Mr. Speaker, on May 15, 1939, more than 900 German Jews boarded an ocean liner called the St. Louis
. The passengers had been stripped of their possessions, chased out of their homes, forced out of their schools and banned from their professions by their own government. Their synagogues had been burned, their stores raided, their clothing scarred with yellow stars. They had been forced to add “Israel” or “Sarah” to the names they had known their whole lives.
Women and men who had once contributed so much to their country had been labelled aliens, traitors and enemies and were treated as such: persecuted, robbed, jailed and killed because of who they were. Nazi Germany had denied them their citizenship and their fundamental rights, yet when the St. Louis set sail from Hamburg that fateful Monday, the more than 900 stateless passengers on board considered themselves lucky, lucky because they each carried on board an entrance visa to Cuba, a rare chance to escape the tyranny of the Nazi regime under Adolf Hitler.
By the time the ship docked in Havana harbour, things would take a turn for the worse. The Cuban government refused to recognize their entrance visas, and only a few passengers were allowed to disembark. Even after men, women and children threatened mass suicide, entry was denied.
So continued their long and tragic quest for safety. They would request asylum from Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and Panama. Each said no. On June 2, the MS St. Louis was forced to leave Havana, with no guarantee that they would be welcomed elsewhere.
After the Americans denied their appeals, they sought refuge in Canada, but the Liberal government of Mackenzie King was unmoved by the plight of these refugees. Despite the desperate plea of the Canadian Jewish community, despite the repeated calls by the government's two Jewish caucus members, despite the many letters from concerned Canadians of different faiths, the government chose to turn its back on these innocent victims of Hitler's regime.
At the time, Canada was home to just 11 million people, of whom only 160,000 were Jews.
Yet even that proved to be too many for many Canadians, including Frederick Charles Blair, who then headed the government's immigration branch. In a letter dated September 1938, the minister wrote:
Pressure by Jewish people to get into Canada has never been greater than it is now, and I am glad to be able to add that, after 35 years of experience here, it has never been so carefully controlled.
Not a single Jewish refugee was to set foot, let alone settle, on Canadian soil.
The MS St. Louis and its passengers had no choice but to return to Europe, where the United Kingdom, Belgium, France and Holland agreed to take in the refugees. When the Nazis conquered Belgium, France and Holland, many of them would be murdered in the gruesome camps and gas chambers of the Third Reich.
The story of the St. Louis and its passengers is no isolated incident. The Government of Canada was indifferent to the suffering of Jews long before the St. Louis ever set sail for Halifax, and sadly, long after it had returned to Europe.
In the wake of the Great Depression, Canadian lawmakers had begun to tighten restrictions on immigration, adopting policies that were both economically and ethnically selective.
To the government of the day, Jews were among the least desirable immigrants; their presence on our soil had to be limited. The government imposed strict quotas and an ever-growing list of requirements designed to deter Jewish immigration.
As the Nazis escalated their attacks on the Jews of Europe, the number of visa applications surged. Canadian relatives, embassy officials, immigration officers, political leaders—all were flooded with calls for help.
Wealthy businessmen promising job creation; aging parents vowing to take up farming; pregnant women begging for clemency; doctors, lawyers, academics, engineers, scientists imploring officials and the government to let them serve our country. They offered everything they owned, promising to comply with Canada's every request.
These refugees would have made this country stronger and its people proud, but the government went to great lengths to ensure that their appeals went nowhere, that their cries for help were left unanswered, for Canada deemed them unworthy of a home and undeserving of our help.
By 1938, the world was wrestling with a growing refugee crisis. When leaders of all nations convened in Evian to discuss the future of Jews in Europe, no country stepped forward to drastically increase its quotas. Jews were viewed as a threat to be avoided rather than as the victims of a humanitarian crisis.
When Canadian lawmakers returned from Evian, they used their powers to further tighten the rules around Jewish immigration, legitimizing the anti-Semitic sentiment taking hold at home and abroad. Bitter resentment toward Jews was enshrined in our policies, the same policies immigration officials would later use to justify their callous response to the St. Louis and its passengers.
