Fascism and Internment
Prior to Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia in 1935, Canadians viewed fascism favourably. The fascists in Italy were handling the Great Depression effectively and were preventing the Communists from taking power. The daughter of a Brantford Italian immigrant remembered how her mother said, “He (Mussolini) put jam on my bread.” Canada’s opinion of Italians changed drastically after Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia. Canadians thought that the Italian movement in Ethiopia threatened England’s interests in Egypt. When Italy declared war on the allies, this exacerbated Canada’s negative feelings towards Italy and caused them to respond to the situation with hatred and fear.
On June 10, 1940, Italy declared war on the allied nations. When Canada enacted the War Measures Act (August 25, 1939, later adjusted on December 31, 1945), Canada’s Italian citizens were characterized as “enemy aliens”, even though many Italian Canadians served in the Canadian army during WWII. 600 men were arrested and sent to one of three internment camps. They were suspected of being Fascist sympathizers, capable of terrorism and sabotage. None of the Italians interned were officially charged with any offence.
Brantford locals, Daniele Iezzi and Guilio Mancini, were sent to camp Petawawa where they spent thirteen and nine months respectively. Both had large families. Mancini’s son was serving in the Canadian army at the time. As a result of their internment, their remaining family members faced poverty as the primary wage earners were jailed and the government refused financial assistance. To survive, the families were assisted by relatives and the local Italian community. Furthermore, during the enactment of the War Measures act, Italians were required to register and report to the local police, in person, each month.
On March 27, 2021, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau issued a formal apology in the House of Commons for the internment of Italian Canadians during the Second World War. Of 600 Italian Canadians who were interned, none of them was charged with any crime.