TORONTO — The Canadian government, in partnership with B’nai Brith Canada, will invest nearly $1 million on a national task force to combat anti-Semitism, Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Jason Kenney said last week.
The June 1 announcement was made at the Sutton Place Hotel at a conference titled “The St. Louis Era: Looking Back, Moving Forward.”
The task force, which will promote further Holocaust education and research over the course of three years, was announced on the 70th anniversary of the voyage of the St. Louis, a German ocean liner carrying Jewish refugees that was turned away from the U.S. and Canadian coasts in June 1939.
Frank Dimant, B’nai Brith Canada’s executive vice-president, spoke of the verbal and physical attacks perpetrated against Jewish and pro-Zionist students at university campuses across Canada over the past year.
It seems unthinkable, he mused, that in this day and age, “Canadian universities would be the hotbed of anti-Semitism, disguised as anti-Zionism.”
Dimant went on to praise Canada’s boycott of the United Nations recent followup to its 2001 anti-racism conference, as well as Kenney’s role as a supporter of the Jewish community.
“Your government has been a trailblazer… [and] we are proud to call Canada a friend and ally,” Dimant said.
Kenney made reference to the book One Is Too Many, co-authored by Irving Abella and Harold Troper, which states that Canada accepted fewer Jewish immigrants during the period of 1933 and 1948 than any other western country. The book indicts the Mackenzie King government – and specifically its head of immigration, Frederick Charles Blair – for actively limiting the number of refugees attempting to immigrate to Canada. The book’s title refers to a quote from an unnamed immigration officer who was asked how many Jews would be allowed into Canada after the war.
Kenney spoke of the St. Louis as “a symbol of anti-Semitism” that acts as a reminder of Canada’s past to future generations in the hope that such an event won’t happen again.
“Conferences like this are essential,” Kenney said. “This must be the learning of [our] entire society… gatherings such as this demonstrate that there is a way to stamp out [anti-Semitism].”
In his speech, Kenney also mentioned his visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust History Museum in Israel last month, and he drew comparisons between the tragedy of the Holocaust and present-day genocide in places such as Rwanda.
Kenney also noted that he would be visiting Oslo and Prague next month, the former being where Israelis and Palestinians negotiated peace accords in 1993, and the latter being near the former Terezin concentration camp, which held more than 55,000 Jews at the height of World War II.
B’nai Brith president Joe Bogoroch, presented Kenney with a commemorative plaque, which Bogoroch hoped would “honour the memory of [Holocaust] victims and ensure their legacy lives on through the ages.”
“The exclusion of the St. Louis has to be seen as the first stage on the road to the Holocaust,” said Liberal MP and former justice minister Irwin Cotler, who spoke following Kenney. “It is the responsibility of the government to protect those who cannot be protected.”
Cotler said the St. Louis incident was made possible because of the “de-legitimization” of the Jewish people.
Like Kenney, Cotler referred to the 1994 Rwandan genocide to illustrate the dangers of indifference and inaction in the face of human rights violations and genocide. In Cotler’s words, “the Rwandan genocide was so unspeakable because it was preventable.”
Cotler also reinforced the necessity of the new task force as a remedial response to anti-Semitism, saying that it’s imperative “that we always appreciate the role of remembrance as an antidote to racism… we need a comprehensive approach to educating people on human rights crimes.”