I rise to speak to this bill on the eve of Yom HaShoah, a day that commemorates the six million innocent Jewish men, women and children who were systematically murdered by the Nazis during the Holocaust. On this eve, Canadians across the country reflect on the unique horror of the Holocaust and pay tribute to the innocent victims, honour the survivors and recognize the righteous who risked their own lives to save the lives of strangers. The Holocaust was one of the darkest chapters in human history and on this day, we are presented with a sobering reminder of that history, which is why Yom HaShoah presents a fitting opportunity to debate this bill.
I will admit this bill is not entirely clear-cut for me, nor for everyone in the largest Jewish community in Canada, whom I have the distinct honour of representing in this House as the member of Parliament for Thornhill. It is not entirely clear-cut for those connected to the Holocaust directly, either one generation removed or two generations removed, or indirectly as Canadians who, on this day, help dignify the memory of its victims, of the survivors and of its unthinkable horrors.
Remembrance is at the core of this debate, so that this never happens again. For many, the protection and promotion of free speech are paramount. Given my own world view, it is difficult to square the circle on the necessity in the face of ideological purity. Hate speech is not free speech. In an ideal world, Holocaust education, remembrance and research would be sufficient to ensure a future where the denial of history would simply cease to exist, but sadly, that is not the case.
There is an enormous amount of evidence, of survivor testimony and of eyewitness accounts from those who liberated death camps. There are survivors among us still, our grandparents, our friends, those who bore witness to what happened. In the face of all that, Holocaust denial and distortion persist. Because they persist, it is a necessity to fight with the tools of legislation when existing laws fail to protect the truth, the truth about the horrors of the Holocaust.
Denial and distortion need to be prosecuted successfully as a powerful deterrent to say that this is not acceptable, that this is not okay, that this is not allowed in this country. Countering Holocaust denial and distortion is necessary to combat the efforts of those who blur the facts of what transpired about those complicit in the horror of trying to rewrite history. We must combat the distortion that insults the victims and the survivors. We must combat the distortion that perpetuates anti-Semitism. We must combat the distortion that fans the flames of violent extremism.
We must combat that distortion not only for the Jewish community, but for the thousands of people who defied the rules set down by the Nazis, set down by Hitler, and collectively saved countless LGBT people, disabled people, Roma and other minorities from certain death. The perversion of Holocaust denial attempts to erase their bravery and courage against Hitler and his followers. We must combat the distortion so that it does not threaten our own ability to understand the past and learn from it. Most importantly, we must combat the distortion so that the distortion does not become history itself.
The bill ensures the successful prosecution of neo-Nazis and Holocaust deniers, and in the end should aim to prevent the resurgence of Nazism.
There is a rising tide of anti-Semitism. I have talked about it here in this House. I have talked about it outside of this House. It is not just rising out of the far right, and it is not just rising out of the far left. It is rising out of faculty clubs. It is rising on our university campuses, out of our social justice organizations and out of those very close to government.
There were 2,799 recorded anti-Semitic incidents of hate in 2021. One of the most common forms of that hate in attacking Jews was the denial and the distortion of the Holocaust. Almost eight incidents occurred every single day in 2021. That was a 59.8% increase from 2017. Those numbers should be alarming to everybody in this place, and those are not my statistics. They are from B'nai Brith's most recent audit, which we heard about this week. There is no question that they are under-reported, and that should be of concern.
The long history of the Jewish people has been characterized as a repetitious cycle: eras of oppression and darkness are interrupted by all-too-brief golden periods of liberation and flourishing creativity. However, as we know, the old anti-Semitism of persecution, pogroms and Nazi gas chambers has become a new, more subtle, but just as dangerous, cancer. It has an indirect genocidal goal that targets the Jewish national homeland.
Its proponents vilify Israel because it is the home of the Jewish people, and while this bill would not address that fact, there is no question that it is a driver of hate levelled against the Jewish people, and it is difficult not to acknowledge in a conversation about anti-Semitism in the House. Some members of the House have been complicit in fanning the flames of rhetoric against Israeli statehood that fuel the pernicious rise of a new anti-Semitism cloaked in Zionism, and they say to those who fan those flames outside of the House that this is okay.
Our former prime minister, Stephen Harper, talked about anti-Semitism in a speech at the Israeli Knesset. He was the first and only Canadian Prime Minister to do that. In that speech, he named a new anti-Semitism. It uses sophisticated language: words that are acceptable in polite society. That Prime Minister said, “I find it interesting that when I’m in Israel I’m asked to single out Israel. When I’m in the Palestinian Authority I’m asked to single out Israel. And when I am in half the other places around the world you ask me to single out Israel.”
The public displays of hate we have seen lately across Canada have yielded no action, and that is why this bill is important. They have been encouraged by those in the House, those close to it, and those in polite society singling out Israel, as described by the Prime Minister in his speech, as okay.
It was unacceptable to see the flag of the Hamas terror group at an anti-Israel protest in Toronto just before the last election, when Hamas calls for the genocide of Jews in its charter; to see an anti-Israel manual sent to the country's largest school board by somebody on the school board in Toronto; to see the overt Jewish hatred of kids playing hockey for the Avenue Road Ducks, in the largest organized sports league in the city I am from; to see the countless swastikas drawn on schools, playgrounds, parks and homes in my community and communities across the country; or to see an open display of anti-Semitism last week in the streets of Toronto, as a pro-Palestinian rally cheered enthusiastically for rocket attacks on civilians.
It is anti-Semitism dressed up as anti-Zionism and anti-Jewish statehood, and any suggestion that the two are separate is part of the problem. Through this bill, the understanding that the Holocaust is a very unique history and that its denial drives hatred, perhaps someone will choose principle rather than coddling prejudice the next time the opportunity for courage presents itself, and that opportunity will come very soon.
This law is necessary as the number of Holocaust survivors, eyewitnesses to the event, declines. It recedes into history and gets further and further away, and as these views become more mainstream and creep into popular culture, the law will be able to avoid the problem of proving the Holocaust in court before those who deny it are held to account. Members should be aware that this proposal has found its way into the budget. There have been seven years of inaction that have seen anti-Semitism become an even more pervasive problem in this country.
I hope this is not theatre. I hope members will support this bill. From what I have heard tonight, I think that will be the case. I will certainly trust the intentions of what is in the budget, but I hope that members will support this bill.
I will end with this: Ignorance fuels intolerance and, as my colleague said, education is the safeguard of history. We must continue to teach the truth. The passage of this bill would protect that truth.