Yesterday in Parliament – February 13, 2018
House of Commons
Canadian Jewish Heritage Month Act
Private Members’ Business
Third reading of Bill S-232, an act respecting Canadian Jewish heritage month, as reported (without amendment) from the committee.
Mr. Michael Levitt: Mr. Speaker, it is a great honour to rise again as the House considers Bill S-232, an act respecting Canadian Jewish heritage month. It has been an absolute privilege not just to be the sponsor of the bill, but to be part of and witness to the debate and discussion surrounding the bill in both the other place and in the House.
I want to acknowledge Senator Linda Frum, who has partnered with me in introducing the bill, and the members for Thornhill and Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke, who I have had the pleasure of working with to ensure strong multi-partisan support for the bill. I saw enthusiastic support as the bill was considered before the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage, and I hope it will be mirrored by all members of this chamber as we debate Bill S-232.
I also want to take a moment to recognize the efforts of my friend and mentor the Hon. Irwin Cotler, who originally introduced the substance of the bill as a motion in 2015. I designate my work on this bill in his honour.
The bill came before the heritage committee soon after the committee heard from representatives of the Jewish community on the anti-Semitism that Jewish Canadians face. As we know, Jewish Canadians are consistently the most targeted group for hate crimes in Canada. Anti-Semitism, like all forms of discrimination, has no place in Canadian society. It is a testament to the long-standing advocacy of Jewish Canadians and Jewish civil society that we have come this far on this issue, but there is so much more to do.
While we know that anti-Semitism is a very real problem in Canadian society, we can all be proud of the distance we have come as a country. We no longer face the institutional, social, and political discrimination faced by so many Jewish Canadians over the course of Canadian history.
It is fitting that we have resumed debating the bill in 2018. This year marks the centenary of the end of the First World War, in which approximately 4,700 Canadian Jews from across Canada fought for their country, in spite of the discrimination they faced at home. Samuel Waskey from Winnipeg joined the 44th Battalion as a private and lost his life at the Somme. To avoid what has been referred to as an “unpleasant experience” because he was Jewish, he changed his name to Waskey from Warshawsky. Other Jewish soldiers took a more drastic step and registered as Protestants.
Saskatchewan Jews were among the first to volunteer during both World Wars I and II, and many lost their lives fighting in Europe. The province honoured those who sacrificed their lives, including a number of Jews, by naming lakes after them. Among these eternal memorials to our fallen are Faibish Bay, after Jack Faibish from Markinch, Saskatchewan; Levine Lake, after David Levine from Swift Current; and Glansberg Lake in honour of Maurice Glansberg.
During the Second World War, over a third of all Jewish Canadian men over 21 served in the Canadian Expeditionary Force. This was in spite of the discrimination and the many hurdles they faced. The year 2018 also marks the 70th anniversary of the end of Canada’s notorious “none is too many” policy. From 1933 to 1948, under this policy, only 5,000 Holocaust refugees were admitted to Canada, the fewest of any western country. The most egregious example of this misguided policy was in 1939, when Canada turned away the MS St .Louis. Of the more than 900 Jewish refugees on board seeking sanctuary here in Canada and forced to return to Europe, 254 died in the Holocaust. We cannot turn away from this ugly truth and Canada’s part in it. However, in 1949, Canada admitted 11,000 Jews, more than any other country except Israel.
As Canadians, we must remember the lessons taught by this awful period. The stories of Holocaust survivors who came to Canada are our stories as Canadians. I am proud that my riding of York Centre became home to so many Holocaust survivors who emerged from the ashes of Europe to begin new and vibrant lives here in Canada. They helped inform and build the modern Canada that we are all so proud to represent.
I want to highlight the success of the March of the Living, a two-week educational experience that takes hundreds of Canadian students each year to Poland and Israel. On Yom HaShoah, to mark Holocaust Remembrance Day, these students undertake a three kilometre march from Auschwitz to Birkenau accompanied by a group of indomitable Holocaust survivors who serve as their guides.
This May is March of the Living’s 30th anniversary. Over 12,000 high school students have taken part in this incredible project. I want to recognize the exceptional work of Rabbi Eli Rubenstein for his leadership on this initiative.
March of the Living illustrates the importance of Holocaust education as an essential part of our Canadian Jewish heritage. Projects like March of the Living connect our past to our future, with older generations educating our future leaders. The march has 12 goals, among them to never allow the unchecked rise of the menace of antisemitism; to never again allow any kind of discrimination directed by any individual or any group against any other to gain strength; and to inspire participants to commit to building a world of freedom, democracy, and justice, free of oppression and intolerance.
March of the Living has benefited enormously from the selfless work of over 100 Holocaust survivors, survivors like Max Eisen, Anita Ekstein, Esther Fairbloom, Bill Glied, and Pinchas Gutter, to name but a few. They give their time and energy, but most importantly, they open themselves up to reliving their immense pain and suffering so that future generations can learn from their experiences.
