FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 8, 2018
Toronto, ON – Today, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) commended Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on his announcement regarding a formal apology in the House of Commons for Canada’s rejection of Jewish refugees aboard the MS St. Louis in 1939. The announcement took place during a gala in Toronto to mark 30 years of the March of the Living (MOL), in honour of its Holocaust Survivor Educators and MOL National Director, Eli Rubenstein.
In response, CIJA CEO Shimon Koffler Fogel issued the following statement:
“We applaud the Prime Minister for committing to formally apologize in the House of Commons for the St. Louis incident – a shameful example of Canada’s ‘none is too many’ policy toward Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi persecution.
“Canada is extraordinary not only because we strive to uphold the highest ideals, but also because we have the courage to address moments in our history when we failed to do so. Today’s announcement builds upon the previous government’s decision to erect the Wheel of Conscience at Pier 21 in Halifax, as a reminder of the lessons we must learn from this painful incident.
“A formal apology will be a powerful statement to Holocaust survivors and their families, including St. Louis passengers who live in Canada today. It will also affirm Canada’s continued vigilance in the ongoing fight against antisemitism.”
- In May 1939, the MS St. Louis, an ocean liner carrying European Jews seeking refuge from Nazi Germany, arrived in Cuba. Despite facing imminent danger in Germany, more than 900 of its passengers were denied admission to Cuba and the United States. Ignoring calls for a compassionate response, the Government of Canada refused to admit a single passenger. The ship returned to Europe. Hundreds were later murdered in the Holocaust.
- The St. Louis incident reflected Canada’s restrictive policy toward Jewish immigration prior to the Holocaust. At the time, Jews experienced extensive social and institutional bigotry in Canada. Jewish Canadians faced discriminatory quotas restricting admission to university programs, as well as bans from numerous social clubs and corporations. Signs in some public parks reportedly declared: ‘No dogs or Jews allowed.’
- On Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day, April 11, 2018) CIJA launched an open letter encouraging the Prime Minister to issue a formal apology in the House of Commons for the St. Louis. Within days, thousands of Canadians added their name to the letter.
- With cross-party support, previous governments have offered formal apologies in the House of Commons for historic injustices committed by Canadian officials. This includes apologies for the internship of Japanese-Canadians during WWII (1988), the Chinese Head Tax (2006), Canada’s Residential School system (2008), the Komagata Maru (2016), and systematic bigotry against LGBTQ+ Canadians (2017).
The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) is the advocacy agent of the Jewish Federations of Canada-UIA.
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