ARCHIVED – Speaking notes for The Honourable Jason Kenney, P.C., M.P. Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, and Dr. Mario Silva, 2013-14 Chair of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance

At the handover ceremony of the chairmanship of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance

Berlin, Germany
March 5, 2013

As delivered

THE HONOURABLE JASON KENNEY (Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism):

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s a great honour to be here on behalf of the Government of Canada to welcome you to our embassy and to launch Canada’s chairmanship of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.

Seven years ago, shortly after Prime Minister Harper took office, he immediately asked me to pursue Canadian membership in the ITF. It was peculiar that Canada, a champion of pluralism and human dignity, should not have been a founding member of the task force, particularly given our own Holocaust history. Some of you may think that is remote history, and indeed it is in many ways. But Canada’s Holocaust history is a story of tragedy and injustice, but also of redemption.

Before and during the Second World War, Canada adopted what was, according to scholars, perhaps the most exclusionary policy towards European Jewish refugees in the developed world, a policy that became known as the ‘None is Too Many’ policy with the publication of a book of that title by scholars Irving Abella and Harold Troper 30 years ago this month, a policy which, through various means, sought to prevent the admission into Canada of virtually any European Jews fleeing the oncoming Shoah.

This policy was most notoriously manifested in Canada’s refusal to allow the MS St. Louis to enter Canadian waters after it had been rejected of course in Cuba and the United State. The last-ditch effort of the passengers and crew of the MS St. Louis, carrying over 800 European Jewish refugees from Hanover, was to come into port at Halifax.

And a telegraph was sent from Ottawa refusing to allow the ship to enter Canadian waters. Of course, the MS St. Louis then returned to Europe, and many of its passengers went on to be killed in the Shoah.

And that, sadly, reflects the fact that Canada, at most, received a few hundred European Jews between 1936 and 1945.

It is difficult given Canada’s global reputation as a champion of human dignity, and indeed as one of the strongest countries in the world in the past several decades with respect to refugee resettlement, to imagine. But it is a history that we ourselves forgot. Although there was, as I say, a kind of redemption when Canada opened its doors eventually to the survivors of the Shoah, with the exception of Israel and the United States receiving the largest number of Holocaust survivors in the world.

And that is why we are proud this year to take the chairmanship of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.

When we began our work to pursue observer, liaison and then full membership status in the ITF seven years ago, we also began the work of, as Government, of being an uncompromising voice and actor against anti-Semitism in all of its forms, because we see in our own country some manifestations of this new and virulent form of anti-Semitism, which is in every instance based on either ignorance of the Holocaust or the ideological effort to distort the historical record of the Holocaust.

And so it is the view of Canada that Holocaust research, commemoration and education is the essential antidote to both the re-emergence of the old anti-Semitism, and indeed of this new virulent and violent form of new anti-Semitism.

And that is why Canada chaired the Inter-parliamentary Coalition on Combating Antisemitism,  which produced the Ottawa Declaration, which I’ve had the honour of signing on behalf of the Government of Canada and which we propose as a useful tool for defining some of the critical elements in anti-Semitism, including Holocaust denial.

And we have faced up to our own sad history. Our Government was the first in Canadian history to formally recognize the exclusionary policy before and during the war towards European Jewish refugees, and we’ve created a fund that has helped to finance several important research and documentary projects to learn from that period of the St. Louis era. In fact, we funded a large international conference and research project produced by B’nai Brith Canada on the wartime immigration restriction measures against Jews, and most significantly perhaps we’ve created a beautiful monument with the participation from the Canadian Jewish Congress, The Wheel of Conscience, designed by the great architect Daniel Libeskind, which now stands at our new National Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 in Halifax, which is Canada’s Ellis Island.

It is at that place where the German Jews fleeing the Shoah in 1938 aboard the MS St. Louis would have disembarked, would have begun new safe and free lives in Canada. And indeed, we have taken a zero tolerance attitude towards manifestations and expressions of anti-Semitism both in Canada and around the world as something reflected in our foreign policy.

So even though Canada was in some senses remote from the Holocaust, it, too, was deeply touched, and we hope to introduce to many of you when you visit Toronto next October, we hope to introduce you to many of the thousands of survivors who are still with us, many of whom make their homes in Toronto, which I believe has the third or fourth largest population of survivors of any city in the world.

