Memories of World War II

Italian Canadians as Enemy Aliens

On June 10, 1940, Italian Canadians became the Enemy.

Italian dictator Benito Mussolini joined the war on the side of Germany, and declared war on France and Great Britain. Within minutes of this announcement, the Canadian government gave the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) orders to arrest Italian Canadians considered at threat to the nation's security.

Under the War Measures Act, 31,000 Italian Canadians were officially designated as enemy aliens. Of these, about 600 were taken from their homes and separated from their families. Viewed as fascist supporters, and even spies, they were held in prisons and remote camps.

None of these people were ever formally charged in a court of law.

Italian Canadians felt the repurcussions. In many cases, these events contributed to fear and hostilities in Italian Canadian communities across Canada, leading to loss of work, vandalism, verbal abuse, and violence.

Was the Canadian government justified in invoking the War Measures Act? Were these individuals traitors, potential terrorists, or a threat to Canadian democracy?

This exhibit raises many questions. It explores the issues of identity and ethnicity, the necessities of war, and the challenges of democracy and rights of citizenship. It combines historical research and personal testimonies. It explores the realities of a country at war and the remembered history of its people.

In the search for answers, this exhibit begins to tell a difficult story.