian Recognition and Restitution ActPrivate Members' Business

7:10 p.m.

Liberal

Marlene Jennings Liberal Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am quite honoured to rise to speak on Bill C-302, which was introduced in the House by my colleague from Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel. As an Italian citizen, I am proud that a member of my caucus has introduced this piece of legislation.

I would like to read a statement that was issued yesterday, March 23, 2009, in Montreal, by the National Congress of Italian Canadians, responding to the Conservative government's announcement regarding the community historical recognition program. It is entitled, “A Shameful Attempt to Divide and Conquer”.

The National Congress of Italian Canadians (NCIC) deplores the manner in which the minister of immigration, citizenship and multiculturalism...has chosen to bypass the legitimate community organizations who have been negotiating with the Government in good faith to arrive at a fair and equitable resolution on the issue of redress for the internment of Italian Canadians during World War II. The establishment of an advisory committee within the Community Historical Recognition program is an attempt to create division within the Italian Canadian community.

“The NCIC does not in any way consider that this program and the establishment of an advisory committee settle the community's historical claims on the issue of internment,” said Michael Stante, President of the National Congress of Italian Canadians.

The Agreement in principle of November 12, 2005, between the Government of Canada and the Italian Canadian Community, as represented by the National Congress of Italian Canadians, the National Federation of Canadian Italian Business and Professional Associations, the Order Sons of Italy and the Fondation communautaire canadienne-italienne, did answer the concerns of our community. That agreement, reached within the parameters of the ACE program, provided a settlement in the sum of $12.5 million to be administered by the community through the NCIC Foundation. This would be in keeping with the administrative process which has been put in place for the Ukrainian-Canadian community. Unfortunately, the current Canadian Government unilaterally breached the Agreement without notice nor consultation and introduced a new program which is totally unacceptable to our community.

Mr. Speaker, you have told me my time is virtually up. In the next part, where I am able to complete my time, I will finish reading this statement. However, I would like to take five seconds to underline the contribution of the Liberal member for Etobicoke Centre, who worked on the development of the ACE program.

Italian-Canadian Recognition and Restitution ActPrivate Members' Business

7:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

The member will have two minutes remaining when this matter comes before the House again.

The time provided for the consideration of private member's business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.