There is no replacement for the first-hand stories of Holocaust survivors. As their numbers dwindle, it is even more important that we hear and document these stories.
Nate Leipciger is one of the hundreds of survivors of Auschwitz who came to Canada, but he has returned to Poland 17 times with the March of the Living. I have personally had the privilege of listening to and learning from Nate, from his experiences during and after the Holocaust.
One of his most inspirational stories is from a year and a half ago. Seventy three years after having survived the lowest point of his life at Auschwitz, Nate returned there with the Prime Minister. He described his return to Auschwitz with the Prime Minister as triumphant. As Nate wrote, “When the Prime Minister and I shed tears together in Auschwitz-Birkenau, never have I been more grateful for the welcome given to me by my adopted land, never have I been prouder to be a citizen of our beloved country, Canada. It was one of the most uplifting moments of my life.”
The Prime Minister‘s experience is not unique. It has been shared by thousands of Canadians from all walks of life.
Jewish Canadians hail from all corners of the world: South Africa, Russia, Israel, Morocco, India, Iraq, Argentina, and many other countries. Their histories and experiences shape the Canadian Jewish identity and add to the very fabric of our nation.
I am a proud Canadian, and I am also a very proud Scottish Jew. Nothing gives me more pleasure than sharing my own heritage, like wearing the Jewish tartan, as I am today, or donning my kilt, as I did at our annual Robbie Burns supper on the Hill just a couple of weeks ago.
In many ways, the diversity of Jewish Canadians mirrors the diversity of our broader Canadian society, each of us bringing our own customs and our own traditions. These stories have played out in communities big and small across Canada. I am certain that every member of this House from every province and territory can point to the history of Jewish Canadians in their own communities.
While the largest Canadian Jewish communities are in Montreal and Toronto, the purpose of this bill is to recognize the role and highlight the stories of Jewish Canadians from coast to coast to coast, from St. John’s to Victoria to Iqaluit and everywhere in between.
During the debate on Bill S-232, I have learned of the histories of Jewish communities in Cape Breton, Niagara Falls, and Hirsch, Saskatchewan. Each community has a rich history and a story to share, like Congregation Emanu-El in Victoria, Canada’s oldest synagogue, in continuous operation since 1863, or the Jewish community of St. John’s, which is one of the oldest in Canada, having arrived in Newfoundland in the 1770s. Even the very small Jewish community in Iqaluit, numbering just 20 people, adds to the fabric of our Canadian Jewish heritage.
The enactment of Canadian Jewish heritage month will ensure that the historic and ongoing contributions of Jewish Canadians are recognized, shared, and celebrated across this great country for generations to come. By choosing May as Canadian Jewish heritage month, we will see what currently exists in the United States and Ontario expanded to a national celebration across our great country.
As I close, I want to thank my colleagues for the support they have offered so far and encourage all of them to see this bill passed into law.
Hon. Larry Bagnell (Yukon, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, I have two comments. First, I would like to thank the member for referencing the north. We have a great Jewish community in the Yukon. I can think of Rick Carp and Arthur Mitchell offhand, and a number more.
Second, I want to thank him for his tribute to my former seatmate, who started this bill. Hon. Irwin Cotler is a great world citizen. He has done so much for human rights in the world. He has received accolades and many awards from around the world for that type of work. I really appreciate the member’s reference to Mr. Cotler for the great contribution he has made to Canada and the world.
Mr. Michael Levitt: Mr. Speaker, I have just learned more about another part of our great country and the contributions of the Jewish community. One of the joys of bringing this bill to Parliament has been hearing from all sides of the aisle, from all parties, the great and inspirational stories of Canadian Jews and their contributions.
I share with the member pride in the hon. Irwin Cotler and his contributions. As the chair of the subcommittee on international human rights, I lean on his learnings often. He is one of so many strong voices of Jewish Canadians in this country. Just down the hall, we have Justice Rosalie Abella, with her contributions to the Supreme Court.
I could go on and on, as I have done in previous speeches. This is the opportunity of Canadian Jewish heritage month. Every May, across this country, we are going to be able to celebrate and talk about the contributions of Jews to Canada. This is going to be especially important. My children are 18 and 16, and I look forward to their learning more and more about the contributions Canadian Jews have made as the years go on. It is a tremendous opportunity, and I thank my colleague for his support.
Ms. Jenny Kwan (Vancouver East, NDP): Mr. Speaker, like many communities across Canada, the Jewish community has been very active, particularly in support of those who are seeking resettlement here in Canada.
I know in my own community, Or Shalom has been very active in sponsoring privately sponsored families. Operation Ezra in Winnipeg has been doing fantastic work.
One of the things they have in common is that they are calling on the government to lift the cap on privately sponsored refugees. I wonder whether the member would agree with that and with supporting the Jewish community in its effort to show compassion and humanitarianism to those who are in great need.
