Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to speak in the House today regarding Bill S-232. I would like to commend my colleague from the other place, Senator Linda Frum, for her work on this, as well as my colleague across the way, the hon. member for York Centre.
In 1939, the MS St. Louis departed from Hamburg, Germany, with 937 passengers on board, most of whom were Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazi regime. The St. Louis set sail for Cuba, but upon arrival in Havana, these refugees were denied entry. Not to be deterred, Captain Gustav Schröder changed course for Florida, hoping to find refuge for his passengers in the United States, but it was not to be found.
The inaction of the Americans prompted a courageous group of Canadian clergy and academics to urge the Canadian government to offer safe passage to the St. Louis. After all, Canada was just a two-day journey from the Florida coast. However, William Lyon Mackenzie King allowed himself to be persuaded by one high-level, anti-Semitic bureaucrat, rather than the voices of the Canadian people. To our great shame, the ship was turned away, fanning the flames of the insanity of Adolf Hitler, who rationalized that if the rest of the world did not want to help the Jews, then it was up to him to solve his so-called insane Jewish problem.
In the end, some of those refugees were granted permission to board vessels travelling to the United Kingdom. The remaining 620 refugees remained aboard the St. Louis and were carried to mainland Europe. Researchers at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum did a historical trace on the fate of each passenger. In a summary of its findings, it stated:
Of the 620 St. Louis passengers who returned to continental Europe, we determined that ...254 passengers in Belgium, France and the Netherlands after that date died during the Holocaust. Most of these people were murdered in the killing centers of Auschwitz and Sobibor; the rest died in internment camps, in hiding, or attempting to evade the Nazis.
I remind the House of this blemish in our history to highlight how far we have come as a nation in our relationship with the Jewish people. Canada has long abandoned its anti-Semitic immigration policies of the second world war. Today, Canada is home to some 400,000 Jewish people, the fourth largest Jewish population in the world. Only Israel, the United States, and France have larger populations. Canada has indeed come a long way.
Tonight, we are deliberating on Bill S-232, a bill that enjoys multi-party support, whereby the month of May, in each and every year, would be designated Canadian Jewish heritage month. When this legislation reaches royal assent, Canadians will have much to celebrate in May 2018.
The contribution Jewish people have made to Canadian culture is profoundly broad. The fingerprints of the Jewish community can be found in nearly every aspect of Canadian life. I could not possibly articulate in the time provided the innumerable accomplishments and contributions the Jewish community has made to the fabric of Canadian culture, but consider this as a sampling.
In business, Jewish Canadians have proven to be more than capable job creators. Shoppers Drug Mart, Reitmans clothing, Calgary's Smithbilt Hats, ALDO shoe company, Sony stores, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, and the First City Financial Corporation were all founded by Canadians of Jewish heritage.
In arts and entertainment, Canada has been fortunate to have so many talented artists and performers of Jewish heritage. To name a few: actor William Shatner, most famous for his role in Star Trek; Lorne Greene of Bonanza; the game show host Howie Mandel, of Deal or No Deal; Monty Hall of Let's Make A Deal; Lorne Michaels, who created Saturday Night Live; and the Mirvish family and John Hirsch, giants in live theatre production. I wish I could name Henry Winkler, but unfortunately, he is not Canadian, but I just love the Fonz so much.
In literature, we have been blessed by the words of novelist Mordecai Richler, playwright Ted Allan, and poets Leonard Cohen, Irving Layton, and A.M. Klein.
Musical talents include composers Louis Applebaum and Srul Glick; opera singer Pauline DonaIda; singer-songwriter Corey Hart; Steven Page, former lead singer of the Barenaked Ladies; and Geddy Lee, lead vocalist of the rock band Rush. Of course, we cannot forget about world-renowned rapper Drake.
In medicine and science, the late Dr. Mark Wainberg and Dr. Éric A. Cohen have been regarded as pre-eminent HIV-AIDS researchers. Victoria Kaspi is a well-known physicist in the field of astrophysics, and Rudolph Arthur Marcus received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work on the theory of electron transfer reactions in chemical systems.
In law, five justices of Jewish heritage have served on the bench of the Supreme Court.
In politics, my friend and former colleague on the Subcommittee on International Human Rights, the hon. Irwin Cotler, who my colleague mentioned earlier, served as a federal justice minister and has risen to the defence of prisoners of conscience around the world, including Nelson Mandela. Today, at the age of 77, he continues to raise concerns about the fivefold threat presented by Iran and provides legal defence to Leopoldo Lopez, the opposition political leader in Venezuela. The last federal finance minister to table a balanced budget was yet another Jewish Canadian, the hon. Joe Oliver.
The Jewish community in Canada and all Canadians can be proud of all these accomplishments, and a whole lot more. On a personal note, since first being elected to this House more than 11 years ago, I have had the distinct privilege of having a front row seat in a vibrant and active Jewish community in Hamilton. For instance, Madeleine Levy has been a fierce advocate in our community and schools, educating students on the Holocaust and teaching tolerance and acceptance.
Rabbi Baskin is a thoughtful and accomplished author and a key donor to McMaster University library, having donated 1,000 books and manuscripts and 200 pieces of art, as well.
Rabbi Daniel Green oversees Adas Israel and the Hamilton Hebrew Academy and acts as the wise father figure to the broader Jewish community. Dr. Larry Levin is the president of the Canadian Dental Association, having previously served in the same role at the provincial level. Dr. Lorne Finkelstein has made extraordinary efforts to fight racism in Hamilton, to advocate for patients, and to save young lives internationally.
Arthur Weisz, a holocaust survivor, founded the successful property management company Effort Trust. Though Arthur passed away in 2013, his legacy of successful business is being carried on by his son, Tom, who generously donates his own money while raising funds for many worthy causes at home and in Israel, including the Jewish National Fund.
Knowing first-hand the contributions of the Jewish community in Hamilton and across the country, it was easy to support a proposed project driven by Tova and Jim Lynch called the Canadian Jewish Experience. This project has officially become part of the Canada 150 celebrations. It highlights many of the accomplishments I mentioned, and many more. I encourage members of this House and Canadians visiting Ottawa for the sesquicentennial celebrations to stop by the exhibit.
With a view of history, all Canadians should be proud that Jewish people have been able to come to our nation and thrive, yet we have a long way to go. Bill S-232 is before Parliament against the backdrop of rising anti-Semitism, both in Canada and abroad. B'nai Brith has issued a report that shows that anti-Semitic events in Canada last year were the highest on record. As my colleague has said, this is unacceptable.
The adoption of this legislation will send the message to all Canadians that we are committed to a diverse, multicultural, and tolerant society, where Canadians, regardless of ethnicity or religion, are able to thrive. As I have said many times, Canada is a place where members of one faith can live peaceably beside members of other faiths and where members of one race can live peaceably beside members of other races.
With that in mind, I would like to return to the story of the MS St. Louis. In 2011, the Conservative government supported the efforts of the Canadian Jewish Congress to create a memorial called the Wheel of Conscience. This monument was installed at Pier 21 in Halifax to remind Canadians of the underlying attitudes that led to the St. Louis being turned away.
The memorial is a polished stainless steel wheel that incorporates four intermeshing gears, each showing a word to represent factors of exclusion: anti-Semitism, xenophobia, racism, and hatred. Inscribed on the back of the wheel is the passenger list, including the names of those who died at the hands of the Nazis.
Let that monument be a reminder of how far we have come. Truly, as a country, we have gone from darkness to light. Let us continue to build on that success and support Bill S-232. May God bless you, Mr. Speaker, may God bless our Jewish community, and may God bless Canada.