Of all the allied countries, Canada would admit the fewest number of Jews between 1933 and 1945, far fewer than the United Kingdom and significantly fewer, per capita, than the United States. Of those it let in, as many as 7,000 were labelled prisoners of war and unjustly imprisoned alongside Nazis. As far as Jews were concerned, none was too many.
In the years leading up to the war, Hitler tested the world's resolve. He noted carefully as country after country proved itself indifferent to the plight of Jewish refugees. He watched as we refused them visas, ignored their letters and denied them entry. With every decree, he challenged the political courage of our leaders and the empathy of those who elected them. With every pogrom, he tested the bounds of our humanity and the limits of our solidarity. Adolf Hitler's test is one the Canadian government failed miserably.
This week marks the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht, a sombre turning point in Hitler's racial policy and the beginning of the Holocaust. Kristallnacht happened on the heels of that Evian Conference, where the world cemented its indifference and antipathy towards Jews. There is little doubt that our silence permitted the Nazis to come up with their own final solution for the so-called Jewish problem.
When Canada joined the war against Germany—when we were fighting for democracy abroad—we were failing Hitler's victims at home. What we were willing to do abroad, we were unwilling to do at home.
The plight of the St. Louis did not lead to a significant change in policy, nor did alarming reports from across Europe or the gruesome details of a coordinated effort to eliminate Jews. When the allies caught wind of the concentration camps, they did not bomb the rail lines that led to Auschwitz, nor did they take concrete action to rescue the remnants of Europe's Jewish community.
When the war ended, Canada and the allied powers discovered the full horrors of the Holocaust. We joined the world in condemning in the strongest terms the death camps of Hitler and the despicable cruelty of his actions. And yet, even the industrial mass murder of more than six million Jews did not force a swift change in our immigration policy.
It would take another three years for Canada to open its doors and take in Jewish refugees at the same rate we took in non-Jewish German nationals at the end of the war. It would take new leadership, a new world order and the creation of the State of Israel, a homeland for the Jewish people, for Canada to amend its laws and begin to dismantle the policies that had legitimized and propagated anti-Semitism.
Adolf Hitler alone did not seal the fate of the St. Louis passengers or the Jews of Europe. To harbour such hatred and indifference towards the refugees was to share in the moral responsibility for their deaths. While decades have passed since we turned our backs on Jewish refugees, time has by no means absolved Canada of its guilt or lessened the weight of our shame.
Today I rise in the House of Commons to issue a long overdue apology to the Jewish refugees Canada turned away. We apologize to the 907 German Jews aboard the MS St. Louis, as well as their families. We also apologize to others who paid the price of our inaction, whom we doomed to the ultimate horror of the death camps. We used our laws to mask our anti-Semitism, our antipathy, our resentment. We are sorry for the callousness of Canada's response, and we are sorry for not apologizing sooner.
We apologize to the mothers and fathers whose children we did not save, and to the daughters and sons whose parents we did not help. We apologize to the imprisoned Jewish refugees who were forced to relive their trauma next to their tormentors.
To the scientists, artists, engineers, lawyers, businessmen, nurses, doctors, mathematicians, pharmacists, poets and students, to every Jew who sought safe haven in Canada, who stood in line for hours and wrote countless letters, we refused to help them when we could have. We contributed to sealing the cruel fates of far too many at places like Auschwitz, Treblinka and Belzec. We failed them and for that we are sorry.
Finally, we apologize to the members of Canada's Jewish community whose voices were ignored, whose calls went unanswered. We were quick to forget the ways in which they had helped build this country since its inception, quick to forget that they were our friends and neighbours, that they had educated our youth, cared for our sick and clothed our poor. Instead, we let anti-Semitism take hold in our communities and become our official policy. We did not hesitate to circumvent their participation, limit their opportunities and discredit their talent. They were meant to feel like strangers in their own homes, aliens in their own land. We denied them the respect that every Canadian, every human being, regardless of origin, regardless of faith is owed by their government and by their fellow citizens.
When Canada turned its back on the Jews of Europe, we turned our back on Jewish Canadians as well. It was unacceptable then and it is unacceptable now. The country failed them, and for that we are sorry.
The story of the St. Louis and the ill-treatment of Jews before, during and after the Second World War should fill us with shame. Shame because these actions run counter to the promise of our country. That is not the Canada we know today—a Canada far more generous, accepting and compassionate than it once was. A place where citizenship is first defined by principles and ideals, not by race nor by faith.