Mr. Michael Levitt: Mr. Speaker, I am well aware of the fantastic contribution so many Jewish communities across Canada have made in supporting refugees, whether Syrian refugees or the Yazidi community. They have had an ongoing role in advocating for and supporting the refugees when they have arrived in Canada.
In my own community, several synagogues have banded together, particularly Temple Darchei Noam and Beth Emeth and a number of others, and have been active in supporting and advocating for refugees. In the Jewish tradition, this is something that is a priority. We want to lend our voices and our support to people who are in need. We want to make sure that we are giving people the opportunity.
I think that is something that, again, will be highlighted during Canadian Jewish heritage month, and I look forward to those lessons being taught to future generations as we move forward.
Hon. Peter Kent (Thornhill, CPC): Mr Speaker, it is an honour and a pleasure to rise today to speak in support of Bill S-232, the Canadian Jewish heritage month act. This proposed legislation is the product of a partnership jointly sponsored by Senator Linda Frum and my hon. colleague from York Centre. I join in the multi-partisan support of Bill S-232 with the hon. member for Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke.
The proposed legislation received unanimous support in the other place, and I hope that this House will follow suit. The preamble of Bill S-232 remarks that Canada is home to the fourth-largest Jewish population in the world of approximately 400,000 men, women, and children.
Some of my colleagues, or the folks watching at home, might have noticed that when Statistics Canada reported the 2016 numbers on Canada’s ethnic makeup that more than half of the Jewish population in Canada who were reported in 2011 seemed to have disappeared. That 2016 StatsCan census report of a drop of almost 200,000 people would have been the largest such drop for any ethnic group in history, if it had been accurate. Leaders of Canada’s Jewish organizations immediately protested that the shrinkage was grossly inaccurate, and they were correct. Subsequent investigation revealed that the problem was a product of StatsCan’s own misdesigned survey, which left the term “Jewish” off the list of examples of ethnic origins for respondents to check off. The new survey design did not reflect reality, but it did reveal the very different ways that the community today answers the age-old question of how to define Jewish.
Members of the Canadian Jewish community self-identify in different ways across various levels of observance, whether individuals see their identity as religious, linguistic, ethnic, or as a cultural affiliation. Therefore, how do we get the community’s numbers right as we consider this piece of historic legislation?
Jewish community leaders are asking Statistics Canada to redraw the 2021 census design and restore the term “Jewish” to the list of examples offered to respondents. By 2021, I think it is safe to suggest that the true measure of Canada’s diverse Jewish community will be restored and shown to be approaching fully half a million. With that clarification on the record, I will address the significant contributions that the Canadian Jewish community has made to the growth and prosperity of Canada, even while enduring and overcoming tremendous obstacles.
Jews have lived in Canada for more than two and a half centuries. The first recorded arrivals settled in Trois-Rivières, Quebec, in 1760. Most of the early Jewish families, who came from central and western Europe, settled in Quebec. In 1832, a full quarter of a century before Great Britain and its other dominions, the parliament of Quebec and the Legislative Assembly of Lower Canada voted to enfranchise, give full rights, to Jews living in Lower Canada.
Jewish immigration to Canada increased after Confederation, with immigrants arriving from eastern Europe, Russia, Romania, Poland, Lithuania, and beyond, fleeing political turmoil and, of course, anti-Semitism. They settled in Montreal, Toronto, and Winnipeg initially, building their own small businesses. From those humble beginnings with pushcarts and recycled rags, the schmatta trade developed major garment companies, employing thousands of Canadians in eastern Canada, but in the west as well.
Immigration slowed in the mid-1920s, as federal immigration regulations made it more difficult for Jews to enter Canada until after the Second World War when the world belatedly recognized the horrors of the Holocaust. This was the time of Canada’s infamous “none is too many” immigration policy that was applied against Jews.
Between 1933 and 1948, for example, and this statistic has been noted a number of times, only 5,000 Jewish refugees were admitted to Canada, the lowest number for any western country at that time. When Canada finally properly reopened our doors to post-war immigration, thousands of Holocaust survivors, displaced from countries across Europe, came to settle in Canada. More than 12,000 settled immediately in Montreal and another 8,000 in Toronto.
Subsequent waves of Jewish immigration to Canada resulted from political persecution in their home countries, from Hungary after the 1956 revolution, from Iraq and from Egypt, from Romania in the 1960s, along with Sephardic Jews from France and North Africa. In the 1970s, Jews began to arrive from the Soviet Union, very often as a result of Canadian advocacy on their behalf. As well through the 1970s and 1980s, North African Jews, particularly from Morocco, arrived in a new wave of immigrants adding wonderfully to the spectrum of Canada’s Jewish community, as anyone who has attended the exuberant post-Passover festival of Mimouna at Thornhill Sephardic Kehila Centre can attest.
