ARCHIVED – Speaking notes for The Honourable Jason Kenney, P.C., M.P. Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism

At an event to announce a special Award for Excellence in Holocaust Education

Toronto, Ontario
January 27, 2013

As delivered

It’s a great privilege to be with you here as we mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which was recognized by the United Nations a few years ago. It took them long enough, but thankfully it is an international commemoration. And it’s a commemoration that falls on the anniversary of the liberation of the camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau.

As I mentioned at an event earlier today, at the Holocaust Remembrance Day annual lecture at the University of Toronto cosponsored by the UJA Centre for Holocaust Education, I was actually at Auschwitz-Birkenau on the first year of this annual global commemoration – four years ago, for the 65th anniversary of the liberation of the camps. It was a remarkably frigid day, about 35 below zero and I’ll never forget seeing survivors in their 80s bundled up against the frigid cold Polish winter – coming out, probably putting their health at risk in extreme circumstances, but of course coming back to the site of hell on Earth. And I will never forget the sight of these people, with their endless courage, willing to go back to this place to remember.

It deepened for me what is too often a cliché about our duty to remember. Canada’s history and relationship to the Holocaust is a somewhat remote one, but a real one nevertheless. We know, thanks to the research of Irving Abella and Harold Troper, that Canada had a policy of “None is Too Many” towards the European Jewish refugees before entering the war: A shameful history that was one of quasi-official anti-Semitism. If you read the archival material, any reasonable person would have to draw that inference. The deliberate rejection of the European Jewish refugees before and during the war was motivated in some measure by a reflection of a popular anti-Semitism that was under the surface.

As Canadians, we constantly celebrate our successful model of pluralism, what we call our multiculturalism. We regard ourselves as a paragon of human rights. We are, it’s true, a leader in refugee protection and resettlement. While all of those things are true, they were not always so. And it is terribly important that we hear the voices of the survivors, of their children, that we see the hard evidence. And we do it particularly at a time around the world and yes, here in Canada, when we do see signs of a resurgence of the old anti-Semitism, and perhaps more worryingly, a virulent and violent form of new anti-Semitism.

That is why our government has placed such an emphasis on Holocaust commemoration, education and research, beginning with our acknowledgement of the policy of exclusion of Jews before and during the war. We have established, partnering with Canadian Jewish Congress, a national memorial to the passengers of the MS St. Louis – some 843 passengers whose rejection by the Dominion government from entering the Port of Halifax in 1938 after having been refused in Cuba and Miami, in a very tangible way, symbolizes the rejectionist and implicit anti-Semitism of Canada’s immigration policy at that time.

So we’ve established a national monument to the passengers of the St. Louis at our new National Museum for Immigration in Halifax at Pier 21. We have made a huge investment, over $100-million, in the construction of the National Human Rights Museum in Winnipeg, whose core of course will be the commemoration of the Shoah. We’ve contributed to Holocaust education centres around the country. We have contributed to research in this area, as part of our redress for the exclusionary policy before and during the war. We invested several million dollars in research projects, including some led by B’nai B’rith at the University of Toronto, into the policy of exclusion.

Perhaps most importantly, we led the way to Canada’s membership in what was then known as the Task Force for International Co-operation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research, now newly named the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. Canada is now in its fourth year of membership in that organization and I’m pleased to tell you that Canada this year, beginning in March, will become the International Chair of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, under the capable leadership of Dr. Mario Silva.

We have sought that chairmanship to reflect our growing leadership as a country that is willing to put our own interests at risk by speaking bluntly and frankly about the emergence of the new anti-Semitism around the world. We believe that Holocaust education is an essential antidote to the spread of this virulent form of anti-Semitism. And we believe the International Alliance is an important vehicle to deliver that antidote, through sharing best practices around the world, but also by expanding the number of countries that take Holocaust education commemoration and research seriously.

For example, I hope that in this spring, I’ll be visiting Ukraine with Dr. Silva to strongly encourage that country to join the International Alliance, because some of our friends in Eastern Europe, such as Ukraine, need a little bit of help and encouragement to come to terms with their own history in the Holocaust.

Similarly, there are countries where we see this new form of anti-Semitism that also desperately need to learn the lessons of the Shoah. In fact, I was just in Turkey, where I met with the Jewish community in Istanbul, who were pleading with us to accelerate Turkey’s accession to the International Alliance. Because of the complicated relationship today between Turkey and the state of Israel, they desperately want to see Holocaust education curriculum material introduced into the school, so that young boys and girls going to school in Turkey today and in the future know that there was a Holocaust, and maybe then will understand why there’s an Israel.

These are efforts that we are making to lead both here at home and around the world. I want to thank and acknowledge the brilliant work of Yad Vashem and the Canadian Friends for really leading the way, for being the pillar of Holocaust education and commemoration here in Canada. The work that Fran and all of you have done is inestimable in terms of the commitment that you’ve made, the funds that you have raised to support Yad Vashem and its research and teacher-education programs, and all that it does, not only in Israel, but also to translate that back in a relevant way to Canada, to our schools, to our youth, to our civil society.

So on behalf of the Government of Canada, let me thank all of the directors, the volunteers, the donors, the staff and everyone at the Canadian Friends of Yad Vashem for the leadership that you have provided. It’s remarkable, and I think one of the reasons it’s happened is really what comes from the fact that while we had this terrible history of implicit anti-Semitism before and during the war, in some sense Canada redeemed itself following the war, opening up the doors of Canada as a land of refuge to tens of thousands of Holocaust survivors and their children, such that we became, after Israel and the United States, the largest recipient of Holocaust survivors.

And the plurality of them settled here in Toronto, and right in this part of Toronto. So here we are in the heart of one of the post-war communities of survivors around the world. And it is their presence, their dignified and quiet witness which impels us to do yet more. That’s why I’m pleased to announce that, as part of the many activities that we will be sponsoring throughout the year of Canada’s chairmanship of the International Alliance, and in conjunction with the Alliance, we’re launching an Award for Excellence in Holocaust Education.

With this one-time award, the Government of Canada seeks not only to recognize excellence in this important undertaking, but also to promote education, best practices and the sharing of innovative teaching ideas about the Holocaust. The winner of this award will receive $5,000, to be reinvested in Holocaust education at his or her school. And the top three finalists will have their educational materials published on Citizenship and Immigration Canada’s website as a resource for other teachers and educators.

Anyone interested in the Award for Excellence can get nomination and selection details at the website of my Ministry, and we’ll be accepting nominations until May 15. I encourage teachers to nominate themselves, or any other teacher they know who is committed to Holocaust education and whose teaching philosophy and approach has immeasurable impact on students. This is just one small project of many that we’ll be launching this year around the chairmanship of the Alliance, but we see all of these things as happening in collaboration with the Canadian Friends of Yad Vashem.

Again, on this sombre day of remembrance, as we turn our mind to the greatest crime in human history, let us always be inspired by the symbols of hope that the survivors are. Although many of their lives, in ways both quiet and not so quiet, were tortured and have been filled with grief and coming to terms with that unthinkable experience, they have represented for Canada, now going on six decades, the presence of people of enormous dignity and courage.

So today, we thank them for their witness, for their testimony, and we invite them to use this year of Canada’s chairmanship of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance to renew Canada’s commitment to be a champion for human dignity and an enemy of the most ancient and pernicious form of hatred in human history, anti-Semitism. Thank you.

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