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June 8, 2022, 3:39 pm

Council Apologizes to Vancouver’s Italian Canadian Community for Treatment During WWII

City of Vancouver
VANCOUVER, BC – Vancouver City Council apologized during Council for the injustices enacted upon the Italian Canadian community during the Second World War and read the proclamation for Italian Heritage Month, which was then presented to several members of the community, including two descendants of the interned.

We hope that this apology contributes to acknowledging this truth about the past, which is a crucial part of moving forward in ensuring that past injustices are not repeated in the future.

On June 3, Deputy Mayor Sarah Kirby-Yung read the proclamation and Councillor Melissa De Genova read the full apology to members of the Italian Canadian community at an event co-hosted by the Consul General of Italy – Vancouver, and Il Centro, Italian Community Centre.

The Official Apology to the Italian Canadian community in Vancouver is part of broader redress and equity work that we have embarked upon. The Italian Canadian community is among multiple communities that have historically experienced stigma and discrimination due to their cultural identity and place of origin.

Read the full apology and historical overview (61 KB)

Following the declaration of war against Italy by the federal government in 1940, certain Italian men were deemed Enemy Aliens. As a result, nearly 3 dozen men in Vancouver were forcibly removed from their homes and sent to Prisoner of War Internment Camps despite governments having no proof of wrongdoing.

Many families of the internees were not notified as to where their loved ones were taken or given definitive reasons as to why or when they had been apprehended. No communication between the interned men and their families was allowed for approximately two weeks. Most of these men were the breadwinner for their families, and their internment caused major emotional trauma and financial hardship.

While none of the interned Italian Canadians from Vancouver are alive today, we extend this apology to their surviving loved ones and the Italian Canadian community in Vancouver, in recognition of the injustices visited upon the families and impacts on the broader community.

Learn about our recent Anti-Racism and Cultural Redress work

“Today, Vancouver City Council extended a heartfelt apology to all members of the Italian community in Vancouver for City Council’s reference to Italian Canadians as ‘enemy aliens’ in a 1942 Motion,” said Mayor Kennedy Stewart. “This led to further harms, alongside the family separation and financial hardship caused by the internment in federal camps.”

“Recognition and acknowledgment of past wrongs is essential to reconciliation of the past with the present to assure we strive for a better future for our children and theirs, newcomers to Canada and those who were here before we came,” said lawyer and community advisor Celso A. A. Boscariol, QC.  “Although we cannot change history, we can certainly change its consequences.” 

“The City of Vancouver's Official Letter of Apology to the Italian Community represents a defining moment in the healing process of the descendants of those Vancouverites classified as Enemy Aliens during Canada's War with Italy circa 1940 to 1943,” said historian and community advisor Ray Culos.

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