This change in attitudes, this shift in policy was no accident. It was the work of Canadian men and women who dedicated their lives to making this country more equal and more just. Men and women who were children of the Holocaust, Jewish refugees or descendants of the oppressed.
These Jewish women and men took part in social struggles for fairness, justice and human rights. At home, they furthered the great Canadian causes that shaped this country, causes that benefited all Canadians. Abroad, they fought for democracy and the rule of law, for equality and liberty. The scope of their impact should not only be recognized, but celebrated. They were scientists and activists, ministers and singers, physicists and philanthropists. They were and continue to be proudly Jewish and proudly Canadian. They helped open up Canada's eyes and ears to the plight of the most vulnerable. They taught us tikkun olam, which is our responsibility to heal the world.
When Canada chose to turn its back on refugees more than 70 years ago, not only did the government fail to help the most vulnerable, it harmed all of us. Jewish Canadians have made immense contributions to our country, as do all the immigrants who have chosen and continue to choose Canada.
As we stand here today, we are reminded of not only how far we have come, but also of how far we still have to go. During this Holocaust Education Week, it is all the more impossible to ignore the challenges and injustices still facing Jews in this country.
According to the most recent figures, 17% of all hate crimes in Canada target Jewish people, a far higher figure per capita than for any other group. Holocaust deniers still exist. Anti-Semitism is still far too present. Jewish institutions and neighbourhoods are still being vandalized with swastikas. Jewish students still feel unwelcome and uncomfortable in some of our college and university campuses because of BDS-related intimidation. Out of the entire community of nations, it is Israel whose right to exist is most widely and wrongly questioned.
Discrimination and violence against Jewish people in Canada and around the world continues at an alarming rate. Less than two weeks ago, not too far from here, a gunman opened fire on worshippers at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, killing 11 people and wounding six others. Among those wounded were four police officers who had arrived at the scene to defend the congregants. These worshippers were gathered in peace to practise their faith. They were murdered in their sanctuary on Shabbat because they were Jews.
This was a heinous anti-Semitic act of violence motivated by hate, designed to inflict pain and stoke fear in the Jewish community. Canadians were horrified by this vicious attack on the Jewish community and its values. Across Canada, people organized vigils in honour of the victims. They stood in solidarity with their Jewish brothers and sisters and echoed a sentiment shared from coast to coast to coast, that anti-Semitism and all forms of xenophobia have no place in this country or anywhere in this world. Canada and Canadians will continue to stand with the Jewish community and call out the hatred that incited such despicable acts.
These tragic events ultimately attest to the work we still have to do together, work that begins with education, our most powerful tool against the ignorance and cruelty that fuelled the Holocaust, because, sadly, these evils did not end with the Second World War. Canada and all Canadians must stand up against xenophobic and anti-Semitic attitudes that still exist in our communities, in our schools, and in our places of work. We must guard our communities and institutions against the kinds of evils that took hold in the hearts of so many, more than 70 years ago, evils that did not end with the war.
Following the recent horrific attack in Pittsburgh, Jewish Canadians are understandably feeling vulnerable. We know that here in Canada we are not immune to hate and hate crimes grounded in anti-Semitism. Our government and members of Parliament are working with the Jewish community to better protect their communities against the threat of anti-Semitism. Places of worship are sacred and should be sanctuaries for all faith communities. There have been clear calls to do more through the security infrastructure program to protect synagogues and other places that are at risk of hate-motivated crimes, and I pledge to all now that we will do more.
As we stand here today, we must commit ourselves not just to remember, but to act on this tragic history so our children and grandchildren flourish in a world in which they are never questioned or attacked because of their identity. Sadly, this is not yet that world.
Too many people of all faiths from all countries face persecution. Their lives are threatened simply because of how they pray, what they wear or what last name they bear. They are forced to flee their homes and embark upon perilous journeys in search of safety and a future. This is the world we all live in and this is therefore our collective responsibility.
It is my sincere hope that by issuing this long overdue apology, we can shine a light on this painful chapter of our history and ensure that its lessons are never forgotten. What we can hardly imagine, the passengers of the MS St. Louis, the victims of the Holocaust, and their descendants will never forget.
