David Lametti, Liberal MP for the Montreal riding of LaSalle–Émard– Verdun, has just inherited two of the biggest portfolios in the Canadian government.
This past January, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appointed Lametti, 56, minister of justice and attorney-general of Canada. Not only is he tasked with administrating and reforming the country’s justice system, he is also dealing with the fallout from the recent SNC Lavalin corruption investigation. “It’s a big job and I’m just getting up to speed on all the files,” says Lametti, who has taken over the job from Jody Wilson-Raybould after she was shuffled out of the position.
When asked about the SNC Lavalin affair, Lametti comments, “I wasn’t there when it happened so there’s not much I can say at this point. I still don’t have all the facts.” While Lametti faces some big challenges in his new gig, he says his Italian-Canadian upbringing has given him strong legs to stand on.
Lametti grew up in Port Colborne in the Niagara region of southern Ontario. A large number of Italian immigrants settled there and found work in the area’s many industrial plants. Lametti is the youngest of four boys, sons of Italian immigrants from the town of Genga in Le Marche. “My parents really sacrificed everything for us. It’s a story that you’ve heard over and over again with our community: the parents come from Italy without knowing the language or having any means, and yet work hard and seize every opportunity to advance themselves and really push their kids to go to school. This is what my parents did and it really opened up a lot of doors for us,” says the former McGill University law professor.
His parents were active members of Port Colborne’s Italian Canadian Mutual Benefit Society; he says the local Italian community was tight-knit. “Fifty per cent of my parents’ village was in Port Colborne, and you could hear the village dialect spoken around town. There were a lot of Abruzzese, Calabrese and Molisani as well,” he explains. “I always felt a strong attachment to the community.”
His upbringing was also shaped by the death of his father, who passed when Lametti was just 13. His mother was left to raise four boys on her own making ends meet by working as a caterer for the local Italian reception hall. “My mother was the dominant influence in my life. She was a strong, intelligent woman who managed to send all of us to school and get us all sistemato, which means getting us all married with a house and a career and kids. She managed to see all of that before she died, which makes me quite happy.”
Lametti says he is very proud of his Italian-Canadian upbringing and admits it has afforded him several advantages in his law career as well. “I realized that knowing Italian—a language that not everyone speaks —became critical to my career because I would get a lot of invitations to lecture at very prestigious universities in Italy simply because I was Italian-Canadian and I could speak the language. It helped me immensely, and I think my kids arerealizingitnowtoo. Allofasudden,doors open because you can speak this other language,” says the father of three.
The newly-appointed justice minister has some meaty issues to deal with in the coming months. Lametti says his priorities include a long-overdue reform of Canada’s Divorce Act, as well as Bill C-75, which makes improvements to the country’s criminal justice system. “I’d really like to see this legislation through so that our criminal justice system is faster, more efficient and more equitable,” explains Lametti. “This will help in some way to deal with the over-representation of Indigenous people in the system.”