moved that Bill C-250, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (prohibition—promotion of antisemitism), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, before we get into tonight's debate on my private member's bill, I would like to acknowledge Yom HaShoah, the Holocaust Remembrance Day, which is actually today. Today is a time, I feel, to renew our commitment to combatting anti-Semitism in all its forms.
I am honoured today to rise and speak to Bill C-250, an act to amend the Criminal Code, prohibition—promotion of anti-Semitism, which is my private member's bill. Bill C-250 is modelled on subsection 319(2), “Wilful promotion of hatred”, in the Canadian Criminal Code. However, the bill focuses specifically on Holocaust denial because of the gravity of the event in our history. If the House chooses to pass Bill C-250, it will make Holocaust denial, which is one of the key indicators of anti-Semitism and radicalization, illegal in this country, and the offence will be punishable with incarceration.
B'nai Brith just released its 2021 audit of anti-Semitism incidents this week, and for the sixth consecutive year, records were set for anti-Semitism in this country. There was an increase, unfortunately, of 7.2%. Nearly eight anti-Semitic incidents occurred every day in this country in 2021. The actual number of anti-Semitic incidents recorded last year was 2,799. This marked the fourth consecutive year in which the 2,000 plateau was exceeded.
Heather Fenyes is a past president of Congregation Agudas Israel Synagogue, in my city of Saskatoon, a CIJA local partner, a Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights board member and the chair of the Concentus Citizenship Education Foundation. This is what she had to say about Bill C-250. “When the Holocaust is denied, Jewish people die. This malignant seed of hate left unchecked threatens Jews at home, in their synagogues and within their communities. Anti-Semitism, the most pernicious of hates, is the canary in the coal mine. Where hate is left unfettered, nobody is immune from its consequences; signalling a threat to all communities. Making Holocaust denial illegal is a step towards creating safer spaces for Jews in particular and building a healthier society.”
Kevin Sharfe, president of the Congregation Agudas Israel Synagogue and Jewish Community Centre, said, “Holocaust denial is often a symptom of ignorance or intolerance. Sadly, denying the history of a people can lead to anti-Semitism, and more generally, widespread racism in our community. Healthy education is the way forward.”
The CIJA, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, made this statement: “Holocaust denial is a dangerous form of anti-Semitism. We deeply appreciate the leadership of the member from Saskatoon—Grasswood who introduced a private member's bill to criminalize this insidious form of Jew hatred. Thank you to the member from Thornhill for seconding [this bill].”
Ignorance and intolerance must be confronted and condemned wherever they exist. Ideally, I would be happy if this Criminal Code amendment were never used. Punishment is the last resort. Criminalization is an imperfect tool, but it is also an important tool to stop a behaviour that we as a society consider offensive. Criminalization is also an important step toward changing attitudes in this country. Criminalization will help draw a moral limit on the erosion of history. It will be a message to those who wish to erase historical truths.
Suppression of anti-Semitism is not the goal. Education is the key to ending anti-Semitism and the hateful fallout that comes from ignorance. Education is the safeguard of history. Holocaust denial is not free speech; it is an abuse of free speech. It is an abuse of a freedom that we all cherish in this country. It is an attack on Canadian values and our respect for diversity. If we stand by and allow history to be erased by allowing the Holocaust to be denied, distorted or minimized, we allow democracy to be eroded.
Research has shown that people who learn about the Holocaust are more likely to care about other communities, develop anti-racist attitudes and oppose persecution. It is imperative that our future generations know and understand that, from early 1941 until 1945, six million Jewish children, women and men were murdered in a state-sponsored genocide we now remember as the Holocaust. We cannot allow this chapter in history to be denied, minimized or lost. We must continue to educate Canadians to face history with courage and to call out and confront intolerance and racism every time it emerges.
If we do not continue to educate Canadians about the horrors of the Holocaust and the dangers of anti-Semitism, we leave room for hatred, racism and radicalization to take root and grow more in this country.
