Elizabeth Pagliacolo
No Comments

Big Trouble in Little Italy

Decrease Font Size Increase Font Size Text Size Print This Page

For 50 years, the Corriere Canadese has brought Italian-Canadians news and sports from the old country. That's good enough for the older generations, but what will happen to the paper when they're gone?

Inside the Corriere Canadese‘s Toronto boardroom, co-editor Antonio Nicaso strokes an invisible hair between his hands with exaggerated concentration, waiting for the latest bout of laughter to subside, and for the eight editors present to refocus. The impeccably dressed 37-year-old, who wears a suit to work every day and speaks in a soft, contemplative voice, seems more like a banker than a Mafia fighter, even though he has written 10 books about organized crime. His work has garnered several awards, including one from the RCMP, which hangs on his cubicle wall.

At this meeting, he sits at the head of a long oak table. Everyone is speaking Italian, and every comment ends with a punch line. Most here are young, and a few are relatively new arrivals from Italy; the Corriereprides itself on its strong ties to the homeland and its editorial staff of 15 reflects that.

On this particular day in November 2001, the discussion begins with a story planned for the front page that fits perfectly into the daily’s pro-papal sentiment: This morning, Ontario’s minister of municipal affairs and housing, Chris Hodgson, is presenting a cheque of $1,375,000 to fund the Pope’s 2002 visit to Toronto.

“Anything else?” Nicaso asks.

“Terrorism,” says reporter Pierpaolo Bozzano, a real newcomer who arrived from Italy only a month earlier. He’s been following the story of Amid Farid Rizk, the Canadian of Egyptian origin found in a ship container in the port city of Gioia Tauro, Italy. The Corriere was the first to report the story in North America after learning of it via an Italian newswire. The paper has broken many stories that later make it to the rest of the North American press through these wire services.

“Amid, my friend,” says Bozzano, smiling, “was released from custody because there was no proof against him. In regard to Hussein,” he goes on, referring to Liban Hussein, the Ottawa businessman who turned himself in when he saw his name on the U.S. Treasury list of people suspected of financing terrorism, “the judge said there wasn’t a single motive to hold him in custody, either.” Bozzano plans to write about how police are arresting people without warrants.

“Let’s not forget,” Nicaso begins reproachfully, “that this is in the context of a terrorist act. When one is found travelling in a container with-.” Nicaso is cut off by Bozzano, who, unfazed, replies, “He was a businessman who had a cell phone and-.” Bozzano is now cut off by the interjecting voices of his colleagues, who agree with Nicaso. Later, defending his point of view, Bozzano says, “My fear with terrorism in Italy is that he was the first to be arrested with the new law allowing police to arrest people with the suspicion of terrorism. It leaves a lot of power to the police. What I wanted to say was that in my opinion we shouldn’t have only written the news but to have taken a position, to say that it’s risky.” There is little room in the 16-page paper for editorials, but Bozzano says his sentiment is behind all of his news articles on terrorism.

Although its editorial meetings include sometimes-passionate debates, the Corriere rarely provides analysis of the news it reports. Staff writer Irene Zerbini, 33, who has been in Canada for four years, says what theCorriere lacks most is the space to cover stories with more than one source or from various angles. “Most people get news from the radio but they need someone who has the courage to make an opinion.” Elena Caprile, the Corriere‘s editor-in-chief, has been at the paper since 1972, when she started as managing editor. She says that as the only daily in Canada printed in the Italian language, the “fiercely Canadian, proudly Italian” paper’s mandate is to convey world events in Italian. Caprile says that opinions matter but not as much as covering the news. “We have to be very careful,” she adds, “because we can really influence the people.” Yet the Corriere, when it feels the need, can serve up biting commentary and firebrand criticism. After Mel Lastman shook the hand of a Hells Angel in January, Zerbini wrote that the Toronto mayor, who claimed to be oblivious of the Hells Angels’ murderous track record, ought to pick up a newspaper every once in a while. In a special “Comment” column on January 14, 2002, Nicaso stated: “The mayor’s comment (‘They seemed to me a good group of kids’) turned my stomach and I thought of the innocent victims, and our colleague [Michel Auger] whom they shot five times and the apathy of those who pretend nothing’s wrong if the problem doesn’t affect them.”

But these moments of anger-induced reflection are rare. Sadly undermining its own potential, the Corriereoffers its audience predictable content: a daily sports section, a weekly feature on the Catholic church, and events of regional clubs in the Italian community. Its news briefs, covering world events with a strong focus on Canadian politics and Italian news, are an invaluable service to its older, Italian-speaking audience. But in not providing much else, it misses the opportunity to genuinely reflect-and provoke-its audience. Some even say the 47-year-old Corriere, with a circulation of 27,300, in sticking with a stale agenda, has lost sight of how best to serve an evolving audience whose sense of identity and interests have changed profoundly since the 1950s.

There’s no question that in the beginning, the Corriere Canadese understood its audience and served it well. In 1953, Montreal-born Dan Iannuzzi, 20, came to Toronto and met with Arturo Scotti, a former editor of one of Iannuzzi’s father’s Italian-language papers, La Verita (The Truth), published out of Montreal. Scotti told Iannuzzi he should start up the first post-Second World War Italian newspaper in Toronto, where the Italian immigrant population was steadily growing. Between 1946 and 1963, more than 315,000 Italians arrived in Canada and settled as permanent immigrants, joining the 110,000 plus who had immigrated in waves between the First and Second World Wars. Most settled in Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver, or in smaller cities with established Italian communities, like Sault Ste. Marie and Windsor. By the ’60s, most had permanently settled in Toronto, in the College Street area. As that area became congested, Italians migrated to St. Clair Avenue West between Dufferin Street and Lansdowne Avenue. In the ’70s, these Italians were enticed to bigger homes in the suburbs, status symbols earned through backbreaking labour in blue-collar jobs. By this time, Italians had the highest rate of home ownership in Canada.

To read the rest of this story, please see our ebook anthology: RRJ in Review: 30 Years of Watching the Watchdogs.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

3 × two =