Windsorites of Italian descent react and remember after Ottawa's apology

·3 min read
600 Italian-Canadian men were sent to internment camps during the Second World War. (Joyce Pillarella - image credit)
600 Italian-Canadian men were sent to internment camps during the Second World War. (Joyce Pillarella - image credit)

Italian Canadians living in Windsor were happy to hear the Prime Minister apologize Thursday for the way their kinspeople were treated during WWII and were reminded of the treatment they received coming to the country after the war.

Justin Trudeau gave a formal apology for the government's decision to send approximately 600 people to internment camps between 1940 and 1943. There were 33 people from Windsor who were interned.

"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," Trudeau said in the House of Commons.

Massimo De Menech calls the apology a 'great move.' His grandfather came to Canada after WWII and he knows direct descendents of those sent to the camps.

"I think this is an opportunity for us as an Italian community to really learn from our history and learn from Canadian history as well as Canadians to learn the war was difficult," said De Menech, who runs a Facebook group called YQG Italians.

Moving forward, De Menech says Canada should recognize the contributions from the Italian community during the war effort.

Massimo De Menech says Trudeau's apology to Italian Canadians was a 'great move.'
Massimo De Menech says Trudeau's apology to Italian Canadians was a 'great move.' (Sanjay Maru/CBC Windsor )

"The Italian community, during the war, did donate over $2000 to the Red Cross to help Canadians who were suffering during the war and they did buy war bonds as well," he said.

In 1939, prime minister William Lyon MacKenzie King's government invoked the War Measures Act, giving Ottawa the power to intern people suspected of being capable of undermining the war effort and to confiscate their property.

When Mussolini entered the Second World War on the side of Nazi Germany in 1940, King's government authorized the RCMP to intern all residents of Italian origin suspected of being traitors. At the time, 31,000 Italians had been living in Canada.

'It was deflating'

Aldo Sfalcin, a first generation Italian-Canadian, says he appreciated the apology.

"I'm glad that Justin [Trudeau] did that... it's been a long time coming," said Sfalcin.

At the age of seven, Sfalcin immigrated to Windsor, Ontario from Italy with his family in August 1952. Though the war had ended, he says classmates bullied and physically abused him because of his Italian heritage and inability to speak English fluently.

"We were tormented everyday. We went through the gauntlet of name calling,"said Sfalcin.

Sfalcin says it was a shock to him.

"It was deflating because I was a kid of nature and loving everybody."

Aldo Sfalcin immigrated to Windsor, Ontario from Italy in 1952 with his family. As a child he faced verbal and physical abuse from classmates for his Italian heritage.
Aldo Sfalcin immigrated to Windsor, Ontario from Italy in 1952 with his family. As a child he faced verbal and physical abuse from classmates for his Italian heritage. (Sanjay Maru/CBC Windsor)

"Later when I was older and little more thoughtful, I realized English Canadians and French Canadians were not intermingling with the Italian community," he said. "We had to have our own little community."

Sfalcin says he still feels the damage from the treatment he endured today.

In 2018, the RCMP planted a tree on the grounds of the Canadian Police College in Ottawa Tuesday as a means to show regret and remorse for the internments.

While the apology has come more than 80 years later and no internees are alive to hear it today, many Italian—Canadian groups welcomed the apology for what the prime minister called, an 'injustice.'

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