Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau formally apologized Thursday for the internment of Italian Canadians during World War II, saying the impact of the action “lasted a lifetime.”
Trudeau delivered the apology in a speech before the Canadian House of Commons.
“To the tens of thousands of innocent Italian Canadians who were labelled enemy salients, 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,” he said.
After Italian fascist leader Benito Mussolini declared war on the Allies in 1940, Canada labeled some 31,000 Italian Canadians as “enemy aliens,” forcing them to be fingerprinted and report to the government once a month. Of those, 600 mostly men were rounded up and sent to camps in Kingston and Petawawa, Ontario; Fredericton, New Brunswick; and Kananaskis, Alberta.
“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,” Trudeau said.
Canada, like the United States, also incarcerated thousands of people — including children — of German and Japanese descent during the war, many without any evidence of wrongdoing.
The incarcerated weren’t formally charged with any crimes, nor were they given a chance to defend themselves in court. Many had their property confiscated and sold off.
“To stand up to the Italian regime that had sided with Nazi Germany, that was right,” Trudeau said. “But the scapegoat law-abiding Italian Canadians, that was wrong.”