Mr Speaker, it is an honour and a pleasure to rise today to speak in support of Bill S-232, the Canadian Jewish heritage month act. This proposed legislation is the product of a partnership jointly sponsored by Senator Linda Frum and my hon. colleague from York Centre. I join in the multi-partisan support of Bill S-232 with the hon. member for Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke.
The proposed legislation received unanimous support in the other place, and I hope that this House will follow suit. The preamble of Bill S-232 remarks that Canada is home to the fourth-largest Jewish population in the world of approximately 400,000 men, women, and children.
Some of my colleagues, or the folks watching at home, might have noticed that when Statistics Canada reported the 2016 numbers on Canada's ethnic makeup that more than half of the Jewish population in Canada who were reported in 2011 seemed to have disappeared. That 2016 StatsCan census report of a drop of almost 200,000 people would have been the largest such drop for any ethnic group in history, if it had been accurate. Leaders of Canada's Jewish organizations immediately protested that the shrinkage was grossly inaccurate, and they were correct. Subsequent investigation revealed that the problem was a product of StatsCan's own misdesigned survey, which left the term “Jewish” off the list of examples of ethnic origins for respondents to check off. The new survey design did not reflect reality, but it did reveal the very different ways that the community today answers the age-old question of how to define Jewish.
Members of the Canadian Jewish community self-identify in different ways across various levels of observance, whether individuals see their identity as religious, linguistic, ethnic, or as a cultural affiliation. Therefore, how do we get the community's numbers right as we consider this piece of historic legislation?
Jewish community leaders are asking Statistics Canada to redraw the 2021 census design and restore the term "Jewish" to the list of examples offered to respondents. By 2021, I think it is safe to suggest that the true measure of Canada's diverse Jewish community will be restored and shown to be approaching fully half a million. With that clarification on the record, I will address the significant contributions that the Canadian Jewish community has made to the growth and prosperity of Canada, even while enduring and overcoming tremendous obstacles.
Jews have lived in Canada for more than two and a half centuries. The first recorded arrivals settled in Trois-Rivières, Quebec, in 1760. Most of the early Jewish families, who came from central and western Europe, settled in Quebec. In 1832, a full quarter of a century before Great Britain and its other dominions, the parliament of Quebec and the Legislative Assembly of Lower Canada voted to enfranchise, give full rights, to Jews living in Lower Canada.
Jewish immigration to Canada increased after Confederation, with immigrants arriving from eastern Europe, Russia, Romania, Poland, Lithuania, and beyond, fleeing political turmoil and, of course, anti-Semitism. They settled in Montreal, Toronto, and Winnipeg initially, building their own small businesses. From those humble beginnings with pushcarts and recycled rags, the schmatta trade developed major garment companies, employing thousands of Canadians in eastern Canada, but in the west as well.
Immigration slowed in the mid-1920s, as federal immigration regulations made it more difficult for Jews to enter Canada until after the Second World War when the world belatedly recognized the horrors of the Holocaust. This was the time of Canada's infamous “none is too many” immigration policy that was applied against Jews.
Between 1933 and 1948, for example, and this statistic has been noted a number of times, only 5,000 Jewish refugees were admitted to Canada, the lowest number for any western country at that time. When Canada finally properly reopened our doors to post-war immigration, thousands of Holocaust survivors, displaced from countries across Europe, came to settle in Canada. More than 12,000 settled immediately in Montreal and another 8,000 in Toronto.
Subsequent waves of Jewish immigration to Canada resulted from political persecution in their home countries, from Hungary after the 1956 revolution, from Iraq and from Egypt, from Romania in the 1960s, along with Sephardic Jews from France and North Africa. In the 1970s, Jews began to arrive from the Soviet Union, very often as a result of Canadian advocacy on their behalf. As well through the 1970s and 1980s, North African Jews, particularly from Morocco, arrived in a new wave of immigrants adding wonderfully to the spectrum of Canada's Jewish community, as anyone who has attended the exuberant post-Passover festival of Mimouna at Thornhill Sephardic Kehila Centre can attest.
Over the recent years particularly, there have been the arrivals of a high-tech generation of Jews from Israel and from eastern Europe. They are scientists, innovators, and entrepreneurs who have come to Canada to share their skills, to grow their companies, to flourish in Canada, and to contribute to Canadian society and to our economy.
All of that said, despite the diverse and dynamic community of Jewish communities, the scourge of the original hate crime, anti-Semitism, remains. We were reminded in the most recent audits of anti-Semitism by B'nai Brith and Statistics Canada that documented the highest levels of nationwide anti-Semitism on record. Michael Mostyn, the chief executive of B'nai Brith Canada, said recently, “Canadians from coast to coast have seen the swastikas, heard the anti-Jewish hate speech, and now have access to the statistics”. Mr. Mostyn commended Statistics Canada for the release of data that will aid both government policy-makers and advocacy groups, working with police and prosecutors and government officials, to tackle the ever-persistent presence of hate crimes. Every member of the House would agree with that sentiment.
Finally, back to Bill S-232, as the preamble says:
Whereas the Canadian Jewish community has made significant contributions to the growth and prosperity of Canada while overcoming tremendous obstacles;
Whereas the month of May is meaningful for the Jewish community around the world;
Whereas, by designating the month of May as Canadian Jewish Heritage Month, the Parliament of Canada recognizes the important contributions that Jewish Canadians have made to Canada’s social, economic, political and cultural fabric;
And whereas Canadian Jewish Heritage Month would provide an opportunity to remember, celebrate and educate future generations about the inspirational role that Jewish Canadians have played and continue to play in communities across the country;
For all of these reasons and for the powerful logic underpinning the initiative of Bill S-232, I would encourage all of my hon. colleagues to support this very worthy piece of legislation.