Over the recent years particularly, there have been the arrivals of a high-tech generation of Jews from Israel and from eastern Europe. They are scientists, innovators, and entrepreneurs who have come to Canada to share their skills, to grow their companies, to flourish in Canada, and to contribute to Canadian society and to our economy.
All of that said, despite the diverse and dynamic community of Jewish communities, the scourge of the original hate crime, anti-Semitism, remains. We were reminded in the most recent audits of anti-Semitism by B’nai Brith and Statistics Canada that documented the highest levels of nationwide anti-Semitism on record. Michael Mostyn, the chief executive of B’nai Brith Canada, said recently, “Canadians from coast to coast have seen the swastikas, heard the anti-Jewish hate speech, and now have access to the statistics”. Mr. Mostyn commended Statistics Canada for the release of data that will aid both government policy-makers and advocacy groups, working with police and prosecutors and government officials, to tackle the ever-persistent presence of hate crimes. Every member of the House would agree with that sentiment.
Finally, back to Bill S-232, as the preamble says:
Whereas the Canadian Jewish community has made significant contributions to the growth and prosperity of Canada while overcoming tremendous obstacles;
Whereas the month of May is meaningful for the Jewish community around the world;
Whereas, by designating the month of May as Canadian Jewish Heritage Month, the Parliament of Canada recognizes the important contributions that Jewish Canadians have made to Canada’s social, economic, political and cultural fabric;
And whereas Canadian Jewish Heritage Month would provide an opportunity to remember, celebrate and educate future generations about the inspirational role that Jewish Canadians have played and continue to play in communities across the country;
For all of these reasons and for the powerful logic underpinning the initiative of Bill S-232, I would encourage all of my hon. colleagues to support this very worthy piece of legislation.
I must admit that I am a bit surprised that such a bill has not yet already been passed in the House. The United States proclaimed May as the month to celebrate the contributions of the American Jewish community in 2006, and Ontario established May as Jewish Heritage Month in 2012.
I suppose it was not so long ago that Canada had the unofficial policy of “none is too many”. Anti-Semitism in Canada’s immigration policy ultimately led to the admittance of only 5,000 Jewish refugees between 1933 and 1948. It is my sincere hope that passing this declaration and promoting the month of May as Jewish heritage month will allow for us as a society to ensure “never again”.
At this point, I would like to take a moment to recognize the strength and resiliency of the Holocaust survivors. On a number of occasions, I have had the opportunity to hear first-hand the stories from survivors and their families. Their stories are beyond inspirational. Their survival speaks to the greatest strength of all, and that is the strength of the human spirit. As we debate the bill before us, I would be remiss if I did not pay tribute to them.
January 27 is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. An estimated six million Jewish people were murdered. This horrendous crime against humanity must never be forgotten.
In 2018, one might ask what action we can take today. One way to commemorate this genocide is for Canada to prioritize the resettlement of those who are faced with genocide today. Another way to honour the survivors and their families is to ensure that we do everything we can to combat anti-Semitism in Canada.
It is with dismay that I note that the Jewish community in Canada continues to be the most targeted group for hate crimes on an annual basis. In 2016, there were 221 police-reported hate crimes against Jewish Canadians, which is up from 178 in 2015. This fact should not be acceptable to anyone and it cannot be the path forward. It highlights the importance of a bill like the one before us and the fact that much work remains to be done in combatting hate in Canada.
I had the privilege of sitting on the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage during its study of systemic racism and religious discrimination. Committee members had the opportunity to hear from Canada’s Jewish communities, such as the Canadian Association of Jews and Muslims, B’nai Brith Canada, and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs. It was noted that once a crime has been reported and is being investigated, in some cases, that motivation, i.e., hate, was not being examined. David Matas, senior legal counsel for B’nai Brith Canada explained:
One of the problems we see with the police forces when dealing with hate-motivated crimes is sometimes—indeed, perhaps all too often—they will identify the crime without looking at the motivation. I mean, obviously if somebody paints a swastika, you can see the motivation, but if it’s a simple assault, they may just go after the assault without looking at the motivation. The low figures we hear about hate-motivated crimes are in some instances the result of the police just not looking to see whether it’s a hate-motivated crime. One of the things we could usefully do in terms of training is sensitize police forces, so that when there is a hate dimension to a crime, it gets noticed, it gets reported, and it gets acted on.
Shimon Fogel, chief executive officer of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs recommended that “the government establish uniform national guidelines and standards for the collection and handling of hate crime and hate incident data.” Going forward, I hope that the government will act on this recommendation. The difficulty in laying a hate crime charge, difficulties in having complaints responded to in a standardized and thoughtful manner, and the lack of trust that complainants will be taken seriously led to what many witnesses described as significant under-reporting of hate crimes in Canada. This is because official statistics rely only on police-reported hate crimes.
That being said, Jewish Canadians have still created vibrant, long-established communities across Canada.
