Federal government to apologize to families of Italian Canadians interned during WWII

MONTREAL (CityNews) – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will issue a formal apology this month to the families of Italian-Canadians placed in burial camps during World War II.

About 600 men were interned in camps in Canada in 1940 after Italy joined Axis power in Germany.

Family members of these internees say the official apology from the Canadian government will be a moment of healing.

“Apologies are important because they tell families that someone listened to their stories and that their life experiences mattered,” said historian Joyce Pillarella, granddaughter of an inmate. “Plus, the fact that they were able to tell these stories, they were finally able to do something for their parents that they couldn’t have done in 1940.

“It took a lot of courage for these families to speak up because they didn’t want to be judged. They were afraid, they were ashamed.

WATCH: Ottawa to apologize to interned Italian Canadians (May 3, 2021)

When the federal government enacted the War Measures Act during World War II, some 31,000 Italian Canadians were considered enemy aliens – a term used to describe people living in Canada whose countries of origin were in war with Canada.

Of these 31,000 men, approximately 600 men were placed in three camps in Alberta, Ontario and New Brunswick. These men were suspected of being fascist sympathizers or of being directly involved in fascist organizations.

Pillarella has been collecting the stories of the families of internees for more than 30 years.

“It removes that stigma that they had as a prisoner of war or as enemy aliens,” she said. “And that serves to show people that these families, we have always been good Canadian citizens and that we love this country. And for now, those apologies are only about that. “

Nick Di Pietro, the son of an internee, remembers growing up in a house where no one spoke of the internment camps for fear of shame and judgment.

Di Pietro remembers his father lied in job interviews about what he had been doing for two years.

“People were asking during the interview, ‘So what happened during those two years, what were you doing?’ Now he had to find a way to cover up what had happened. Without lying, he said: “I took courses, I could not work, I was sick”.

“It was not very pleasant. And my poor father tried to bury the story as much as possible.

With the imminent apology from the Trudeau government, families feel grateful that Canada recognizes this moment in the country’s history.

“There is a conclusion to this, but the saddest thing for me is that the kids have been the endangered layer of this story,” Pillarella said. “So it’s sad because there are a lot of people that I would have liked to be here to participate in this event.”

Di Pietro thinks the apology would have been very important to his father.

“My father, he would have been happy,” he said. “He’s not the type to throw a big party or anything. My uncle could have, he died in 1994. He probably would have played his harmonica, had a large glass of wine and invited some friends.

“But no, they would have kept it pretty much in their hearts.”


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