While no words will ever erase their pain, it is our sincere hope that this apology will help them heal, that it will bring them some peace, that it will cement Canada's unwavering commitment to stand with the Jewish community here and around the world in the fight against anti-Semitism, as the Jewish community in Canada and around the world is always among the first to stand against intolerance and hate in any form.
More than 70 years ago, Canada turned its back on them. But, today, Canadians pledged, now and forever, never again.
Mr. Speaker, I rise to join my fellow members for today's solemn proceedings, humbled and honoured by the presence of some of those who were wronged by the terrible and fateful decision of the Canadian government, almost 80 years ago, to turn away the passengers of the MS St. Louis
when they sought a safe harbour from Hitler's Germany.
It is a sign of a healthy society to be able to look at history clearly and see both the light and the dark, to celebrate our achievements, but to also mourn our failings. There is no shame, as a country, in acknowledging shameful acts in our past. The real shame would be in forgetting them and not learning from them.
While it is true that apologies cannot change the past, occasions such as this, marked by remembrance, reflection and regret, can help guide our future.
The unique horror of the Holocaust, in which more than a quarter of the passengers of the MS St. Louis perished, produced the rallying cry “Never again”. That is not a passive hope; it is a call to action. It commands us to remember how, within the lifetime of some in this room, a civilized modern society succumbed to a primitive fear and turned its vaunted industrial prowess against its Jewish citizens and its neighbours.
“Never again” requires us to measure our actions today, not against the worst atrocities of that time but against the gradual process of dehumanization that preceded it and made the Holocaust possible. That insidious process of dehumanization was not confined to Germany or even to Europe. It was the same process that motivated Canadians, right up to the highest levels of government, to deny the MS St. Louis a safe harbour and to drive its desperate passengers back across the Atlantic into the gathering storm of war.
The men who turned away the MS St. Louis likely could not have foreseen the magnitude of the genocide that was on the horizon in Europe.
However, the new discriminatory laws and increasing acts of terror against Jewish citizens and the relentless and obsessive anti-Semitism of the Nazi government, which forced the passengers of the MS St. Louis to seek shelter across the Atlantic, leaves Canada with no excuses, not just in hindsight but at the time, for ignoring the dire threat they faced.
Historian Irving Abella has noted the bitter irony that:
To the condemned Jews of Auschwitz, Canada had a unique meaning. It was the name given to the camp barracks where the gold, jewellery and clothing taken from inmates were stored. It represented life, luxury and salvation. It was also isolated and unreachable, as was Canada in the 1930s and 40s.
To the passengers of the MS St. Louis, however, Canada was not geographically isolated or unreachable. They were there, just off the coast of Nova Scotia, searching for safety. It was not our lands, but it was the minds at the time that were isolated. It was hearts that were unreachable.
We apologize for closing our hearts and minds and our shores to the more than 900 Jewish passengers of the MS St. Louis.
Their plight has been called “The Voyage of the Damned”, and Canada was responsible for turning them away.
Canada was not alone in doing so. Cuba and the United States also turned the St. Louis away before it approached Canada. However, their callousness in no way excuses our own. There is no diminishment of individual guilt in such a shared failure. The Canadian government was responsible to the full extent of its own cold, deliberate and official inhumanity.
It is comforting to think that today we have learned the lesson of the MS St. Louis, but this apology should not make us comfortable. On the contrary, it should grab us and shake us. It should be an alarm that jolts us out of our daily routines and demands that we look at our world today through the lens of that experience.
True, Canada is not the same country it was in 1939. We have welcomed more people from more parts of the world than the government of that day could have possibly imagined, including 40,000 European Jews in the years immediately after World War II. Our peaceful pluralism today leaves no room for discrimination, and both the overt and subtle anti-Semitism that prevailed in that era no longer have any place in our laws and customs.
However, that does not mean that anti-Semitism and other virulent forms of intolerance no longer exist here. Anti-Semitism is not a relic of the 1930s. It was not eradicated with the defeat of the Nazis. It is, unfortunately and sadly, very much alive today.
In Canada, anti-Semitism accounts for the vast majority of religiously motivated hate crimes and the number of such crimes has gone up in the past few years.
