That, in the opinion of the House, the government should recognize the contributions that Italian-Canadians have made to Canadian society, the richness of the Italian language and culture, and the importance of educating and reflecting upon Italian heritage for future generations by declaring June, every year, Italian Heritage Month.
Mr. Speaker, oggi e un grande giornata. Today is a great day.
Today, I have the pleasure of rising in the House to introduce my private member's motion, Motion No. 64, a motion to designate June as national Italian heritage month.
I am delighted to have the support of my Liberal Italian caucus colleagues who have worked with me on this and are seconding the motion. I want to thank those who are in the House with me today to show their support and to share their stories.
I also want to thank those in the community who brought this initiative to our attention, one of them being in the House today, my former colleague, Marilyn Iafrate, from Vaughan Council.
I would like to inform the House that I have also have the support. I just received a letter today from the National Congress of Italian-Canadians, with the Canadian Italian Business Professional Association, CIBPA, and the Order Sons of Italy of Canada, the OSIC. They wholeheartedly express their support for my motion.
The Canadian Ethnocultural Council, the CEC, the only not-for-profit, non-partisan national coalition of ethnocultural organizations, of which the NCIC is a proud member, whose objectives interalia are to engage ethnocultural communities to foster harmony and acceptance of our diversity and multiculturalism, which is one of the cornerstones of our great country, also ardently supports my motion.
This motion is meant to designate the month of June as national Italian heritage month in recognition of the contributions Italian Canadians have made to Canadian society. It provides a designated month to celebrate the richness of the Italian language and culture, and the importance of educating and reflecting upon Italian heritage for future generations.
People may ask, why June would be the selected month for the motion? Italy celebrates its national day on June 2, and in 2010, the province of Ontario, passed Bill 103, an act to proclaim June as Italian heritage month. Therefore, it is appropriate that June be the designated month.
Some may ask why I am, a non-Italian, bringing this motion forward. I am very proud to represent the second largest percentage of Italian Canadians in any riding in Canada. I was lucky to draw an early placement in the private member bill order, which provided me the opportunity to recognize the important contributions of Italian Canadians through this motion, and hopefully in time for June 2017, which is Canada's 150th anniversary.
The Italian community is very active in my riding and has shown me significant support over many years. I know how important this motion is to them. I was proud to serve them as a regional councillor and now as an MP. However, this is not just a motion for Italian Canadians in my riding, but for Italian Canadians from coast to coast to coast. This is also a motion for all Canadians as we celebrate our multiculturalism.
In Canada, we seem to have gotten it right, and this is in no small measure because of the work of our immigrant communities, sharing their cultures and traditions, working to support not only their own communities, but all Canadians as we work toward building a better country.
Italian Canadians have contributed greatly over the past century to growing our country. When they came to Canada, they faced many hardships. However, they brought with them a rich cultural heritage, a dedication to family and a strong work ethic that has helped many to succeed. They have become community leaders, successful business entrepreneurs and builders of our country.
It is clear, witnessing the growth in the city of Vaughan and much of York region, we can see the hand of the Italian community at work. Each different region in Italy is known for the trades and the skills that they brought to our country. They have applied those widely across the country. Our country offered them opportunity, but it was their skills and ambition and work ethic that made them very successful.
Italians are known for their wine, prosciutto, parmigiano, marinara sauce, and who can forget the pizza, and all those wonderful food creations that I am so happy to enjoy in my community. Of course there is that iconic Italian style with Armani and Gucci, and many other designers of clothes. Clothes, cars, furniture, actually anything we can think of, Italians have tried their hand at, and given it that unique twist of Italian style.
We can think of Dan Iannuzzi, the great journalist and founder of Corriere Canadese, Johny Lombard, an incredible pioneer in broadcasting, and Guy Lombardo in the music world.
We have Frank Iacobucci, a Supreme Court justice, and Laura Sabia, a leading activist in the women's movement, both of whom are Order of Canada recipients.
I am sure we can bring to mind many others without having to think too hard, as there have been successful and influential Italian Canadians in all aspects of Canadian life.
There have also been notable politicians. I think it is worth mentioning a few from the federal level.
In the 1950s, Mayor Hubert Badanai, of Fort William, was elected the first Italian federal member of Parliament for the Liberal Party. In 1981, Charles Caccia, initially elected as a Toronto MP for Davenport in 1968, was appointed the first Italian federal cabinet minister by none other than former Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau. They laid the foundation for many who came after, including my friend, the mayor of Vaughan, Maurizio Bevilacqua, former member of Parliament from 1988 to 2010 and my Italian Canadian colleagues currently serving in this House.
I want to share a bit of Italian Canadian history, as I am not sure there any many familiar with how far back Italian contributions to this country go.
