House of Commons Hansard #31 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was rehabilitation.


Sébastien's Law (Protecting the Public from Violent Young Offenders)
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.


Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I certainly always enjoy the member's presentations on these bills. He certainly puts a lot of energy and life into his speeches.

It is interesting to note that Mr. Sullivan was a government appointee three years ago, a victims' rights position appointed by the government. His position ran out just in the last week and he is not being re-appointed by the government.

He said some interesting things about the government. He said that the government is not dealing correctly with victims' rights issues. He said that the Conservatives are paying too much attention to the punishment side of the equation and ignoring the victims.

This is coming from a person, Mr. Sullivan, who was appointed by this government three years ago to deal with victims and promote their causes with and within this government. While he admits the Conservatives have done some good things, he has criticized them for basically not putting enough focus, enough emphasis, on the rights of victims, something they talk about constantly but they are not doing, and putting too much emphasis on punishment.

I would like to ask the member whether he agrees with that assessment by Mr. Sullivan and why he thinks that is developing at this point? Why are the Conservatives giving up on victims' rights?

Sébastien's Law (Protecting the Public from Violent Young Offenders)
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.


Joe Volpe Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

Mr. Speaker, to hear the government members talk, they suggest that they are doing everything they can for victims, although nobody can see the evidence of that. They can hold a press conference and say, “This is what we are doing”, and everybody will believe them because they got it into the papers. So it must be right, but the fact of the matter is that scholars everywhere are looking at the Canadian example, tracking what is happening on the arrest side, the conviction side, the detention side, and then the rehabilitation side.

If members can imagine this just for a moment, we had a justification a few minutes ago by a member of the government who said that we need to keep people in jail longer so we can give them a better education as to what makes a good citizen. Can members believe that? He said that two years is not enough, that we cannot rehabilitate a criminal in two years. Why not look at the situation that says we are doing something right because our arrest rate is going down? Our conviction rate is high but compared to every place else, everybody comes here and says, “You have a peaceful society”.

Yes, there are problems. Nobody is suggesting there are not, but all of the scholars and evidence tell us that we are moving in the right direction. The government wants to reverse that.

If it is important for people to have an opportunity for rehabilitation; that is, to accept a value of productivity in a society, of integration in a community, of the opportunity to make a contribution to a larger society, why not make the investments in those areas that are associated with an infrastructure that is already there: schools, community centres, social community affairs and events?

Something that we struck a little while ago was taking youth at risk and putting them to work with some of those journeymen and masters in their trade. That was working. No, the government wants to keep them in jail a lot longer because maybe by repeating the old mantra that if people commit sin, they shall be punished, that if they commit an error, we are going to damn them to hell, and if they contravene the conventions, which have not been put down, then we are going to banish them forever.

Rehabilitation is the ethic that the member for Abbotsford said defined a justice system. That is where we should be putting our resources. That is where we should be putting our focus and that is where the government is not going. Shame on it.

Sébastien's Law (Protecting the Public from Violent Young Offenders)
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

Prince George—Peace River


Jay Hill Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I would certainly want to pay tribute to the theatrics of the member for Eglinton—Lawrence, that is for sure. He is a great performer. We all know that and I commend him again for yet another performance in this chamber. However, I do want to take issue with this word that he used and took some liberty with, the word is “retribution”. I have heard this type of nonsense before.

I know that time is of the essence and he is just about out of time for questions and comments, so I will keep it short.

I have had the pleasure of being here for just about 17 years now. I know what people are saying up in northern British Columbia in the riding that I represent. They are saying they are sick and tired of criminals, young or old, getting away with a slap on the wrist, where punishment seems to be a bad word, where we cannot hold people accountable. I hear it all the time.

What they want is a justice system that is a justice system, that brings about justice, that holds people accountable and responsible for their actions. That is what they want. They do not call it retribution.

Sébastien's Law (Protecting the Public from Violent Young Offenders)
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.