Over the holidays, I had the opportunity to participate in the candle lighting ceremony in celebration of Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of lights. I was honoured to light the seventh candle with Alycia Fridkin in Vancouver this past December. The Jewish community, like so many other communities, has unique practices and celebrations. In a rich and diverse multicultural society, it is truly our good fortune that we have the opportunity to learn about and experience these different practices.
In my time spent as an elected official municipally, provincially, and now federally, the resiliency and compassion of Canada’s Jewish community always shine through. I believe this is part of how many Jewish Canadians attempt to embody the concept of tikkun olam, the Hebrew term meaning “repair of the world”. For many people of the Jewish faith, this is the aspiration to behave kindly, act constructively, and help those who are disadvantaged. The Jewish community’s effort to showcase this belief is the beauty and strength of Canada’s multiculturalism policy, and highlights why our diversity is such a strength for us.
At the immigration committee, whenever we study the issue of refugee resettlement, Canada’s Jewish community has provided a voice with its expertise and desire to do even more than it already is. I was proud to bring representatives of Or Shalom Synagogue in Vancouver East to our study of the federal government’s initiative to resettle Syrian refugees in Canada. Their humanitarian spirit and efforts to resettle Syrian refugees in Vancouver was incredibly inspiring.
To date, representatives of Or Shalom continue to call, write, and speak to me about their desire to do more and to call for the federal government to address the lengthy processing delays of their sponsorship applications. Back in July, after waiting anxiously for the arrival of its sponsored families, Or Shalom was finally able to host a Syrian resettlement initiative welcome gathering in celebration of the arrival of its sponsored Syrian families.
Whether it is Or Shalom’s efforts in Vancouver to resettle Syrian refugees or the efforts of Operation Ezra in Winnipeg to resettle Yazidi refugees, I have been inspired time and again by the work and spirit of Canada’s Jewish communities on these important humanitarian efforts. With more than 65 million people displaced due to global conflicts, these groups want to do more and are constantly advocating for the government to take further action.
They have called for and continue to demand that the government lift the artificially imposed cap on the private sponsorship of refugees. They have the capacity, resources, and the desire to sponsor more people and to allow for more people to rebuild their lives in safety here in Canada. Canada needs to lift the cap on privately sponsored refugee applications, and we need to expeditiously resettle accepted privately sponsored refugee applications. The outpouring of generosity and humanitarianism shown, not just by these Jewish communities but by Canadians from coast to coast to coast, should be celebrated and not stifled.
It is an honour for me to stand in the House to recognize the incredible efforts in refugee resettlement and interfaith dialogues of Canada’s Jewish communities. I, along with my NDP caucus, will vote in favour of recognizing May as Jewish heritage month in Canada. We believe this will give Canadians an opportunity to reflect on the great contributions Canada’s Jewish community has made and will continue to make in this country.
It will also provide us with the opportunity to reflect on a history of injustice, intolerance, and the tragedies that can occur if we allow for the politics of hate and division to win the day. We cannot stand idly by and allow for hate crimes to continue to increase, as we saw from 2015 to 2016. We must act. While the notion of none is too many might no longer be said about members of the Jewish faith, it is unfortunately not as uncommon as it should be to hear that type of rhetoric employed against other groups.
We must remember this history and redouble our efforts to ensure “never again”. The strength and resiliency of Canada’s Jewish community is something I am very proud to celebrate. We must, with love and courage, continue this work to build a more just, inclusive, and equal Canada.
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to stand in the House today to speak to Bill S-232 to recognize every May as Canadian Jewish heritage month. At the outset, I want to start by congratulating the member for York Centre for sponsoring this bill, and to say a short hello to Toronto to my son, Nitin, who is watching at home.
Bill S-232 would recognize the important contributions Jewish Canadians have made to Canada’s social, economic, political, and cultural fabric.
Bill S-232 would also provide an opportunity to remember, celebrate, and educate future generations about the inspirational role that Jewish Canadians have played and continue to play in communities across the country.
Today, Canada’s Jewish population is nearly 400,000 strong, making it the fourth-largest Jewish population in the entire world. Most Canadian Jews, as has been mentioned, live in Ontario and Quebec, followed by British Columbia, Manitoba, as well as the province of Alberta. Jewish communities in Canada have made a major contribution to the development of cities, particularly Toronto and Montreal, which today count 188,710 and 90,780 people of Jewish faith or Jewish origin, respectively.
Supporting this bill is important for our government because it is consistent with past decisions of Parliament aimed at commemorating and supporting the Jewish community, its heritage, and the important contributions that Jews have made to Canadian society.
During the 37th Parliament, in 2003, Bill C-459, an act to establish Holocaust Memorial Day, was unanimously and quickly passed through all stages by Parliament. During the 40th Parliament, Bill C-442, an act to establish a National Holocaust Monument, garnered unanimous support and was given royal assent on March 25, 2011.
