Mr. Speaker, I consider it an honour to speak to Bill C-442, An Act to establish a National Holocaust Monument.
This is a long overdue bill. It was introduced by my Conservative colleague, the member for Edmonton—Sherwood Park, and I strongly support this new initiative to recognize the Holocaust.
The Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities considered this bill and reported it to the House of Commons on June 3 of this year with a number of clarifying amendments.
Last week, unfortunately the member for Eglinton—Lawrence raised a point of order in the House that sought the Speaker's ruling on the admissibility of three amendments that had been presented to the committee. These same amendments had been ruled inadmissible by the chair but then overturned by a majority vote of committee members.
I note that in fact it was a strong majority of the committee that actually supported these amendments. The government was joined by some of the other opposition members as well.
The amendments in question provided additional clarity to the bill. They empowered the National Holocaust Monument Development Council to form a legal entity if directed to do so by the responsible minister. It also clarified that a fundraising campaign would support all costs associated with the monument and it authorized the minister to delegate certain responsibilities to the council under this bill.
Earlier this week, the Speaker ruled that these amendments should be removed from the bill. The government respects the decision of the Speaker, as we always do, with respect to the admissibility of the three disputed amendments to Bill C-442.
It is worth noting that the government's intention in presenting motions to amend Bill C-442 was to elaborate and clarify the means by which this very worthwhile initiative would be carried out. More specifically, the amendments at committee stage sought to provide greater transparency and accountability in the establishment of a national Holocaust monument.
They were also intended to ensure that the bill would be in line with the roles, the responsibilities and the policies of the minister responsible for the National Capital Commission, and also the commission itself. Those were the technical amendments that were made.
I want to speak from the heart. This important bill reflects Canada's long-standing values of freedom, democracy, the defence of human rights at home and abroad, and the defence of the rule of law.
My wife and I have taken it upon ourselves to educate our children about the Holocaust, about what happens when evil is allowed to flourish, especially when good people do nothing.
We have also taught our children the importance of never forgetting the millions of Jews and others who perished at the hands of the Nazis. Without understanding and firmly resolving to remember the lessons of our history, we are doomed to repeat the horrific chapters of our past.
Sadly, even Canada's history is stained by the memory of a callous government turning away the MS St. Louis, a ship filled with Jews desperately seeking a safe haven from hatred and bigotry. How many lives could have been saved had Canada done the right thing?
Quite frankly, I still struggle to fully grasp the depravity of the Nazi genocide, but I do understand the Hebrew word “Zachor”, which means to remember. That is why this bill is so important. It ensures that we continue to remember the darkest chapters in mankind's history and vow never to repeat it.
This past summer, my wife and I were able to accompany a number of other members of Parliament, including the member for Sudbury who just spoke, on a visit to Israel. In the “City of Peace”, Jerusalem, we visited Yad Vashem. That is the national Holocaust museum. It is one of the most powerful events I have ever taken part in.
This museum commemorates the millions upon millions of lives that were lost. It exposes the depths to which human depravity can sink. But at the same time it also shows the highest quality that mankind can aspire to. For example, the museum highlighted those who the Jews referred to as the “Righteous Gentiles” or the “Righteous among the Nations”. These were individuals in Europe who at great cost and risk to themselves, sometimes at the cost of their lives, hid and protected Jews who were fleeing for their lives.
That is what we experienced in the museum, the Yad Vashem Holocaust History Museum in Jerusalem. What a powerful experience.
I encourage every one of my colleagues in this House to take an opportunity to visit Israel someday and visit specifically that particular museum. It stands as a reminder of what happens when good human beings do nothing to stand in the way of evil.
That is the kind of monument we are addressing today in Bill C-442. This monument is long overdue. I am still puzzled why we as a nation have not dealt with this earlier.
I want to again congratulate my Conservative colleague, the member for Edmonton—Sherwood Park, for his dedication and hard work in bringing this bill forward. I would also be remiss if I did not acknowledge the work of Bernie Farber and the Canadian Jewish Congress, who in partnership with the Canadian Holocaust memorial project have been spearheading this initiative right here in the heart of our nation's capital. I cannot think of a better place in which to erect this monument than right here within the capital of our country.
Let me wind up by saying this: if this bill receives royal assent, the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, who is responsible for the National Capital Act, would diligently carry out the legislated responsibilities regarding this monument that are assigned to him in this bill. At the same time, the minister would certainly rely on the efforts undertaken by the council, along with the expert advice of the National Capital Commission and any approvals required by other applicable laws and regulations.
I would join my colleagues in the Bloc and my colleague from Sudbury in calling for all of the members of this House to support this bill with enthusiasm. This really is something that allows Canada to do its part in never ever forgetting the victims of the Holocaust.
With the expectation that both Houses of Parliament will eventually decide in favour of Bill C-442 and that the bill will receive royal assent, I am confident that our nation's capital will finally be graced with a national Holocaust memorial.