Monday, July 22, 2019

Apologies to Interned Italian-Canadians? Hmmm

I'm pretty sceptical about the prime minister's proposal to apologize for the internment of Italian Canadians in the Second World War.

In 1940 there were tens of thousands of Italian citizens who were immigrants in Canada in 1940, and as citizens of a foreign belligerent at war with Canada, they were declared enemy aliens. Of the 40,000 or so recent immigrants, some 586 were interned. Some were released on appeal, but others remained in detention through much of the war.

Were none of these 586 sympathetic to Mussolini or to the military ambitions of their homeland? Interning known and suspected supporters of a foreign power at war with Canada does not seem like something to apologize for.  Apology may be a political convenience, but I'm not convinced it has historical merit.

Happily, there is a book that has looked into the Italian-Canadian internment: Enemies Within: Italian and Other Internees in Canada and Abroad by Iacovetta, Perin, and Principe, published in 2000. When I've had a look at it, I may have more to say  -- unless you have info to offer.

Update, August 6:  Okay the book is excellent, really a triumph of relevant scholarship, and the Italian-Canadian claims for redress cannot be taken seriously as a "war on ethnicity" or anything else. 

Of some 112,000 Italian Canadians at the time, some 600 were interned, largely because they were associated with Fascist organizations run in Canada by the Mussolini regime. It is true that Italian Canadians naturalized after 1922 were denied the rights of citizens, and required to report to authorities regularly. Other hardships also occurred, but taking steps to defeat Fascism at home and in Italy does not seem like something for Canada to apologize for.
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