It was also in this commemorative and educational spirit that on September 27, 2017, the Prime Minister and the Minister of Canadian Heritage participated in the unveiling ceremony of the National Holocaust Monument. The establishment of Canadian Jewish heritage month would provide an opportunity to commemorate the memory of the Holocaust and the important fight that continues to this day against anti-Semitism.
Over the last few decades, a number of awareness and commemoration initiatives were funded by the government under the community historical recognition program. These include the Wheel of Conscience monument inaugurated in 2011 at the Canadian Museum of Immigration in Halifax at Pier 21 to commemorate the victims of the MS St. Louis incident in 1939. The importance of learning from history has been demonstrated again in this House, even today, in reference to some of the speeches made by my hon. colleagues and people talking about the importance of learning from the decision of the Canadian government of the time to turn away German Jews who were aboard the MS St. Louis.
The Government of Canada has also been committed for decades to combatting all forms of anti-Semitism, both at home and around the world. Canada became a full member in 2009 of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. That intergovernmental body supports Holocaust education, remembrance, and research both nationally and internationally.
Celebrations such as Canadian Jewish heritage month will resonate with many Canadians and help create vibrant and inclusive Canadian communities that foster and support our arts and culture. Proclaiming Canadian Jewish heritage month will give us the opportunity to recognize and commemorate the excellence and passion of eminent Canadians of Jewish origin who shaped our history and our culture and continue to do so.
Let us remember just a few of them: Leonard Cohen, the famous author, songwriter, and singer; Mordecai Richler, a novelist who wrote about my alma mater, McGill; Charles Rosner Bronfman, a businessman; Jessalyn Gilsig, an actor; Drake, known by many, the hip-hop artist and actor; Ruth Goldbloom, co-founder of Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21; Jane Jacobs, the journalist and journalism theoretician; Ezekiel Hart, the first Canadian Jew elected to the Legislative Assembly of Lower Canada, as it was then known; and Cecil Hart, coach of the Montreal Canadiens, after whom the famous NHL MVP trophy is named.
The bill that we are debating tonight would also allow us to focus on Jewish heritage and important sites around the country. Allow me to highlight one located in my very own riding of Parkdale—High Park.
The Junction Shul, located in the neighbourhood known as the Junction, was called Congregation Knesseth Israel. It was established over a century ago in the northwest corner of my riding of Parkdale—High Park. At 56 Maria Street, a tract of land was purchased in 1911 by a small number of immigrant families, who also founded that congregation. The structure, which still stands to this very day, was completed in 1913. I am very proud to say that Knesseth Israel is the oldest synagogue in Toronto still in use, and the building was designated as an Ontario heritage site in 1984.
When we talk about the formal recognition of May as Canadian Jewish heritage month, we are also talking about Canada’s multiculturalism policy, as referenced in the comments by my friend on the opposition benches. That policy is entrenched in our Multiculturalism Act and in the Canadian charter, and it plays a fundamental role in shaping our diverse, inclusive, and welcoming society.
The policy acknowledges the freedom of all members of Canadian society to preserve, enhance, and share their cultural heritage. It also promotes the full and equitable participation of individuals and communities of all origins in the continuing evolution and shaping of all aspects of Canadian society, and assists them in eliminating barriers to that participation.
That is what makes Canadians proud to stand in the House and talk about their heritage, whether that is Jewish heritage, Scottish Canadian Jewish heritage, or Jewish heritage that hails from other parts of the planet. That is what makes this country what it is. It is policies like this and bills such as this that reinforce that diversity and that strength.
This dual focus on valuing diversity and ensuring equity distinguishes Canada’s approach from those of our global peers. It goes beyond a policy that simply tolerates minority groups. We actually celebrate different cultures and we actively seek to build an inclusive society.
Supporting the bill is also aligned with similar provincial initiatives, such as the declaration of May as Jewish Heritage Month by the Government of Ontario in 2012.
I am proud to stand in the House to indicate the government’s support of the bill, but I am equally proud, as a parliamentary secretary for multiculturalism, to emphasize the important contribution Jewish Canadians have made to that multicultural fabric.
As a Muslim Canadian man, and a member of this government’s caucus, I am equally proud to say that the fight against anti-Semitism, the fight to create a more tolerant and plural society, is a fight that we continue with vigilance, as we must. This kind of bill is important because it underscores that heritage. It underscores the fight to promote tolerance and pluralism, and it is something that this government and I are very proud to stand behind.
With Canadian Jewish heritage month, we will provide a welcome opportunity to look back at the thousands of Jewish Canadians who have come to this country over centuries and linked their fate and their futures to the fate and future of this country we call Canada.
Mr. Tom Kmiec (Calgary Shepard, CPC): Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to continue the debate on this private member’s bill, Bill S-232, that we have been offered from the other place. The bill proposes to make the month of May Jewish heritage month.
