Elizabeth May responds to PMs official apology to Italo-Canadians interned in WWII

Elizabeth May (Saanich—Gulf Islands)
2021-05-27 10:40 [p.7462]

Mr. Speaker, I thank all my colleagues for giving me the honour of sharing the sentiments of the leaders of the other parties, as the government offers this important, historic apology to the Italians who were interned and to everyone in the Italian Canadian community who was affected by this injustice.

It is obviously never too late to apologize, and I thank my hon. colleagues, the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and the leader of the New Democratic party.

I was particularly touched by the words of our colleague from Laurentides—Labelle in her speech. She focused on how much this affected the mothers and children who were left behind and the notion of a Canadian child dying from malnutrition while his or her father was wrongly imprisoned for years. All during a war the father did not participate in, so there was no threat to Canada.

This apology is a long time coming for the many who were directly affected, but in turn, are no longer with us. Their children and grandchildren have been long awaiting this apology.

The leader of the official opposition made the point that in 1990 the former prime minister Brian Mulroney made a full apology. However, as was relayed, it was insufficient in that it was not made in the House of Commons. It was certainly a comprehensive, full apology, but it did not have the gravitas the apology today will have.

Another former prime minister attempted to make this right. In 2005, former prime minister Paul Martin put forward a plan for an apology, with funds set aside for reparation and to mark the contributions that Italian Canadians had made, but an election intervened. That specific apology and funds were never designated to their intended recipients, the Italian community of Canada, who had been so wrongly abused through the course of the Second World War.
Finally, we had a private member’s bill from the former member for Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel Massimo Pacetti. He put forward a private member’s bill in 2009 to finally have an apology in this House.

Today, thanks to our Prime Minister, and I do thank him, this is the appropriate apology for the Italian Canadian communities and individuals, particularly those who were actually interned, their children and their grandchildren. It is the appropriate apology for all of those affected by this grievous wrong.
The assumption was that Italian Canadians were Fascists. It is very clear that was not the case. People were arrested, taken from their families and did not see them for years.

In our daily press, some historians are now questioning whether we should be careful not to apologize too fully. I reject that because, if people held ideas, if they were persuaded at some point that maybe one or two people may have been part of Fascist organizations, then those people were denied due process. They were thrown in jail. They were not allowed to see their families. This was a wrong.

Most of the people arrested, from the historical records I can find, had nothing whatsoever to do with any political movement. They were loyal Canadians, so let the apology be full. Let it be made clear that the people at that time, Canadians and the prime minister who made this decision, made a mistake, just as we made a mistake when we decided to intern thousands of Japanese Canadians, and as we did when we decided that LGBTQ Canadians could not have a job in the government. There have been many apologies in this place.

There have been so many apologies in this place, but that does not in any way dilute the importance of the apologies to the families of Salvatore Vistarchi and Nicola Doganieri, whose grandson rose through the ranks of the RCMP not knowing his grandfather had been interned.

There is the very touching story of Guido Nincheri, one of Canada’s leading artists. If we search the records of his life through our universal source of information these days, Wikipedia, his internment is not mentioned because his achievements as an artist were so extraordinary. It is a small footnote that his family had to fight to get him out of jail because of the wrong assumptions made about what he believed politically.

What we hold in our minds, what we think and care about does not criminalize us, not since the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

I note with gratitude that our Speaker is the first Italian Canadian to hold the role of Speaker. I note our Minister of Justice, whose name I will not use, is another proud Italian Canadian.

I thank all those in the government who have finally made this apology complete. I thank the Leader of the Opposition, the leader of the New Democratic Party and the Bloc Québécois for making it very clear that all of us appreciate what the Italian Canadian community does for this country day to day, and that we apologize from the bottom of our hearts as best we can in 2021 for the wrongs of 1940.