PM Trudeau speaks at the National Holocaust Remembrance Day Ceremony in Ottawa
Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen and thank you for being here as we mark this solemn occasion. I have to thank the Canadian Society for Yad Veshem for organizing this event.
Every year, National Holocaust Remembrance Day reminds us to take pause and reflect on the horrors of the past, and the challenges of our present and future. We’re reminded of the more than six million Jewish men, women, and children who were sent to their deaths simply because they were Jews. Entire families systematically rounded up and executed. Their lives, brutally extinguished.
Last week, I was in Toronto, for Yom HaShoah, and I heard from survivors like Faye Keefer, a woman of incredible strength, who bravely shared her story with us for the first time in public, in her nineties. When we hear these stories, we’re reminded that the Holocaust was a true horror the likes of which the world had never seen before.
Many brave women and men, from all over the world, heeded the call. As the 75th anniversary of D-Day approaches, we recognize the Canadians who fought so valiantly against the Nazis. Some of them came home, but many others did not. Unfortunately, the policies of the Canadian government at the time did not reflect the heroism shown by Canadians in uniform. In fact, while soldiers, Canadian soldiers were trying to stop Hitler, their government was leading an antisemitic campaign here in this country.
After the Great Depression, Canadian lawmakers codified their discrimination against Jews in a “none is too many” immigration policy, imposing strict quotas to limit the number of Jewish newcomers. This policy unfortunately was extremely effective. Between 1933 and 1945, Canada admitted the fewest Jews of all the allied countries. Perhaps one of the most egregious examples of blatant antisemitism came in May of 1939, when Canada turned away the MS Saint-Louis, sending more than 900 German Jews back to Europe, to near certain death. During wartime, many of the Jews that did make it into Canada were labelled as prisoners of war and detained alongside Nazis. It wasn’t until three years after the end of the war that Canada’s antisemitic immigration laws were changed.
This past fall, just two weeks after a deadly synagogue shooting in the US, I stood in the House of Commons and offered, on behalf of all Canadians, a formal apology to the Jewish community. I apologized for the MS Saint-Louis, for Canada’s restrictive immigration policies of the day, and for the deep history of antisemitism in Canada that permitted such abject moral failure on the part of the government for far too long. It was an apology that was long, long overdue.
In the years after the Holocaust, the world was shaken by the magnitude of the atrocities committed by Hitler. From decade to decade, from generation to generation, we have made a commitment to keeping the stories of survivors alive, and to ensuring that this tragedy is never forgotten. But today we are seeing more and more acts of antisemitic violence, including right here in Canada. According to the most recent data, 17% of all hate crimes committed in Canada target Jews, much more per capita than any other group of citizens.
Once again, people filled with hate are emerging from the shadows. Hateful words and speeches are spreading on social media, and spreading across our daily lives. Swastikas are found on Jewish institutions, and in Jewish neighbourhoods that have been vandalized. There was an attack on a synagogue in Pittsburgh last fall, and another barely 10 days ago in San Diego, California, once again on the Sabbath, during celebrations marking the last day of Easter.
The lessons of the Holocaust are at risk of being forgotten if we stand idly by, if we remain silent in the face of these events. As Prime Minister, it has been my honour to observe and celebrate holy days with Jewish communities across the country. But I have also cried with you, following attacks in other parts of the world, attacks that sow fear in the hearts of Jewish Canadians here at home.
It is our solemn duty as politicians, as leaders, as human beings, to stand united with one voice, and to say without equivocation, that antisemitic hatred has no place in Canada, or anywhere else. Offering thoughts and prayers, yet again, in the wake of antisemitic violence and death just won’t cut it anymore. We have to loudly declare that hatred will not be tolerated in our communities, near our places of worship, or on our campuses, and on that, I have been unequivocal in my condemnation of the antisemitism that pervades the BDS movement. As a government, we have increased funding for security at places of worship twice, to acknowledge the evolving nature of threats against religious groups. We’ve stepped up our investigations into hate groups, including white supremacists and neo-Nazi groups, because once again, people filled with hate are feeling emboldened across the country and around the world, to step out of the shadows.
Divisive, hateful words and speeches, and tweets spread across our daily lives online and in real life. So, we just announced funding for the creation of a new anti-racism strategy, a number of leading Jewish organizations, among many others, have been an integral part of its development. And importantly, we continue to proudly declare Canada’s unwavering support for the State of Israel.
Israel has always been the national homeland of the Jewish people, and the Holocaust only reinforced the need for a state where Jews could feel safe. Out of our entire community of nations, it is Israel who’s right to exist is most widely and wrongly questioned. Earlier this week, we strongly condemned the recent rocket attacks by Hamas and other terrorist groups, we will always champion Israel’s right to defend itself and protect its people.
Ladies and gentlemen, we could not do that without the strong leadership of our partners in communities right across Canada, many of whom are with us here today. Thank you for your guidance, while we work to make our society and our world more just places for Jews and for everyone.
Today, and every other day, we will stand with the Jewish community here in Canada and around the world as we vow together…never again.