FSWC Welcomes Canada’s MS St. Louis Apology, Denunciation of Antisemitism in Canada

November 7, 2018

Media Statement

Toronto (November 7, 2018) - Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center (FSWC) commends Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Government of Canada for issuing a formal apology for turning away 907 Jewish refugees on the MS St. Louis in 1939, in additional to denouncing growing antisemitism and intolerance in the country.

Earlier today in the House of Commons, Trudeau spoke out about Canada's past refusal to welcome Jews into the country and about the discrimination and violence against Jews that continues at an "alarming rate" in Canada and around the world, pledging that the government will do more to counter antisemitism.

"The government chose to turn its back on the innocent victims of Hitler’s regime...It is my sincere hope that by issuing this apology, we can shine a light on this painful chapter of our history and ensure that its lessons are never forgotten," said Trudeau. "We apologize to the members of Canada's Jewish community whose voices were ignored, whose calls went unanswered...More than 70 years ago, Canada turned its back on you, but today Canadians pledge now and forever – never again."

Conservative leader Andrew Scheer, Green Party leader Elizabeth May, NDP parliamentary leader Guy Caron and Bloc Quebecois leader Mario Beaulieu also made very passionate speeches about the MS St. Louis and antisemitism.

"As antisemitism continues to grow and as violence against the Jewish community is becoming more prevalent, today’s apology comes at a very critical time," said FSWC President and CEO Avi Benlolo, who was in Ottawa today to witness the apology. "It’s up to governments to take a strong stance against antisemitism and other forms of racism and take serious measures that help counter hate crimes against minority groups."

"While Canada is known for its freedoms and human rights, antisemitism remains a serious concern in the Jewish community. We appreciate the fact that Trudeau acknowledged this issue in addition to openly apologizing for such a shameful moment in history."

A study commissioned by FSWC in August revealed that approximately 15 per cent of Canadians have views that could be considered antisemitic. The country’s Jewish community also continues to be the most targeted by hate crimes, accounting for 16 per cent of all hate crimes in 2016 – a 24 per cent increase from 2015.

FSWC members in Ottawa to witness Canada's MS St. Louis apology

Media Contact:

Avital Borisovsky
Communications Associate
416-864-9735 ext. 29

Key Points from Trudeau's Apology in the House of Commons

  • When the St. Louis set sail from Hamburg on May 13, 1939, travellers considered themselves lucky to have a visa for Cuba
  • They were turned away and sent to the US, where they turned away
  • They were sent to Canada and were rejected by the Liberal govt of PM Mackenzie King
  • Canada had a population of 11 million and some 150,000 Jews
  • For Frederick Charles Blair, not a single Jewish refugee was to set foot on Canadian soil
  • The MS St. Louis and its passengers had no choice but to return to Europe, where the UK, France, Belgium, and the Netherlands took them in, but they were gassed in the camps of the Third Reich
  • This was no isolated incident; the Government of Canada was indifferent towards Jews before the St. Louis had arrived and after it left Halifax
  • Throughout the Depression, the lawmakers employed selective immigration policies; Jews were among least desirable immigrants
  • The govt decided to impose strict quotas and requirements to deter Jewish immigration
  • As the Nazis intensified their attacks on Jews in Europe, visa applications increased
  • Intellectual Jewish migrants offered all they had to comply with our demands
  • These refugees would have made this country stronger and its people proud, but the govt went to great lengths to ensure that cries for help and appeals went unanswered
  • The world was puzzled about what to do when it met at Evian in 1938
  • Jews were viewed as a threat to be avoided
  • Of all Allied countries, Canada admitted the fewest number of Jews between 1933 and 1945
  • As far as Jews were concerned, none was too many
  • In the years before the war, Hitler tested the world’s resolve, noting that every country was indifferent to Jewish plight
  • This week marks the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht, a sombre turning point in Hitler’s racial policy and the beginning of the Holocaust
  • As Canada entered into the war against Germany, we were abandoning Hitler’s victims here at home; what we were prepared to do there, we did not do at home
  • It would take the creation of the State of Israel for Canada to amend its policies and laws that had propagated the exclusion of Jews
  • We shared in moral responsibility of Jewish deaths; time has by no means absolved Canada of its guilt
  • Today I rise to issue a long overdue apology to the Jewish refugees that Canada turned away; we apologize to the 907 St. Louis passengers who were turned away and their families
  • We used our laws to mask our antisemitism, antipathy
  • We apologize for not doing this sooner
  • We apologize to the imprisoned Jewish refugees who were forced to relive their trauma in the camps
  • We were quick to forget that they were our friends, our neighbours
  • We denied them the respect that every Canadian regardless of creed is owed
  • It was unacceptable then, and it is unacceptable now; your country failed you
  • We should be ashamed of the history of the St. Louis and the history of the Jews in WWII
  • That is not the Canada we know today, which is more generous and welcoming than in years past
  • At home, Jewish women and men have fought for the causes that benefit all Canadians; the scope of their impact should not only be recognized but celebrated
  • As we stand here together we are reminded of how far we’ve come but also how far we have to go; during Holocaust Education Week, we are again reminded of Jewish contributions
  • Canada and all Canadians must stand against xenophobia in our schools and places of work; we must guard our institutions against these types of evil
  • Jewish Canadians are understandably feeling vulnerable, especially after Pittsburgh
  • I pledge to you all now: we will do more
  • As we stand here today, we must commit ourselves not only to remember but to act on this piece of history, so that our children and grandchildren do not know what it means to be attacked on an identity
  • We can hardly imagine what the victims of the St. Louis and the Holocaust will never forget, but we hope these words will ease the pain
  • More than 70 years ago, Canada turned back its back on you, but today Canadians pledge now and forever – never again
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