October 2011

SPECIAL FEATURE

 

Volumes Commemorate Italian Internees

 

The Community Historical Recognition Program instituted by the Government of Canada is a welcome step in exposing past wrongs and trying to gain new understanding of problematic historical events.


by Jim Zucchero

 

Volumes Commemorate Italian Internees
Italians arrested in Montreal bound for an internment camp
(Montreal Daily Star, June 12, 1940).

As reported in the Summer issue of Accenti, in 2009 the Canadian Government created a program inviting community organizations to submit proposals for projects that acknowledge a dark chapter in Canadian history involving the Italian community. During the Second World War, the Canadian government ordered the arrest of thousands of innocent Italian Canadians when Italy declared war on Great Britain and Canada, fearing that some might sabotage Canada’s war effort from within.

 

No one who was arrested was ever formally charged with any crime and everyone was eventually released, but the scars of the upheaval remain – and the debate continues to this day over whether the government’s actions were justified.

 

The Community Historical Recognition Program (CHRP) was instituted by the Canadian Government to acknowledge these events. The project undertaken by the Association of Italian Canadian Writers (AICW), in partnership with Accenti Magazine and Guernica Editions, will publish two companion volumes of essays, articles and creative works that examine and commemorate the events that surround the internment of Italian Canadians during the Second World War.
 

Essays, articles and creative works have been received from contributors at large, following a call for submissions circulated in this and other media over the past several months. The printed books will be published in the spring of 2012, and will also be made available in e-book format. Book launches, the details of which will be announced, will take place in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver. Selected works are also being published in Accenti, two of which follow this brief introduction, while others will be published in forthcoming issues.
 

More than seventy years after the fact, the events of June 1940 continue to have an impact on the Italian community. There are strong opinions on both sides about whether the government was justified in its actions. In between the “Get over it!” outright dismissal by some, and the “We are all victims” position of others, there are many compelling stories. Some are more personal, others are more historical and political; all of them are important.
 

The internment of some 600 Italian Canadians during the 1940s in Canada is, in some ways, a paradox. On one hand, it is a relatively obscure event, yet it remains a highly contentious issue – both within and outside of the Italian Canadian community. How have our ideas about these matters changed in Canada over the past seventy years? Are the issues surrounding such an event unique to Canada, or are they shared by others, perhaps even universally? The current project, to acknowledge the stark events surrounding the internment of Italian Canadians more than 70 years ago allows us to explore and expose some essential truths in the complex and tangled webs of history.
 

Jim Zucchero currently serves as Vice-President of the AICW
and is on the steering committee for the CHRP project.
He is a counsellor and instructor at King’s University College,
UWO, in London, Ontario.

 

This article is published as part of the Community
Historical Recognition Program (CHRP) funded by
the Department of Canadian Heritage.

 

 

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