On social media, in parades and public demonstrations, even on our own university campuses, we have seen a disturbing resurgence and even normalization of anti-Semitic rhetoric. We know from painful experience that where anti-Semitism is tolerated, anti-Jewish violence follows. This was brought home again, achingly, in a murderous attack at Pittsburgh's Tree of Life synagogue only days ago.
We see it also overseas where anti-Semitic rhetoric, blood libels and conspiracies are still used by repressive regimes to distract from their own failures and to direct the frustrations of their people outward against the Jewish people and the Jewish State of Israel, whose citizens, as a result, live under constant threat.
In 2011, under our Conservative government, these events were commemorated by the unveiling of a memorial monument at the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21, in Halifax.
Designed by Daniel Libeskind, who also designed the National Holocaust Monument just a few blocks from the House, the Wheel of Conscience is a polished, stainless steel wheel, incorporating four connecting moving gears labelled anti-Semitism, xenophobia, racism and hatred. As one gear turns, it drives the others, showing their inextricable relationship.
Anti-Semitism has always been the first recourse of demagogues and the favourite fuel of tyrants. It takes many forms, from crude caricatures reminiscent of Nazi propaganda to the more sophisticated new anti-Semitism that singles out Israel among all the countries in the Middle East for disproportionate condemnation. It is why synagogues, Jewish schools and Jewish community centres in Europe, and indeed around the world, are once again forced to employ armed guards and to discourage their members from wearing identifying clothing or symbols.
As we witness this rise of anti-Semitism and other forms of intolerance and discrimination, we cannot again stand by impassively. We cannot again watch and fail to act, as ancient prejudice mutates into new violence.
Barely four months before Mr. King's government decided not to offer the MS St. Louis refuge, a member of the House tabled a petition bearing more than 127,000 signatures, protesting against Jewish immigration to Canada.
Even in 1939, many Canadians knew that the seemingly rational arguments masked an irrational fear. They knew the right answer to the moral question posed by the plight of the MS St. Louis. Some, like historian George Wrong, spoke out bravely, petitioning the government on behalf of the passengers, but many more lacked the courage to give voice to their consciences.
We are here today because Canada was judged for its actions at that critical time and was found at fault. Every generation is tested. Every generation has to answer some hard questions and resist intolerance.
How will we respond when we face that test? What will we do to protect those fleeing genuine threats of violent persecution today? How far will we go to defend the religious freedom of our fellow citizens here at home?
This past Saturday, Canadians filled synagogues across our country as part of the #ShowUpForShabbat campaign. Jewish or not, all were welcomed by a community whose home in Canada predates Confederation by more than a century. It was a heartfelt show of support, demonstrating to our Jewish friends and neighbours that we will stand by them when they feel most vulnerable.
It was also a tangible expression of our oft-stated commitment to freedom and the rule of law. However, if that commitment is real, if the apology today is not just empty words, we must show the same willingness to stand, not just against violence but against hatred, intolerance and all violations of fundamental human rights.
With the lesson of history fresh in our minds, we have no excuse to failing to give voice to our convictions and making our conscience, and not expediency, our compass.
Canada should have been guided by that spirit in 1939. Canada should have offered sanctuary to the passengers of the MS St. Louis. For our failure to do so then, we stand with the government today in its apology. Never again must none be too many.
Mr. Speaker, on June 7, 1939, Canada said no to Jewish refugees. Today, Canada is apologizing and expressing its regrets.
Let me begin by acknowledging all the survivors who are here with us.
Shalom, you are welcome in the House and your presence carries a world of meaning considering our past actions. Your presence here today is important, as Canada apologizes to the Jewish community for saying no to a number of their fellow Jews who were fleeing horrible persecution in Europe to find peace here on the eve of the Second World War.
The story of the MS St. Louis is part of a very long series of unfortunate events that shaped anti-Semitism around the world in the 1930s, and which still resonates today. What happened to the passengers of the MS St. Louis is a stain on Canadian history.
The MS St. Louis left the Port of Hamburg, Germany, on May 13, 1939. It carried 937 people, nearly all of them of Jewish, who were fleeing the growing violence and anti-Semitism in Europe and in Nazi Germany, where Adolf Hitler had already been in power for six years.