Italian Canadians are among the earliest Europeans to have come and settled in the country. Over 500 years ago, Giovanni Caboto, John Cabot, an Italian navigator from Venice, explored and claimed the coast of Newfoundland for England.
In 1524, another Italian, Giovanni da Verrazzano, explored part of Atlantic Canada for France.
In the 1600s, Italians served in the military of New France and several hundred Italian soldiers served in the British army during the War of 1812, after which they settled in the Eastern Townships of Quebec and in southern Ontario.
Italian craftsmen, artists, musicians, and teachers came to this country throughout the 19th century. By 1881, almost 2,000 people of Italian origin lived in Canada, mostly in Toronto and Montreal.
In the late 19th century, millions of Italians emigrated and many came to Canada. They worked on our railways, in our mines, and in our industries. By 1901, there were almost 11,000 people of Italian origin living in Canada. Not all were successful, and some were misled and ended up unemployed and destitute in major cities, or working in labour and lumber camps in northern Ontario. Many were often exploited in the early days.
However, as more Italians settled and became successful, they sponsored more relatives and fellow villagers and created businesses and supported each other as they helped to grow our country.
Throughout the 1900s, those who settled in the cities worked as construction and factory workers, building tradesmen, food and fruit merchants, artisans, barbers, or cobblers.
Out of modest beginnings, some became highly successful, for example, Onorato Catelli of Montreal in the food processing industry. In the Niagara Peninsula and in the Okanagan Valley, Italians prospered with orchards, vineyards, vegetable farms. Many Italian farmers grew crops on the outskirts of cities for local consumption. Even now, they are still working the land and selling their products at roadside stands in my riding. Many families in my community tend backyard plots that they use to feed their families and friends fresh food all summer and fall.
By 1930, over 29,000 Italians had entered Canada. This movement of Italians to Canada virtually stopped with the Great Depression. It was a difficult time that got worse after 1935, when Italian Canadians were designated enemy aliens and were the victims of widespread prejudice and discrimination because Italy allied with Germany during the Second World War. Men lost their jobs, shops were vandalized, civil liberties were suspended, and hundreds were interned at Camp Petawawa in northern Ontario.
As a result, many Italians anglicized their names and denied their Italian background. It was a difficult time in Canada for Italians.
After the Second World War, Canada, with its booming economy, began to be receptive to Italian immigrants again.
In 1958, Italy surpassed Britain as a source of Canadian immigrants. In cities where Italians have settled, they tended to create ethnic neighbourhoods, “Little Italy” neighbourhoods, with their distinctive shops, restaurants, churches, and clubs. These areas have been a magnet for all Canadians looking to get a taste of Italy.
Through the years, these areas have been reduced in size as more Italian Canadians moved out to the suburbs. However, they still liked to live in areas that supported their Italian culture, so they brought them their shops and restaurants, showcasing the very best of their culture.
In 2006, 60% of Italian Canadians lived in Ontario, 21% in Quebec, 10% in British Columbia, and about 95% lived in towns and cities. The highest number of Italian Canadians live in Toronto, and approximately half that number now live in Montreal. We have significant numbers of Italian Canadians living in cities across the country, with a total now of almost 1.5 million who list Italian as their ethnic origin or part of their ethnic origin.
For Italians, family and religion are interrelated pillars of their cultural identity. Despite cross-cultural unions, the family and a close connection to the Italian culture are a source of strength and pride. Reflecting the importance of the family unit, and the home as its centre, Italian Canadians have the highest rate of home ownership in Canada.
Another source of pride is their commitment to Italian-Canadian community groups and the wide spectrum of activities that are undertaken to express their ethnocultural identity. I have also personally found them to be exceptionally generous when it comes to supporting those in need, and to improving programs and facilities needed to build stronger communities for all, for example, hospitals, seniors facilities, and many social support programs.
The Italian-Canadian press and media have also been strong promoters of social cohesion and have brought their Italian constituency and the wider society together. The first Italian newspaper was published in Montreal in the late 19th century and, by 1950, dozens of Italian newspapers and magazines proliferated across Canada. Today we have the Corriere Canadese, and several other community papers, that promote Italian culture and news. We also have OMNI TV, a multilingual TV station in Ontario that transmits in Italian and other languages daily. We have the Telelatino Network, which is a national cable system for Italian and Spanish programming. Currently, Italian and Chinese are the most widespread non-official languages in Canadian television and radio broadcasting.
I am incredibly proud of the contributions made by Italian Canadians in helping to build this great country, and I am honoured to have an opportunity to bring forward a motion to designate the month of June as national Italian heritage month. I am delighted to have the full support of the Liberal Italian caucus members, and to have many of them here with me today, scattered around, as we start the debate in this House.
I will be listening carefully to any concerns raised during the debate, and I hope we can work together to get unanimous support from this House for this important motion.