May is a special month for my family. I have said before in the House that my kids are part Jewish. My father-in-law, who is from Singapore, is of Jewish heritage. Singapore is not an area of the world where people would think there were many Jews, and practising Jews for that matter. In his youth, he did practise many Jewish customs, but he did not realize they were Jewish at the time. His family only discovered its Jewish heritage when they came to Canada of all places and got to know their family a bit better.
May is also a special month for my family because my father-in-law was born on May 2 and my wife was born on May 2 as well. She was a special gift from my mother-in-law to my father-in-law and then to me many years later.
I thank the member for York Centre who sponsored this bill in the House. I have served with him on the foreign affairs committee. I am pleased to be able to debate this legislation because it does have special meaning to me because of my family relationship.
Many famous Jewish Albertans have made immense contributions to the province of Alberta. Many members know that I have a great love for Yiddish proverbs, so if they hold on, I do have one that I will share with them later.
We are going to be celebrating Purim very soon as well as Pesach, which are important holidays that I would encourage all Canadians to join in celebrating. People of Jewish heritage have been celebrating these holidays for thousands of years and I would encourage all Canadians to obtain a greater understanding of their deep meaning. These holidays have a very rich history and they have a very rich meaning to Jewish people.
I want to take a moment to talk about one famous Calgarian of Jewish heritage, Sheldon Chumir, who passed away on January 26, 1992. This gentleman was born in Calgary. He was a Rhodes Scholar. He was a tax lawyer, but I will not hold that against him.
Mr. Chumir founded the Calgary Civil Liberties Association. He was a tireless advocate for international human rights. He was elected as a Liberal MLA in 1986 for the provincial riding of Calgary—Buffalo. One might wonder why a Conservative MP is raising the political successes and the personality that was Sheldon Chumir. It is because he was important. He was important to Calgary.
The Sheldon M. Chumir Health Centre is named after him. It is actually much more than a centre. It is a huge hospital that provides services in a downtown area of Calgary. It is well known and well respected. It carries his name because of the immense contributions he made to the city and to the province.
Mr. Chumir was one of those rare birds in Alberta politics. He was a Liberal who was re-elected, which is very rare indeed, but only once. He served in the Alberta legislature.
A large hospital bears his name and this speaks a lot to both his personal work and the work of the Jewish community to ensure that he was remembered properly and honoured for his contributions to the province.
Alberta’s first permanent Jewish settlers came before Alberta even existed, in 1889, when it was just a territory. Jacob and Rachel Diamond, and there could be no more Jewish names than Jacob and Rachel, settled in Alberta.
I want to talk about the Yiddish heritage in Alberta. As I mentioned, I do have a Yiddish proverb, “Tasty is the fish from someone else’s table”. In this case, the table was set by the other place, and now we have the opportunity to have this debate in the House of Commons. It is indeed tasty. I get to talk about supporters of the Yiddish language, of the Yiddish culture, who built the I.L. Peretz Institute in 1927. Calgary’s first Jewish school was founded by people who cared for the Yiddish language and the Yiddish culture.
Unfortunately, after 1929, anti-Semitism was rising and during World War II a lot of Jewish people were discriminated against. There was a pervasive kind of cultural exclusion of them, both professionally and socially. This experience was not made any better by the Social Credit provincial government of the time which had some anti-Semitic members among it.
That was the experience of people around the world: governments and populations that discriminated against Jewish people who were living among them and making contributions. These were neighbours, co-workers, suppliers, and merchants, people who were building lives for themselves and who had proven themselves to be good, reliable, loyal members of the Canadian family.
The anti-Semitism and discrimination they faced is a lesson for all of us today. We must not repeat the mistakes of the past. Unfortunately, it has happened. We have heard other members say that the Jewish population in Canada, Canadians with Jewish heritage, some who practise the Jewish religion, are still victims. The number one group targeted by hate crimes, by vile anti-Semitism, is the Jewish people.
One other thing I would like to mention is that last year, in October, I visited Budapest in Hungary. I met with members of the government there. They have a coalition government. They encouraged us to visit the Dohany Street synagogue, one of the grand synagogues in Europe. It is a beautiful synagogue. I went with my wife.
It is a solemn experience but also rich in its cultural significance and because of the Holocaust. Wherever people go, the Holocaust and the Jewish experience go hand in hand. It is something that is so fundamental, so deep, in the Jewish psyche. My in-laws have talked to be about it. My wife talks to me about it. It is something I share with my kids. For the Jewish population in Asia at the time, the persecution and the anti-Semitism was not quite like what Jewish people experienced in Europe.
The two cannot be separated. Today it is something people simply have to address. When it is spoken about it, we have to pay homage to it. We have to recognize what happened in that time period.
It is a beautiful grand synagogue in Budapest. Even in a country like Hungary, we had a government official encouraging us to visit it. We were able to share a little with some of them the Jewish successes in Canada and famous Jewish individuals.
