TORONTO - It has been a sore point in some circles among the Italian community for eighty years. Yes, eight decades. Some people try to forget, others do not know. And, quite frankly, “the leadership” in the Italian community has been – on again off again, lukewarm.
But this description is not entirely fair to those who have kept the flame burning bright for an apology and compensation for material and reputational damage against Canadians of Italian origin as a result of the War Measures Act in 1940.
Through the War Measures Act, the government of Canada suspended habeas corpus, revoked rights, seized property and arrested those who were deemed a threat to the safety of Canada— labeling some 31,000 Italian Canadians as "enemy aliens". These were permanent residents or “British Subjects”, as “citizens” were then known. No charges were ever laid, according to a Justice department official with whom I spoke, some twelve years ago.
Nonetheless, an estimated 600- 750 men were incarcerated (interned), their homes placed under RCMP surveillance, jobs lost, families disrupted and or dispersed and properties seized – including Casa Italia, home of the current Italian Consulate in Toronto.
The “return” of the latter iconic symbol of the Italian community to its rightful owners became a rallying cry for Toronto’s Italian community and others. In fact, it was the lead article in the first edition of the Corriere Canadese in 1954. Through thick and thin. The Corriere has advanced and advocated for “reconciliation and redress” ever since, even against the position of some community institutions whose interests seemed to be focused elsewhere.
Now, it appears that the Government of Canada is preparing to move in the direction of at least a formal apology expressed in the House of Commons. The “heads up” came via a zoom town hall with a Toronto MP.
No elaboration of timing or details. Whom did they consult? The same people who methodically dismantled the Ontario chapter of the Congress of Italian Canadians; those who methodically destroyed Columbus Centre – Toronto’s “Piazza Italia”, or those who hope to seize control of Casa Italia for their development interests? Redress has been a political football through all governments of Canada.
Most recently, prior to the 2019 election, when, in a pre-election rally, Prime Minister Trudeau promised an apology in the House of Commons.
Nineteen months later, it appears, he is prepared to make good on his promise. Who has been invited to report the “historic moment”?
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