Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau apologises for WWII internments

Trudeau says Canada is sorry for fingerprinting and scrutiny of 31,000 Italian-Canadians during World War II.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Thursday made a formal apology for the internment of Italian-Canadians during World War II.

After Italy declared war against Canada in 1940, Canada interned more than 600 people of Italian heritage and declared about 31,000 as “enemy aliens”.

Trudeau said in Parliament Thursday that those labelled “enemy aliens” were fingerprinted, scrutinised and forced to report to local registrars once a month.

“To the men and women who were taken to prisoner-of-war camps or jail without charge, people who are no longer with us to hear this apology — to the tens of thousands of innocent Italian-Canadians who were labelled enemy aliens; to the children and grandchildren who have carried a past generation’s shame and hurt; and to their community, a community that has given so much to our country — we are sorry,” Trudeau said.

Trudeau noted that the parents of Frank Iacobucci, a former justice of Canada’s Supreme Court, were among those labelled enemy aliens under a policy he said went against the values ​​that Canada had gone to war to defend.

Former Canadian Supreme Court Justice Frank Iacobucci’s parents were labelled ‘enemy aliens’ during World War II [File: Chris Wattie/Reuters]

“When, on June 10th 1940, this House of Commons declared war on Mussolini’s fascist regime in Italy, Canada did not also have to declare war on Italian-Canadians,” Trudeau said. “To stand up to the Italian regime that had sided with Nazi Germany — that was right. But to scapegoat law-abiding Italian-Canadians — that was wrong.”

Trudeau said internees weren’t afforded due legal process.

“When the authorities came to their door, when they were detained, there were no formal charges, no ability to defend themselves in an open and fair trial, no chance to present or rebut evidence,” Trudeau said. “Yet still, they were taken away to Petawawa or to Fredericton, to Kananaskis or to Kingston.”

Justice Minister David Lametti said those who had made donations to the Italian Red Cross or were members of certain labour groups were put on Royal Canadian Mounted Police lists.

Canada’s government had apologised in 1988 for also interning more 22,000 Japanese-Canadians.

Canada is now home to approximately 1.6 million Italian-Canadians, one of the largest Italian diasporas in the world.

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