On June 2, the ship was forced to leave Havana, where just a few passengers had managed to disembark. The ship then sailed along the coast of South and North America in the hope that authorities would welcome the 907 remaining passengers.
In spite of the pleas from Captain Gustav Schröder, American organizations and celebrities, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt turned away the refugees. The ship continued northward, hoping for a favourable response from Canadian authorities.
On June 7, when the ship was just two days at sea from Halifax Harbour, 41 prominent Torontonians called on Prime Minister Mackenzie King to grant asylum to the St. Louis refugees. An answer came from justice minister Ernest Lapointe and from Frederick Charles Blair, the Canadian government official responsible for immigration.
Mr. Blair stated that the refugees did not qualify under Canada's immigration laws at the time, which he himself had created. He said, “No country could open its doors wide enough to take in the hundreds of thousands of Jewish people who want to leave Europe: the line must be drawn somewhere.”
Sadly, in light of current events, these words still resonate today. After being turned away by Cuban, American and Canadian authorities, the 907 refugees aboard the St. Louis were forced to reverse course and travel back across the ocean to the war that was brewing in Europe with eyes filled with dashed hopes, fear in their hearts, and only a suitcase to their name.
The passengers of the MS St. Louis were dispersed through Belgium, France, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, but many of them were caught by the Nazis and sent to die in concentration camps. Two hundred and fifty-four of them did not survive, 254, all murdered, along with six million of their fellow Jews, victims of the Shoah. They were 254 people who had boarded the MS St. Louis in the hope of fleeing death and who could have been saved had Canada said yes.
Canada abandoned innocent people who then became victims of Hitler and his hate. The passengers of the MS St. Louis were fleeing anti-Semitism, unaware that anti-Semitism had crossed the ocean before them.
Anti-Semitism continues to claim lives today. On October 27, 11 people were shot and killed by a gunman in the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. Eleven people died and six people were injured because of their faith. It is the most serious anti-Semitic attack in North American history.
Among the victims was a 97-year-old woman who had survived the horrors of the Holocaust, taken down by a killer fired up by the same vile hatred, a man who claimed that he wanted to “kill all the Jews”.
Let us salute the incredible sense of duty of the Allegheny General Hospital personnel who treated the killer's injuries. Three of the doctors and nurses who treated him were themselves Jewish and through their acts showed the depth of humanist values found in the Jewish community. They honoured the principle that whoever saves a life saves an entire universe.
In 2016, police reported 1,409 hate crimes in Canada. That is not counting all the crimes that are not reported and whose victims suffer in silence. Of the hate crimes reported in 2016, 460 were motivated by the victims' religion, with half of those targeting the Jewish community, signalling that anti-Semitism is not a thing of the past. This past year alone, 14 synagogues in Canada received threats calling for the extermination of the Jewish community.
Verbal and physical violence, vandalism and harassment in public and online are still part of everyday life for Jews in this country. That is unacceptable.
From the MS St. Louis to the massacre in Pittsburgh, anti-Semitism continues to show its face. In fact, what we are unfortunately seeing today are past demons feeding into the fear of the other. Extremism is on the rise, and so are homophobia, misogyny, xenophobia, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism. Intolerance has no place here, yesterday, today or tomorrow.
The survivors who are with us today remind us how important it is for all countries to welcome those who take huge risks to seek asylum, who take huge risks to live in peace, who take huge risks to create a better future for their children.
Even now, the refugee situation is at the root of an abundant flow of blood and ink. Every day, thousands of women, men and children attempt to flee violence, war, famine, drought and climate change in the hope of building a better life somewhere else, somewhere safer.
Considering the tensions that arose here and elsewhere when Canada welcomed Syrian refugees, I hope that today's national apology will give pause to those who still have a hostile, anti-immigrant mindset.
While today Canada officially regrets having refused entry to Jewish refugees on board the MS St. Louis and during most of the Second World War, we are reaffirming today our commitment to denounce anti-immigrant discourse, systemic racism and hate-based violence against people, regardless of their identity.
We need to be focused, in particular, on confronting online hate. As the recent horrifying events in Pittsburgh demonstrate, vicious anti-Semitic rhetoric online can and does lead to shocking acts of violence, including murder.
If the doors of Canada were closed to Jewish refugees on board the MS St. Louis in 1939 and during most of the Second World War, we must commit to never make the same mistake again.
