On November 12th, 2005, Prime Minister Paul Martin stood in a park pavilion in Montreal's east end, surrounded by his ministers and prominent members of Montreal's Italian community, to announce a historical agreement-in-principle. After a decades-old battle, the federal government agreed to offer monetary compensation for the internment of about 700 Italians and Italian Canadians accused as "enemies of the state" during World War II.
Prime Minister Paul Martin (left), with ministers Raymond Chan and Lisa Frulla, Vincent Bueti and Member of Parliament Massimo Pacetti (far right) behind Domenic Campione of the NCIC.
The compensation - an initial amount of $2.5 million - is not, however, geared to the individuals who were interned (most of whom have, in fact, passed on) or their families, but rather to the Italian Canadian community as a whole. And, a sore point for some in the community, it will not be accompanied by an official apology in the House of Commons.
The money will be used to fund projects that acknowledge and educate the public about the historical impact of the internments, and celebrate the contribution of Italians to the country. Some of the projects that might come out of the program include university-level Italian studies programs, a museum to commemorate the Italian internees, and educational programs to teach young people (Italian and non-Italian Canadians) about the World War II internments. But according to Dominic Campione, President of the National Congress of Italian Canadians, nothing is set in stone. Despite the celebratory gathering last November, the money is still months away from reaching the community.
The agreement-in-principle is just that, an agreement that in principle will work. The next step will see the finalization of the agreement, which will include the terms and conditions of the program, guidelines and eligibility requirements for projects, and a detailed structure of exactly how the projects will be overseen.
Campione's organization, along with representatives from the National Federation of the Canadian Italian Business and Professional Association (CIBPA), the Order of the Sons of Italy in Canada, and the Italian Canadian Community Foundation of Quebec plan to visit with their constituents in the Italian communities in Vancouver, Winnipeg, Toronto, Montreal and Halifax in order to determine what exactly Italian Canadians would like to see come out of the program.
"We are looking for worthy projects that will fulfil our mandate," Campione said. The timetable: a detailed and approved program ready for project submissions in the spring of 2006. Following the federal election, is there any chance that the agreement will fall through?
"The money has been earmarked in the 2005 budget. It's finalized but now awaits approval from the Treasury Board," explained Edith Dussault, Director of Outreach and Promotion for the Multiculturalism Department of Canadian Heritage. During an interview, she stated that the election might delay the flow of funds, but she is otherwise optimistic.
Campione agrees that the government is obliged to fulfil its obligation regardless of the election. "We plan to get the program going ASAP," Campione added.
The money comes from the federal government's Acknowledgement, Commemoration, and Education Program, also known as the ACE Program. It's a three-year $25 million initiative announced during the February 2005 budget. Administered by the Multiculturalism Department within the Heritage Ministry, the Program was created to acknowledge that federal wartime measures and immigration restrictions affected many ethnocultural groups, including Italians.
Agata De Santis is a freelance journalist and filmmaker living in Montreal.