Since Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has already offered his apologies to many different Canadian minority groups, some Italian Canadian media outlets have been aroused to express anger that their ethnic group has not yet received one from him.
The Italian-language media, which has 25 different outlets in Canada, has been simmering this summer about Trudeau, who has made it clear he will formally apologize only after the Oct. 21 election for the internment of a relatively small portion of Italian-Canadians during the Second World War.
“Almost 80 bitter years later, the federal government appears ready to apologize to Italian Canadians for the humiliation, suffering, arrest and internments of hundreds in 1940. … While some say better late than never, others wonder why he did not do it right after he came to power,” said Lo Specchio newspaper.
“The fact Justin Trudeau has ‘promised’ just before the fall election to apologize in Parliament for the internment of Italian Canadians … raises questions about the prime minister’s sincerity,” said Corriere Canadese newspaper.
“Anti-Italian prejudice must end,” declared one writer in Il Cittadino Canadese.
Trudeau’s promised apology has become a key political issue in ridings with large Italian and other ethnic groups.
And it’s sparked debate among Italian Canadians and others over whether such an apology is warranted, since the detention of 586 suspected Fascist Italian Canadians was different in many ways from the mass internment of 22,000 Japanese Canadians during the Second World War.
Andres Machalski, co-founder of an organization that monitors electoral issues among Canada’s ethnic communities, said many Italian-language newspapers are pushing for Trudeau to say he’s sorry because, like other ethnic groups, they’re “using apology and redress issues to establish their political and cultural identity in Canada.”
Italian Canadians are “particularly aggressive … because they have a history of political participation and leadership and a need to defend that space against other ethnic lobbies,” said Malchaski, whose website, diversityvotes.ca, monitors hundreds of ethnic-language media outlets in Canada.
About 1.6 million Canadians are of Italian ethnicity, including almost 100,000 in Metro Vancouver, 280,000 in Greater Montreal and 490,000 in the Toronto region. Malchaski says many are involved in nomination competitions in ridings which have a changing mix of ethnic voters.
In his four years in office Trudeau became the focus of academic studies for his frequent “apologism,” for the way he regularly, often tearfully, expresses regret for historical wrongs to certain groups, including Sikhs, Indigenous people in B.C., Jews, Inuit and LGBTQ people.
As a result many Italian Canadian media outlets are suspicious about why he’s holding off until after the election to apologize for what occurred in Canada during the Second World War, when Canadian soldiers joined the Allies battling against Nazi Germany, imperial Japan and Fascist Italy.
Part of the reason for Trudeau’s delay could have to do with the uncertainty and controversy that continues to burn among Italians and the wider public over whether to apologize to offspring of the those Italian Canadians detained as suspected collaborators with Italian dictator Benito Mussolini’s Fascists.
Canada was “not wrong or malicious” to try to protect the country by detaining certain Italians in the country at a time of war, says Patrick Luciana, an Italian Canadian who is a senior fellow at the University of Toronto’s Global Cities Institute.
“To have done otherwise would have shown an extraordinary dereliction of duty to Canada and its people …. What government wouldn’t take precautions against potential enemy subversives?” Luciana recently wrote, noting such precautions were the norm among Allied countries.
“How can we as Italian Canadians ask for an apology when 5,000 Canadian men and boys are buried in cemeteries throughout Italy, who died to rid ‘our’ ancestral home of fascism and naziism?,” Luciana said.
“If we want anything, it’s to avoid having this episode in our history forgotten. But that’s in our hands, not the government’s.”
Another prominent Canadian historian, Jack Granatstein, told Postmedia he thoroughly endorsed the views of Luciana, who argued it’s insulting to ask for an apology today from the descendants of Canada’s leaders in the 1940s, who were predominantly Anglo-Saxon.
Historians often make many distinctions between the targeted Italian Canadian arrests in Eastern Canada and the way that, after the Japanese invasion of Hong Kong and Pearl Harbour, most Japanese Canadians were removed from the West Coast, had their property confiscated and were interned.
Former prime minister Pierre Trudeau, Justin’s father, opposed collective apologies in general. And at least two other Italian Canadian scholars – Franca Iocovetta and Roberto Perin, who edited the 2000 book, Enemies Within – have also expressed skepticism about the Italian redress campaign, according to Christopher Moore, a contributing editor to Canada’s History magazine.
“In the 1930s, there were pro-Fascist organizations in most Italian-Canadian communities, often sponsored by Italian consulates loyal to Mussolini’s Fascist regime. The roughly 600 Italian Canadians interned, out of some 112,000 Italians Canadians, were mostly associated with these pro-Fascist organizations,” Moore said.
On the eve of the Second World War, the Italian Canadian population was split by duelling pro- and anti-Fascist organizations, noted Moore, a prolific writer and former Vancouver resident whose father wrote a biography of Angelo Branca, a leading B.C. lawyer, judge and Italian community leader.
Moore says Branca’s standing among Italian Canadians was “eventually enhanced by his determined resistance in the 1930s to the encroachment of the pro-Fascist movements.”
Regardless of whether Canadians support or oppose an apology, Machalski, whose website translates the Italian-language media into English, said the fight of some Italian Canadians “for an apology is more of a fight for political space for the community than a campaign for redress that might kindle old animosities.”
In advance of this fall’s election, Machalski is on to something when he maintains the campaign to make sure Trudeau says he’s sorry is mostly about trying to conserve a sense of Italian identity among younger generations and to hold onto some political influence.