Corriere Canadese

Omar Khadr
Khadr gets $10 million, Italian-Canadians still ignored
Article written by: Adelina Pecchia
 
MARATHON - In the last few years many cultural groups have fought to reclaim their rights and have asked the government to apologize and acknowledge wrongdoing and injustices done to Canadians.
 
This simmering anger has boiled to the surface over the recent $10.5 million awarded to Omar Khadr who sued the Canadian government claiming his rights as a Canadian were violated when he was imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay at age 16 and held for 10 years.
 
This award is an act of travesty when so many other Canadians have been violated and are awaiting justice, including my ancestors. Their rights were violated when the Italian-Canadian internment began on June 10, 1940.
 
Thousands of Italian Canadians were labelled “enemy aliens.” Subject to discrimination, imprisonment, silenced and not allowed to speak the language, Italians were not allowed to gather in groups larger than five people!
 
Italian seafarers, not part of any war effort, in Canadian waters at the time were also interned. Italy, according to my many uncles and relatives who were conscripted to fight - unwillingly - entered into the Second World War.
Canadian Italians 16 years and older and Canadians who became British subjects after 1929 were forced to register with the RCMP and report monthly.
 
Lists were drawn and police were allowed to accuse Italians of being members of fascist groups, though most did not have political ties. Those with political ties were accused of engaging in illegal activities.
 
Land owned by Italians was considered Enemy Alien Property and sold to the RCMP.
 
Italian consul staff were expelled from Canada. Canadian-born sons of Italians were fighting overseas with their homeland army while their relatives were subject to imprisonment, internment and confiscation of land and rights.
 
In order to survive, activities by Canadian Italians took place in the name of anti-fascism to appease suspicions. Others “turned in” their own country people for payment and promises of freedom.
 
Mussolini may have put in place an anti-Semitic policy but need I remind Canada that our Canadian government turned away the St. Louis carrying almost 1,000 Jewish refugees when it was days away from Halifax. Where is the apology by the Canadian government on this travesty?
 
Granted, Canada opened its doors and many of us came to this country via Pier 21 in Halifax after the war. For this we are grateful but this does not bring restitution to that which was done in the name of war efforts.
 
The international community has hunted down Nazi war criminals. Why haven’t we turned the books on those who have hunted down Italians and profited from selling their lands?
 
Canadian Italians have not received recompense or restitution for the losses and tragedies they encountered from internment and a formal apology has never been given by the Canadian government.
 
This hysterical turn of events in Canada is rarely talked about. Why? Because we are Italian.
 
When I was a child I experienced discrimination and hostility because of my name and heritage in Fort William even decades after the war. Nazi sympathizers were also hostile to Italians. One of my school teachers divided her class by eye colour and skin colour. Questioning her beliefs got me into her bad books.
 
In 1990 prime minister Brian Mulroney offered an apology to Italians but an official apology from the House of Commons has never been given. In 2008 the Conservatives set aside $5 million to deal with “the Italian question” but still no apology.
 
Canada Post went so far as to reject a stamp commemorating the internment of Italian Canadians and minister of citizenship and immigration Jason Kenney rejected a heritage bill in 2009.
 
The only memoir recognizing the internment of Italians in Canada is an exhibition of polished steel statutes in Toronto funded by our own processes. Perhaps this signifies our steely perseverance and shining resilience but we still await a formal apology and restitution to the injustices done.
 
Meanwhile, the government once again has been selective on whom to apologize to and where to hand out hard earned tax money, including from thousands of hard working Italians who have remained in this country, in spite of the past.
 
All of us were created to offer real and adequate protection for families and persons, preserve identity, to defend property and land, prevent exclusion, welcome the excluded and the poor, and thus to reveal the face of the Creator for and with all peoples.
 
Let’s start by asking our leaders to apologize for past and present oppressions and then move forward with where restitution is due. This means not by recompensing one Canadian and ignoring the other.
 
Adelina Pechhia is a religious minister
who lives in Marathon, Northern Ontaro

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