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“Anti-Italian Riots in Canada during the Declaration of War 1940” ~Christina Ioanna Coutsougeras

Anti-Italian Riots in Canada during the Declaration of War 1940

The Anti-Italian Riots in Canada took place on June 10, 1940.  These riots were caused by the declaration of war from Benito Mussolini, dictator of Italy, against France and Great Britain.  In response to this declaration, Canada declared war on Italy.  Italian Canadians were affected by the events of this war declaration because they were labeled as enemy aliens. The RCMP believed some Italians were fifth columnists and were taken to internment camps. Those who were not interned were forced to provide their fingerprints, follow any orders, and report to the RCMP; otherwise, they would be jailed.  

As I was doing my research, I focused on how the Italian Canadians were taken from their workplace and studied the effects it had on families economically. I examined archives and the Columbus Centre exhibit along with interviews from videos in the exhibit. Victim accounts of the raid of June 10, 1945 are posted in the Columbus Centre exhibit.  In one of the photos, we see Dr. Pancaro who was imprisoned with his patients for being a suspected fifth columnist.  In written accounts from 1941, statements describe how families were torn apart and how those affected will never forget or forgive how they were treated.  They were treated as a security threat and jailed with charges based on accusations without real proof.  The individuals who were jailed were innocent.

Italian internees were affected by the label of enemy aliens and by their internment as their reputations were altered and their careers were jeopardized.  In interviews documented in Barbed Wire and Mandolins (1997), the men discussed their job loss; when they returned from their internment, it was difficult to find jobs and re-establish themselves in the community.  

Seeing that there were many people affected by the raids, there is no doubt that there are stories untold of the events during the war.  There is still more to discover and understand on the topic of unemployment during and after internment, and it is important to remember these events in history.                                                            

Christina Coutsougeras

University of Toronto, 2019