Main Container

Prime Minister Crest

Prime Minister's remarks delivering an official apology for the internment of Italian Canadians during the Second World War

Main Content


Mr. Speaker,

In the summer of 1940, the police arrived at a wedding on Dante Street in Montréal.

They were there for one of the guests – Giuseppe Visocchi.

The officers who took him away told his family that they just had to speak with him, but he would be able to come right back.

He didn’t.

Within weeks, he was at a Prisoner of War (POW) camp in Petawawa, wearing a uniform marking him as an internee, with a target on the back and the number 770.

It would be another two years until Giuseppe came home.

Two years where his seven children needed their father.

Two years where his wife didn’t know how she was going to feed them and keep a roof over their heads.

Two years while this single mother had to survive without money and without being able to ask for help from family members because they were afraid of reprisals.

Mr. Speaker, this is not the story of just one man, or just one family.

During the Second World War, 31,000 Italian Canadians were labelled “enemy aliens”, and then finger-printed, scrutinized, and forced to report to local registrars once a month.

Just over 600 men were arrested and sent to internment camps, and four women were detained and sent to jail.

They were business owners, workers, and doctors.

They were fathers, daughters, and friends.

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.

Yet still, they were taken away to Petawawa or to Fredericton, to Kananaskis or to Kingston.

Once they arrived at a camp, there was no length of sentence.

Sometimes, the internment lasted a few months.

Sometimes, it lasted years.

But the impacts – those lasted a lifetime.

Reputations were ruined.

Businesses were dismantled.

Families were left without a breadwinner.

Kids were shunned by their friends or pulled out of school.

These are stories that have gone untold for far too long, stories that have been silenced by shame and fear.

This is injustice that has laid heavy on far too many generations.

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.  

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.

Mr. Speaker, while some Canadians were being told to pull together for the war effort, while some people were being reminded to do their part, others were being treated like the enemy even though they had committed no crime.

The policy of internment was wrong.

It went against the values we had gone to war to defend.

It went against the values that Italian Canadians would have enlisted to protect, despite the fact that members of their family had been interned in these camps.

And it went against the values that made our country strong – fairness, due process, equality in the justice system – all of which would later be enshrined in our Charter.

The way that Italian Canadians were treated by the government was unacceptable, and caused real harm. And not only to the men and women who were interned, and to their families, but to the generations that have lived with this legacy of discrimination.

It is time to make amends.

Mr. Speaker, Signor Presidente,

I rise in this House today, to issue an official apology on behalf of the Government of Canada for the internment of Italian Canadians during the Second World War.

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.

Chiediamo scusa.

To all those who were affected by this chapter of our history, we are sorry.

Your families and your communities did not deserve this injustice.

And despite everything, despite that dark time, you continue to look to the future.

I’ve heard your stories. We have heard your stories.

How, once your parent or grandparent was released, they worked hard to give back to their country, despite how its government had treated them.

Every thriving business these men and women rebuilt or local charity they started was a testament to their commitment to Canada.

Everyone who became a service member in the Canadian Armed Forces or a representative in government was an example of their dedication to their fellow citizens.

What better way to show that the injustice done to them had been a mistake?

What better way to prove that they loved the country they had chosen to call home?

It would have been so easy to turn their backs on Canada.

Instead, they put their backs into building it.

That is their legacy.

And it is a legacy that lives on today.

To everyone who has had the courage to speak up about this painful chapter in our history – to people like Anita who told me about how her father never stopped loving this country, or Zita and her daughter who spoke about their family’s resilience – you honour your father, or grandfather, and the kind of person he taught you to be.

To the members of my own caucus who have worked tirelessly to see justice done for the Italian Canadian community and to the organizations across the country that have pushed to reach this moment, you take us forward on a better path.

And to all Italian Canadians who make our communities stronger, from St. John’s to Vancouver, from Montreal to the Far North, you remind us that diversity is our strength.

Courage. Resilience. An unshakable belief that we are stronger together.

These are just some of the values that Italian Canadians have always lived.

Mr. Speaker,  

When, almost 80 years ago, Giuseppe came back to his family from the POW camp, he worked hard to build a better life.

He bought a house, saw his kids grow up, and taught them to be good, upstanding citizens who loved their country.

Courage, resilience, and an unshakeable belief that we are stronger together.

That was the path he chose.

And that is the path we must continue to choose today.

La via giusta è stata dimostrata dagli internati e le loro famiglie: integrità, unità, fede, e fidelità al Canada.

Per questo, tutto il paese è riconoscente.

Grazie di cuore.

Internees and their families showed the way: integrity, solidarity, faith, and loyalty to Canada.

For this, our country is ever grateful.

Thank you.