Draft apology for Vancouver's treatment of Italian community during WWII submitted to council

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Vancouver city council will consider a formal apology to the descendants of Italian Canadians living in the city in 1940 who were detained or forced to register with police. (Peter Scobie/CBC - image credit)
Vancouver city council will consider a formal apology to the descendants of Italian Canadians living in the city in 1940 who were detained or forced to register with police. (Peter Scobie/CBC - image credit)

A staff report going to Vancouver council on Wednesday outlines how an official apology should be issued to the city's Italian community over injustices during the Second World War.

A 954-word draft apology in the report says following Canada's declaration of war on Italy in 1940, 33 Vancouver residents of Italian descent were deemed enemy aliens. Under the direction of the federal government, 29 of those men were arrested and sent to internment camps in Alberta or Ontario.

Up to 1,800 other residents were forced to register with local police and report monthly about their employment and activities.

The men who were rounded up and sent to internment camps were never charged with any wrongdoing. None are alive today.

"This acknowledgement of the harms that many individuals and families experienced during and after World War II is a significant part of redress and ensuring that the City of Vancouver does not repeat these mistakes in the future," said the report.

Joyce Pillarella
Joyce Pillarella

The Canadian government interned more than 600 Italian Canadians and required reporting of an additional 31,000 residents.

"Following World War II, interned Italian-Canadians lived in silence, burdened with feelings of shame and stigma for their arrest and detention," said the report.

The city's work to advance an apology is part of an ongoing commitment to uphold "the principles of human rights, justice and reconciliation," according to the report.

In the 1990s, descendants of detained Italian Canadians started a national campaign for an apology, but it did not come until 2021.

Following Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's apology in the House of Commons, city councillors in Vancouver passed a motion to offer an official apology for the discrimination against Italian Canadians residing in the city.

City staff worked with descendants of those interned and others from the Italian Canadian community, including historians and business leaders, to develop an apology.

The report to be presented to council includes historical testimonies from the families of those who were interned and illustrate the harm of having husbands, fathers and sons abruptly removed from their daily lives.

"I was 10 years old and I remember that I couldn't understand why my father was suddenly imprisoned at a time when I most needed him," read one testimony in the staff report from the child of a man interned in the 1940s. "I believe that my lifelong feelings of anxiety are directly attributable to this period of my childhood."

If approved, the apology would be read in a council meeting in June, to coincide with the launch of the Italian Heritage Month.

Staff are also recommending that a public art installation commemorating the injustice and apology also be undertaken.

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