I will point out two recent examples that come to mind. The first one is the case of Joseph DiMarco. He was a Timmins, Ontario, school teacher who was fired in 2019 after teaching Holocaust denial. The Ontario College of Teachers held a disciplinary hearing last year to deal with the allegations that he taught Holocaust denial theories in the years 2018-19. When DiMarco's teaching licence was pulled, Michael Levitt, president and CEO of Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center had this to say:
The disturbing actions by this former teacher demand nothing less than his inability to set foot in a classroom ever again. Instead of using the opportunity to teach about the Holocaust and [even] 9/11 and their lessons, he decided to spread Holocaust denial and antisemitism, doing an extreme disservice to his students.... Educators have a duty to not only provide students with factual information, but to also inspire them to be upstanding citizens who stand against hate and intolerance.
I think we would all agree that the most publicized case would be the James Keegstra trial a number of decades ago. For those who do not have the background, Keegstra was charged and convicted of hate speech in 1984 for willfully promoting hatred against an identified group by teaching his students that the Holocaust was a fraud and by promoting anti-Semitism.
Keegstra was a high school teacher in Alberta until he was fired in 1982. He expected his students to accept his views, and their grades suffered if they dared to oppose them. Keegstra, by the way, served as mayor of Eckville, Alberta from 1974-83, when his offensive and anti-Semitic views caused citizens to overwhelmingly vote him out of office in 1983. He appealed the conviction to the Supreme Court, where it was upheld.
Most Supreme Court justices believe that hate speech is not a victimless crime. They understood the potential of hate speech and anti-Semitism to be harmful and dangerous, and to promote violence.
Violence and radicalization cannot be allowed a space to grow in this country. We cannot overcome and overlook the obvious causes, and when these offences are being perpetrated by educators, they are especially egregious and very harmful. I understand that hatred and anti-Semitism are not eliminated by legislation, but legislation alone is one rung on the ladder.
I have heard the criticisms all over on this legislation. I have read media reports that imply that criminalization will only muffle anti-Semitism, but doing nothing is not a solution. It deeply concerns me that for some people doing nothing is an acceptable path forward. Paying lip service and making virtuous gestures is somehow seen as a substitution for action. I want there to be no mistake that education is the action that is needed and that criminalization is the tool to demonstrate that anti-Semitism, Holocaust denial, minimization and distortion are not going to be tolerated in this country anymore.
A 2020 study on Holocaust awareness by the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies, conducted by Nanos, supports the notion of education. I will quote that study and I am happy to table the study if there is consensus among members in the House. The 2020 study on Holocaust awareness and education reveals that 59% of people in Canada's Prairies believe that young people are not taught enough about the Holocaust in school, and 73% believe young people are less aware of the Holocaust and its lessons today than in the past, while 92% of people in the Canadian Prairies say teaching about discrimination is either somewhat important or important and 96% believe teaching about the Holocaust is either somewhat important or important.
In a July 2021 report on hate crimes in Canada by Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies, Statistics Canada data indicates an increase in hate crimes. Again I am happy to table the part of that report that says that. If we go back to July 27 last year, it stated, “Statistics Canada released hate crime statistics for 2020 today, revealing that police-reported hate crimes increased by 37 per cent last year and reached the highest number ever recorded, 2,669. According to StatCan's annual police-reported crime statistics report, the Jewish community saw an almost five per cent increase in hate crimes”.
I am going to move now to a person I have known for a number of years. He was an educator in the city of Saskatoon. Right now, he is the president of B'nai Brith, David Katzman. He is from Lodge 739 in my city. He made the following comments on a bill to criminalize willfully promoting anti-Semitism by condoning, denying or downplaying the Holocaust. He described the Holocaust as the industrialization of the mass murder of over 11 million people, including six million Jews. As he said, condoning, denying or downplaying the Holocaust has always been the most powerful magnet for those who hate Jews, and most often these same haters have a long list of “others” who must be abused or banished. Canadians, he said, treasure our national commitment for all persons to live freely and safely.
The government has now taken the precedented step once again of appropriating the private member's bill I introduced as the member for Saskatoon—Grasswood. In the last Parliament, it took my bill and fumbled it, and then I actually held on to the ball and got it over the goal line. This time, though, it has taken the text of my private member's bill and parked it halfway through seven pages of potential future promises in annex 3 of the budget document. There is no commitment here, just a vague suggestion of future consideration.
I urge members to understand the difference between my bill, Bill C-250, and the version of this bill that the government has chosen to place into the omnibus budget legislation. Bill C-250 will have the teeth that the “budget lite” version will not have.