We heard the name of Irwin Cotler, a former minister of justice in this House, a man I have met. I have great respect for him. I did not always agree with his politics, of course, but I deeply respect him for his work on international human rights.
I will go back to Calgary for my last few minutes. I have been to the House of Jacob in Calgary. I have attended the service there, and I will never forget it. Being Polish, people always assume, because I was born in Poland and I speak with a slight accent, that I am Catholic. When I say that I am not Catholic, the next thing they expect me to be is Jewish, especially with the curly hair. They ask how I could not be, and I always point to my wife. My wife is actually half-Jewish, half-Chinese-Singaporean. She is actually more Jewish than I am. She knows more about Jewish cultural practices.
One never knows. The person one meets could have Jewish heritage and might be able to share a story in Hebrew. They might be able to do a Shabbat properly. My Hebrew pronunciation has never been very good. I am still practising my Yiddish pronunciation.
This bill, this opportunity we have, this table that was set by the Senate, to go back to my Yiddish proverb, is an opportunity for all of us to share among ourselves the great stories, the great personalities, and the great successes of Canadians of Jewish heritage every single May of every single year. I know for myself, I will be celebrating my father-in-law and my wife and the contributions they have made here in Canada and will continue to.
I thank the member for sponsoring the bill, and I look forward to voting for it. I encourage all members in the House to do the same.
Mr. Kevin Lamoureux (Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, I would like to start off by expressing appreciation to my colleague from York Centre for the fine work he is doing in raising a very important issue. He is working with a member from the other House, and today we are debating the importance of our Jewish community. It is a community that has contributed to who we are as a nation. The idea of having the month of May designated as national Jewish heritage month in law is something that is long overdue. I applaud him for his efforts.
The speaker before me was commenting in regard to a connection. Winnipeg North has a very strong historical connection with the Jewish community, going back many decades. In the mid-30s, the population of Winnipeg North was not much more than 55,000 or 60,000. The Jewish community back then was made up of probably somewhere in the neighbourhood of 15,000 individuals. It played a very strong role in terms of who we are in the north end today.
I have had the opportunity to get better acquainted with the entire riding and the contributions, and the thing that comes to my mind is the fact that we live in a multicultural society. We have, I believe, 200 different communities from around the world that make up Canada. Out of that, over a dozen of those communities have over one million individuals. People of Jewish heritage are just under 500,000, and it is a growing community here in Canada. It has contributed and continues to contribute to every aspect, whether economic or social, all different levels of political, academic, and so on. Obviously, it is a community that is really a part of the Canadian identity in every way.
I have had a couple of individuals I have looked up to immensely in my political career. I would like to share a couple of those names. Some members will know Israel Asper. Izzy Asper was a friend of mine. I did not know him exceptionally well, other than the fact that he was a leader of the Manitoba Liberal Party for a short period of time. However, that is not really what he was known for. He went on to buy up a TV station. He built a media empire, but that was not necessarily what he was best known for.
I believe his best contribution was the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, the first national museum to be located outside the nation’s capital here in Ottawa. Now it is at the forks where the Red and Assiniboine rivers come together. Izzy’s dream and vision of having the human rights museum became a reality. The city of Winnipeg never would have had that museum if it were not for the efforts of Izzy and the individuals he brought to the table in order to make it happen.
Today, his daughter Gail really picked up the ball after his passing. It is an absolutely beautiful museum. I am sure a number of my colleagues, especially from Manitoba, have had the opportunity to visit the museum. If members have not been to the museum, this is definitely a national treasure. We bring in people from around the world. That is something that is truly unique, and it is because of the efforts of Izzy Asper.
Another individual, who was referenced here earlier, is Irwin Cotler. Even though I did not get to know Irwin for a great length of time when I sat in opposition, I admired what he brought to the House of Commons. We could see it every time he made a statement in the House. He likely had more standing ovations than anyone else that I can think of. He was a human rights advocate second to no other. He is an extremely intelligent, able man. I believe he was even on the legal team for Nelson Mandela.
Whether it is politicians, individual community leaders, movie actors, there are so many of them to name, whether they are the economic drivers of big industry or social gathering points. In Winnipeg, we have the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg and the Asper Jewish Community Campus, and the community centre that kind of ties it all together. If members have not had the experience of being a part of Winnipeg’s Jewish community, I would encourage them to get engaged with events such as the Folklorama. That is an activity in which people would find the Israeli pavillion to be one of the most popular pavillions. The lines get long as people try to get a better appreciation for Manitoba’s Jewish community, or just the Jewish community as a whole. May is a significant month, as it recognizes the Holocaust, both in the province of Ontario and in the United States. I had the opportunity when I was in Israel to take a tour of the Holocaust museum.
I suspect I will get a bit more time when the issue comes up again before the House.
The Assistant Deputy Speaker (Mr. Anthony Rota): The time provided for the consideration of private members’ business has now expired, and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the Order Paper.
No business to report.
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