I'll just begin. Good morning, members of the committee. I thank you for having me here today to speak to my private member's bill, Bill C-442, An Act to establish a National Holocaust Monument.
As a student growing up in Edmonton, I learned about the history of the Holocaust as a part of the Second World War. Textbooks recounted the events that unfolded; the battles that were waged; the sacrifices of our soldiers, airmen, and sailors, along with their families; and the eventual victory of the allies against the Nazis. I also learned about the Holocaust, how groups of people who didn't fit certain stereotypes were exterminated in the name of racial purity. But to a student reading from a textbook, those events seemed distant and dated. They happened before I was born, to people I didn't know much about, in countries on the other side of the world. I had only a superficial understanding of the Holocaust. It was a part of history. It was something I learned about but never truly understood or appreciated.
For our young people today it is even more remote. For people privileged to live in a country like Canada, the Holocaust can seem wholly foreign, something that people have difficulty understanding because they cannot relate to its atrocities and horrors.
For some, a deeper understanding of those terrible events is provided through the retelling of stories of family members and veterans who were witnesses to the Holocaust, and in some cases survived it. But as time passes and the ranks of those who are able to tell those stories dwindle, there comes a danger that this unparalleled crime will become just a part of history, something that may exist in a textbook but whose real significance is lost.
In a way it's a tribute to the progress we have made that our children have difficulty understanding this brutality. Today's Canada is a nation of hope and opportunity, a beacon to those around the world seeking to find a new home and brighter future for themselves and for their families. As Canadians we pride ourselves on a nation that values and demands respect towards other people, affords a personal dignity to all people, and provides an environment of tolerance and understanding. Our society is the dream for many around the world, and it's something that the thousands of men and women in our armed forces have fought for in distant war-torn and oppressed nations. My own parents came to Canada in order to take advantage of all that Canada affords newcomers.
In today's Canada, those who are honoured to call it home would have tremendous difficulty identifying with the deep horrors of the Holocaust. The dangers we as a country now face are complacency and fatigue, to allow things like the Holocaust to rest on the pages of history. And lest we think that hatred and anti-Semitism are relics of the past, we are reminded on an almost daily basis that there are individuals around the world who continue to deny the very existence of the Holocaust or seek to downplay the extent of the crimes that were committed against humanity.
President Ahmadinejad of Iran continues to outrage people with his denial of the Holocaust. His myopic and ignorant comments on the subject of the Holocaust have resulted in condemnation from virtually all corners of the world. But there are people, even in our own country, who agree with him. The denial of the Holocaust and those who voice such opinions must continue to be fought in the public square. This monument will be a testament to where Canada stands.
The rise of anti-Semitism in some places in the world, whether overt or subtle, is another compelling reason why Canada must continue to ensure that the Holocaust is both acknowledged and condemned.
In my opinion, members of Parliament are charged with two important roles: fighting for the interests of their constituents, and pursuing issues that will benefit Canada as a whole. I believe that establishing a national Holocaust monument speaks to both of these roles and will help instill in generations of future Canadians an understanding of the atrocities of the Holocaust through a visible, tangible icon here in the nation's capital.
Some people have suggested that a monument is not necessary, saying “After all, who has not heard of the Holocaust? Do we really need a monument?” I believe that yes, we do. Remember after the Second World War was over, people began speaking about the Holocaust? Newspapers printed the crimes that had been committed, but they were not understood. No one really grasped what had happened. It was not until we saw the photographs, until there was a more tangible, more visible way to understand, that the significance of the Holocaust began to sink in. That is why I believe that reading about the Holocaust in a textbook is not enough.
Every year thousands of Canadians come to visit our capital, many of them schoolchildren. A physical, tangible monument given space in our nation's capital will make a different impression than the words they read on a page. Like many, I was surprised to learn that Canada remains the only Allied nation without a Holocaust monument in its nation's capital. As is the case in these other countries, with the passage of time, fewer and fewer survivors here in Canada can bear witness to the Holocaust.
A permanent monument to those who died in concentration camps or in their own homes at the hands of the Nazis will serve as a long-lasting reminder of a dark era of hatred and violence that we must ensure never occurs again. By placing the monument at the seat of government in the nation's capital, we accord an appropriate respect and acknowledge the gravity of this terrible event. Great Britain, the United States, France, all our allies have understood the importance of remembering the Holocaust, and so should Canada.
I've been thrilled with the broad level of support I have received from all parties to establish a national Holocaust monument.
The Honourable Irwin Cotler stated:
This monument will be a monument to remember, a monument to remind us. It will be an act of remembrance. It will be, also, a remembrance to act so that never to forget, which is underpinning this monument, will be translated into never again.
Madame Lavallée stated:
The Holocaust was one of the worst crimes of the 20th century. The Bloc Québécois therefore supports the bill to commemorate both the survivors and the victims.
Judy Wasylycia-Leis said:
It is truly amazing that we do not have such a Holocaust memorial right here in Canada's capital city. Tonight with this bill we are actually making a significant attempt at redressing an oversight. I hope that we can accomplish this quickly.
Anita Neville also expressed:
...and I am hopeful that all members of all parties will see fit to support this. It is something that is important, not just to acknowledge what happened in the past, but, as we have heard elsewhere tonight, to ensure that our children know what happened and will determine that it will never happen again in the future.
Many organizations throughout Canada have expressed their support, such as B'nai Brith, the Canadian Jewish Congress, the Canadian Israeli Committee, and the Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee.
I would also like to recognize Laura Grossman, from the Canadian Memorial Holocaust Project, and the Honourable Peter Kent, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, who have been strong supporters of moving this initiative forward.
I see this bill as an example of the best of what Parliament can do when we transcend traditional party lines and move forward on an issue of tremendous importance to Canadians.
The Prime Minister says:
This is a very worthy project, which would serve to honour the memory of victims and ensure that future generations of Canadians learn from one of the most horrific chapters in human history.
Members of the committee, this monument will stand as a testament to our own ideals and values and will be the embodiment of the words and stories inscribed in the textbooks of history. This monument is a statement made by Canadians to the world. It honours those who died in the tragedy of the Holocaust, and it says to future generations of Canadians, never again.