Politicians, Jewish groups reaffirm St. Louis apology

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau apologizes for the government of Canada refusing entry to the MS St. Louis in 1939, in the House of Commons in Ottawa on Nov. 7. (CPAC)

Politicians and Jewish organizations welcomed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s apology for Canada’s refusal to grant asylum to Jewish refugees aboard the MS St. Louis in 1939 and his commitment to fight anti-Semitism.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer speaks in the House of Commons in Ottawa.

“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,” Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said in the House of Commons following Trudeau’s Nov. 7 statement.

“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.…

“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.…

“We apologize for closing our hearts and minds and our shores to the more than 900 Jewish passengers of the MS St. Louis.”

NDP MP Guy Caron (Sydneytw/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0)

Speaking on behalf of the NDP, Quebec MP Guy Caron said Canada’s refusal to admit the ship is “a stain on Canadian history.”

“From the MS St. Louis to the massacre in Pittsburgh, anti-Semitism continues to show its face,” said Caron. “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 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,” he continued.

Interim Bloc Québécois leader Mario Beaulieu

Interim Bloc Québécois leader Mario Beaulieu said it “is vital that we keep alive the memory of those who were condemned to death by our blindness in 1939. That is the best way to ensure that we remain vigilant against intolerance.”

In her remarks, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May called Trudeau’s apology “very important. It is too late to take action, but it is never too late to apologize.”

“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,” said May. “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.”

Canadian Jewish organizations also welcomed Trudeau’s apology.

Shimon Koffler Fogel
Shimon Koffler Fogel

“For many Holocaust survivors, (the) apology is a profound statement that Canada acknowledges and regrets a decision that caused so much pain and loss,” said Shimon Koffler Fogel, CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA).

Canadians “can be proud that our country has become a world leader in combating anti-Semitism and in welcoming refugees. Acknowledging moments in our history when Canada failed to live up to our ideals will help us remain vigilant in upholding those values today.”

CIJA also applauded Trudeau’s pledge to expand the Security Infrastructure Program, which provides funding for security measures to at-risk communities.

While welcoming Trudeau’s apology, B’nai Brith Canada again urged the federal government to adopt a “concrete, national action plan” to fight anti-Semitism.

Michael Mostyn

“It was very important that the government made this statement and apology for the past,” said Michael Mostyn, CEO of B’nai Brith Canada. “It was crucial that every political party joined in, acknowledging this unspeakable failure in Canada’s history.”

As anti-Semitism grows, the apology came “at a very critical time,” said Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center CEO Avi Benlolo. “It’s up to governments to take a strong stance against anti-Semitism and other forms of racism and take serious measures that help counter hate crimes against minority groups.”

In a statement, the Canadian Council of Refugees (CCR) welcomed the apology, noting that Canada’s response in 1939 was characteristic of immigration policies in place over decades that were “designed to deter and exclude Jewish immigrants and refugees.”

The CCR said it is committed to providing safe haven for those seeking protection in Canada.

“History will judge us by whether we respond in ways that respect the rights and dignity of refugee claimants, just as we today judge those who turned away the St. Louis and other Jewish refugees,” the organization stated.

Read The CJN’s full coverage of the St. Louis apology.