I just came from a trip to Ukraine, where I visited Lviv and Kyiv in part to pursue the potential involvement of Ukraine in the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. This trip brought poignantly home to me the huge relevance of the Alliance. Some may think that this is simply sharing scholarship in a remote kind of fashion between academics and intellectuals, but my trip to Ukraine reminds me of how urgent it is that the Alliance expands its ambit and includes countries who still have not come to terms with their own history in the Shoah.

This past weekend I visited a small town in Galicia near Lviv called Sambir, one of some 600 mass graves of the victims of the Holocaust of Solitz in today’s Ukraine, at the centre of what the late blessed John Paul II referred to as the century of tears and what has now been called by Timothy Snyder the Bloodlands of Central Europe.

And in this small town, there are three mass graves unmarked until recently, when the local town council erected three large crosses atop mass graves containing some 2,000 Jewish victims of a massacre that occurred on Passover in 1943.

I could hardly imagine seeing local residents of that town, including children, passing by these mass graves in obvious ignorance of what had transpired there 70 years ago. And indeed, even they may think it’s some kind of a tribute with these large crosses to Ukrainian partisans during the Second World War, knowing nothing about the Jewish civilization that existed in Sambir and all through Eastern Europe before the Shoah.

And so it seems to me that our task, the task of the Alliance, is to ensure that we, by sharing our best practices, by providing positive moral encouragement, we work to ensure that the children of Sambir in the future will know what happened there, will pass by an appropriately marked memorial, will learn in school that the Holocaust happened in their own midst, in their own communities.

I also came from a trip a few weeks ago in Turkey, where I met with the Jewish community in Istanbul, whose primary request to me was for Canada, through Canada’s chairmanship, to encourage Turkish engagement in the Alliance, because they said it’s so critically important in that country that young people begin to learn the history of the Holocaust.

And so, on behalf of the Government of Canada, I want to thank all of those who have worked on this, including the Belgian chairmanship, for the Alliance in its past many years, but I want to express our desire to energize and constantly renew and expand this important work.

Finally, I’m really glad to introduce to you our chairman for the coming year, Dr. Mario Silva.

Dr. Silva is a distinguished Canadian, a former parliamentarian, a former partisan adversary of mine, although I have to say a very friendly one, and while we disagreed from time to time we never did so disagreeably.

Mario is highly regarded for his work in combating anti-Semitism, and the Holocaust commemoration, and in fact helped to organize the Inter-parliamentary Coalition to Combat Anti-Semitism in Ottawa where he was Vice-Chair of the Steering Committee. And Mario has formerly served on the City Council of Toronto, Canada’s largest city, speaks several languages, recently completed his doctorate, and is I think one of the most decorated former Canadian parliamentarians, having received France’s Ordre national de la légion d’honneur, the Order of Rio Branco from Brazil, and the Order of Merit of Portugal, the country of his birth.

He is a very highly regarded Canadian. He is deeply committed to the work of the Alliance, and I would like to thank him for his service. Please join with me in welcoming the 2013-14 Chair of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, Dr. Mario Silva.

DR. MARIO SILVA (2013-14 Chair, International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance):

Thank you very much, Minister. Merci beaucoup. Thank you for your kind words. 

Permit me to begin by offering my congratulations and gratitude to Ambassador Jan Deboutte for his exceptional leadership at the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance over the past year.

I would like to publicly acknowledge what a special honour it has been to work with you over the last year. Under Ambassador Deboutte’s guidance and leadership, we have met a number of challenges, including the clarification of the legal status of the IHRA in the implementation process of the new name.

We are also pleased that the Ambassador took the time during this busy year to visit three cities in Canada during the Holocaust Education Week. Thank you, Ambassador Deboutte.

It is reassuring to know that we continue to rely upon your support, along with that of our good friend, the United Kingdom, who will also assume the chair in March 2014.

In this regard, I would like to thank Sir Andrew Burns for his presence here today. It is very much appreciated and I look forward to working closely with you.

While Canada may indeed be a recent member of the IRHA, this fact in no way diminishes our deep and abiding commitment to the IHRA and the honourable principles of the Stockholm Declaration.

Our Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, and Minister Jason Kenney have taken a very personal interest in the IHRA and its mission. As Minister Kenney noted in Oslo in 2009 during the meeting in which Canada became a full member of the ITF, it is, as the Minister said, important to be engaged in efforts to teach future generations the lessons of the Holocaust and help prevent future acts of genocide.