These children, women and men are only asking that we open our doors to them so that they may unpack their suitcases here, so that they can continue their lives here, so that in safety and security, they can grow and accomplish their hopes and dreams, all the while contributing to Canadian society.
Because of anti-Semitism, we denied asylum to the passengers of the MS St. Louis. On behalf of my party, I wish to add my voice to the official apology made here today.
On June 7, 1939, Canada said no to Jewish refugees. Today Canada is apologizing and expresses its regret. The future must not follow in the path of past errors. We must all work collectively to fight against anti-Semitism in all its forms, wherever it takes place.
The NDP stands shoulder to shoulder with Canada's Jewish community against anti-Semitism, here in Canada and around the world. No community should face this hatred alone. Together, let us build a better story.
Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to rise to respond to these sad and touching speeches.
I sincerely thank the for his leadership in issuing this formal apology. That is very important. It is too late to take action, but it is never too late to apologize. I would also like to thank the , the member for and the member for .
The facts have been canvassed well, eloquently and movingly by all my colleagues. The reality of these facts has been summed up so well. However, I must take a moment to thank the historians who make sure we know of the sins of our past. Unbearable and unspeakable cruelty, blindness and callousness, we all wear the stains of this crime. I do not know if we would know about it without the historians Irving Abella and his co-author Harold Troper. I thank them for writing None is too many. How hard that work must have been. Mark Twain once said that history is written with the ink of pure prejudice. However, one sits down to expose prejudice when history is truth-telling. It leaves us knowing as a fact that our country had the worst record of any country that was refugee-receiving in that period. It is hard to recognize ourselves as Canada in this story, just as it is hard to recognize ourselves as Canada from ripping indigenous children from their families and putting them in residential schools, and ignoring the plights of people over the generations.
Because so much has been said, and so movingly, I want to focus on one aspect of this tragedy. It is not a coincidence, I am sure, that the Government of Canada chose today for this apology, congruent as it is with the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht. Tonight, at Kehillat Beth Israel synagogue, tomorrow at the Congregation Emanu-El in Victoria, people will gather to commemorate Kristallnacht, the first real manifestation of the evil of Nazi Germany in targeting Jewish synagogues, businesses and homes and smashing the glass everywhere throughout Nazi Germany.
It was only six months later that those 907 German Jews boarded the St. Louis to get away. Six months after Kristallnacht is when the St. Louis left port. How were we so blind and insensitive? However, we were, and we know that was only 80 years ago. We have all said never again, we abhor anti-Semitism, just as we abhor racism in any form.
Then we come up against Pittsburgh and the Tree of Life synagogue. I think we have come full circle in a pattern of hatred and human intolerance that is not yet eradicated, because the Tree of Life synagogue outside Pittsburgh was not only targeted by that crazed gunman because he hated Jews, it was because he hated Jews who helped refugees. That synagogue, Tree of Life, had a very active chapter of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society that was helping raise money to resettle refugees now, in 2018. That is why that gunman posted notices ahead of time of the Shabbat for refugees, held by synagogues like Tree of Life.
The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society has existed for decades. Its current CEO, Mark Hatfield, had this to say, “We assist refugees today not because they are Jewish, but because we are Jewish.”
The Torah requires us to intervene, to stop these things that are being done by our government in our name. That light exists in the synagogues, where the moral code of the Jewish people says that we take on a mitzvah, we take on a good work out of religious duty, and we do that work. That is the light that can guide us and we must, as politicians, never turn a blind eye to any among us who would seek electoral advantage by opening the door a crack to white supremacists, neo-Nazis or any of those who would raise up again, and hatred and fear advances their cause.
We in this time see other so-called leaders and, as my friend from the NDP said, there is a movement of intolerance on the rise. We see it globally in Brazil. We see it in the United States. We see that some people gave that gunman in Pittsburgh the idea that he had licence. Therefore, when we say “never again”, we mean it not about history but about our present.
We stand with the people of the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh as we stand with the 907 Jewish German citizens who we turned away, to our eternal shame. We wish we could turn back the hands of time and be in Halifax harbour on a million little boats and say “Jump, join us. We love you”. Now, we can only stand here and say that we are so very sorry.