Prime Minister Stephen Harper may have to apologize on behalf of all Canadians for the wartime internment of people of Italian descent because opposition members say a similar apology offered by the government 20 years ago was inadequate.
The Conservative government objects to the measure, saying the legal ramifications could costly. But a Liberal private member's bill requiring the apology was passed this week by the House of Commons and now goes to the Senate for approval.
In 1990, former prime minister Brian Mulroney told a Toronto meeting of the National Congress of Italian Canadians: "On behalf of the government and the people of Canada, I offer a full and unqualified apology for the wrongs done to our fellow Canadians of Italian origin during World War II."
Massimo Pacetti, the Liberal MP who introduced the new bill, said Mr. Mulroney's apology was insufficient because it took place outside Parliament. He wants Mr. Harper to apologize in the House of Commons.
He also wants a stamp to commemorate the internment and the government to negotiate with the National Congress of Italian Canadians regarding a suitable "restitution."
Mr. Pacetti said that could mean the establishment of research chairs at Canadian universities to study the experience of the Italians in Canada with an unspecified amount of funding from the government and the rest from the Italian community.
When former Liberal prime minister Paul Martin agreed in 2005 to set up a fund to acknowledge the Italian internment - specifying that there would be no apology - the amount to be provided by the government was $2.5-million.
That was abandoned when Mr. Harper's Conservatives won the 2006 election and replaced it with a program that offered $5-million to commemorate the wartime experiences of a number of ethnocultural communities.
Dominic Campione was among those who signed the agreement with Mr. Martin on behalf of the Italian community. He agrees with Mr. Pacetti that another apology is required.
Aboriginals have received an apology in the House of Commons for their treatment in residential schools and the Chinese have received an apology for the head tax, he said. "Our community should not be treated any less."
But, if Mr. Harper is ultimately forced to apologize to Italian-Canadians in the House of Commons, he will do so against his better judgment; not because the Prime Minister believes that the internment was appropriate, said Conservative MP Dean Del Mastro, but because the bill "opens up the government of Canada to significant liability."
Most of the men who were sent to internment camps have since died, but Justice Department lawyers have always feared that a new and formal apology could prompt to claim for financial redress.
"An apology for a government isn't as simple as saying you're sorry," said Mr. Del Mastro, whose Italian family was in Canada when the internment took place.
"I can tell you that what resulted from my family being declared enemy aliens was discrimination that extended for two decades," he said. But Mr. Mulroney did apologize, said Mr. Del Mastro. So "the Senate has tremendous responsibility with this bill. We should not be playing ethnopolitics with matters that are significant to the country."