I am honoured to note that within Canada, all of our major political parties share this commitment. Indeed, our national Parliament unanimously endorsed the construction of a national Holocaust monument in Ottawa. This effort has now commenced and we look forward to sharing with all of you our progress in the coming year.

As IHRA chair, I will work with delegates and IHRA member states, observer countries and permanent observers. Permit me to take a moment to share with you several of Canada’s goals for our chairmanship.

We will build upon the multi-year work plans formulated by experts and advanced under the leadership of Ambassador Deboutte.

We’ll pursue partnerships with other international bodies to better align our efforts and are grateful for the participation of IHRA, observers, namely the UN, OSCE, UNESCO, the Claims Conference, Council of Europe and the European Charter for Fundamental Rights.

I will visit IHRA observer countries, including Portugal, Macedonia, Bulgaria and Turkey to encourage their ascension to full membership.

We will continue to outreach to non-IHRA states. For example, prior to arriving in Berlin, I was in Ukraine with Minister Kenney. It’s a key region of Holocaust history and, while not yet a member state, it has expressed interest in IHRA’s work. Over the coming year I will work to strengthen that relationship with the support of Canada’s large and engaged Ukrainian Diaspora.

Allow me to take this opportunity to personally thank Minister Kenney for his advocacy and support of IHRA during the most recent visit in Ukraine. Canada’s chairmanship of IHRA is in large part due to his leadership.

We’ll also develop during my chairmanship greater transparency and communication of IHRA priorities and progress. We believe there is a potential for a standardized annual chairman’s report to highlight initiatives in member states, IHRA-funded projects and efforts of expert working groups.

Through IHRA’s Standing Committee on Anti-Semitism and Holocaust Denial, we will encourage support of the Ottawa Protocol developed in 2010 when Canada hosted the Inter-parliamentary Coalition to Combat Anti-Semitism.

Over the coming year, a number of national initiatives will mark the Canadian chair year aimed at increasing understanding of the Holocaust across Canada.

The Government of Canada will provide funding to help preserve survivors’ testimony. Our country has profoundly been shaped by the 4,000 Holocaust survivors who settled in Canada after the war. Survivors have been a vital component of Holocaust education in Canada and preserving their testimony is crucial as a move to a post-survivor environment.

In acknowledgement of the vital contributions teachers make, we will present a national award to an educator who demonstrates best practices in Holocaust education.

We will continue our Government’s efforts to commemorate Jewish Canadian experiences under Canada’s restrictive immigration policies. Throughout 2013, travelling exhibits will bring attention to the internment of Jewish refugees in Canada during World War II and the tragic story of the MS St. Louis.

An international academic conference at the University of Toronto in October will target young scholars and emerging scholarship. And our national institution, Libraries and Archives Canada, will also develop a research guide on their Holocaust-era records and how they can be accessed.

All of this work is being guided by a National Advisory Council that I co-chair with Senator Linda Frum. The Council includes experts from across Canada, including academics, museum directors, CEOs, and leaders from within the Jewish community.

I would like to acknowledge the presence of three members of that Council here today: Mr. Joseph Gottdenker is a Holocaust survivor and a major philanthropist. Through his generous support, the new International Seminars Wing at the International School of Holocaust Studies at Yad Vashem opened a year ago. We’re delighted that he is here with us.

Mr. Ludwik Klimkowski, Vice President of the Canadian Polish Congress, is also a distinguished member of the Advisory Council.

And finally, Dr. Frank Chalk from Concordia University is here. Dr. Chalk is the Director of the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies.

Looking ahead, I plan to visit a number of states to speak with delegations and listen to their views on how best to move the IHRA and the Stockholm Declaration forward.

I will also participate in events surrounding significant anniversaries, such as the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising in Poland. This is a particularly important event to commemorate. The courage and the bravery of those who rose up was unfortunately met with silence and seeming neutrality from much of the world at the time.

I am reminded of the words that Elie Wiesel said: “We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

Part of our work is to ensure that the world never responds in silence or neutrality again to the acts of oppressors, and our task in this regard is to begin by ensuring that generations alive today and to come will indeed always remember.

In May, I will attend the Global Forum to Combat Anti-Semitism in Jerusalem, an organization which many of you know works to fight the growing expression of anti-Semitism and other forms of racism around the world.

And in all of this, I am happy to have the support of Dr. Kathrin Meyer, the Executive Secretary of the Permanent Office, and of the team of professionals she leads.

I thank you, ladies and gentlemen. I look forward to welcoming you in Canada, in Toronto, next October.

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