Joe Volpe Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

Mr. Speaker, they have a different word for it, for those who do not recognize those young boys and girls, those young men and women who fall by the wayside. Yes, they are going to be punished, but there is a word for what he is talking about. It is called vigilantism. It is even worse than retribution.

Sébastien's Law (Protecting the Public from Violent Young Offenders)
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.


Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-4. At the outset, I want to commend the other speakers for some very interesting presentations today.

I have said before, during the questions and answers with some of the speakers, that the NDP will be supporting this bill to get it to committee. There are some provisions of it that we like and other provisions that we would be seeking some amendment to or clarification. The drafting of the bill itself is not precisely the way our critic, who is quite qualified in that area, thinks it should be.

Having said all of that, I think that this bill will not be staying at second reading for a very long time. The parties will want to get it into committee so that we can go through the process of calling the witnesses and start to examine the various provisions of the bill with the idea of making it better. There may be some amendments that the Liberal Party, for example, may want to introduce. This is all about coming together and trying to make legislation that is good for the country as a whole.

The member for Marc-Aurèle-Fortin made an excellent speech today explaining how the Quebec model works so well. The crime rate in Quebec is falling and is reasonably low. There is a system there that other jurisdictions should be looking at for improvements and copying. He explained that he did not feel that the federal government could really borrow the system because it was not really set up to be exported. I believe that was the way he explained it.

However, the fact of the matter is that the government has to start looking into types of systems that actually work. It seems to me that its whole approach to the criminal justice system is totally wrong. It is as if it is getting its orders from the Republican Party of the United States. It seems to look to the United States to see what Sarah Palin would think of a particular measure. We have to say that because it is adopting 25-year-old discredited strategies from the United States that have been proven not to work.

I do not know how many times we have to say it. Ronald Reagan's days are long past and so is his explosion of the prison population, the building of private prisons, the three strikes and your out, and the mandatory minimum sentences. Those were 25 years in the making and have produced higher crime rates. How much more proof does the government need to realize that that is the wrong way to go and that we should be looking to be smart on crime?

The government wants to be tough on crime. A lot of people think it is kind of soft on crime, the way it keeps proroguing the House and starting back again with all these crime bills. It talks about being tough on crime. We say we should be smart on crime. For each and every measure that the government takes in the crime area, all we are suggesting is that it should reach out and look for systems that work elsewhere.

If Quebec has good results in certain aspects of the system, why not import those? Why not replicate those? Why not promote those at the federal and provincial levels? Why not do that? If there is a better system that gets results in European countries like Sweden, then why not look to those results?

The government talks about best practices. It looks to best practices in other areas of government. Why can it not apply the same principle when it comes to this system?

Many times we have talked about how auto theft rates in Manitoba have dropped substantially because the government mandated immobilizers in all cars. It provided them for free, gave insurance reductions and set up a system in the police department to monitor the most prolific car thieves in the province. Police officers monitor them, chase them and try to keep them off the streets. That is producing results.

That is a system we would want to encourage and replicate in other provinces across the country and in other jurisdictions. Why—

Sébastien's Law (Protecting the Public from Violent Young Offenders)
Government Orders

5:30 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

Order, please. It being 5:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

When we return to this matter, the hon. member for Elmwood—Transcona will have 14 minutes remaining in his time.

Italian-Canadian Recognition and Restitution Act
Private Members' Business

5:30 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

The hon. member for Oak Ridges—Markham has seven minutes remaining in his comments.

Italian-Canadian Recognition and Restitution Act
Private Members' Business

5:30 p.m.


Paul Calandra 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 Act
Private Members' Business

5:35 p.m.


Jean Dorion 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 Act
Private Members' Business

5:45 p.m.


Jim Maloway 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 Act
Private Members' Business

5:55 p.m.


Joe Volpe 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 Act
Private Members' Business

6:05 p.m.


Massimo Pacetti 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 Act
Private Members' Business

6:10 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Italian-Canadian Recognition and Restitution Act
Private Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

Some hon. members