Like an irrepressible force of nature, most dark chapters of history ultimately come to light, even if it sometimes takes decades for uncomfortable truths to emerge. It’s no secret that Toronto in the first half of the 20th century, like the rest of Canada, was far less hospitable to its Jewish citizens than it is today and that’s putting it mildly.
Signs saying “No Jews or dogs allowed” commonly appeared at beaches, parks, resorts and other recreation facilities. In August 1933, Nazi-inspired youth brandishing large swastika flags at a baseball game at Toronto’s Christie Pits, involving a predominantly Jewish team, triggered the worst antisemitic riot in Canadian history. Many other forms of anti-Jewish discrimination were more covert and insidious, some only now coming under long-overdue scrutiny.
As uncomfortable as it can be to confront a troubling past, it’s better late than never, and doing so can help build a better future. That’s my hope for the University of Toronto as it now reflects on righting a historical wrong.
Recently, its Temerty Faculty of Medicine (TFOM) hosted a poignant event to publicly address and apologize for a decades-long policy targeting Jews, which ended about 60 years ago. The evening included disturbing testimony from alumni who had experienced antisemitism during their studies at U of T.
In his speech, TFOM’s current dean, Trevor Young, owned up to the university’s past antisemitic quota system, which limited the number of Jewish students who could attend U of T’s medical school or obtain training positions at affiliated teaching hospitals. To that end, from the 1920s until the mid-1950s, TFOM’s application form asked applicants for their religious denomination. In many cases, Jewish applicants were rejected while others with lower grades were admitted.