Today the Prime Minister of Canada is scheduled to apologize on behalf of Canada for turning away the MS St. Louis and its 907 Jewish passengers in 1939. At the time, these Jews were fleeing persecution and the imminent threat of the Nazis and the anti-Semitic violence. At the time, our then Prime Minister MacKenzie King did not allow the 907 Jews to dock in Halifax and they were turned away.
In the years leading up to and including the Second World War, the Canadian government heeded anti-Semitic sentiment by severely restricting Jewish immigration. From 1933 to 1945, only about 5,000 Jewish refugees were accepted due to what Trudeau called “our discriminatory ‘none is too many’ immigration policy” in place at the time.
The Jewish refugees on the ship were forced to return to Europe, where 254 of those aboard eventually died in the slaughter that became the Holocaust.
Now, about 79 years later, Trudeau will stand in the House of Commons and apologize to those refugees.
On behalf of all Canadians, PM Trudeau is apologizing to try to make things right. In an analysis by Prof Howard-Hassmann, she acknowledged that some apologies include compensation while others may be done for political reasons. For this apology, it does not appear that the Government of Canada will be offering any compensation.
Timing is Everything
On its face, Trudeau’s apology and acknowledging that what happened was wrong and it should never have happened is a step in the right direction. On the other hand, Trudeau is not making any policy changes, legal changes or any other concrete action.
In this case, however, timing is key. This apology is in the context of the shooting at the synagogue in Pittsburgh. It seems that Trudeau’s apology was scheduled before the attack but the recent circumstances highlight the importance of recognizing current anti-Semitic sentiment.
As noted by Global:
The latest figures on hate crimes from Statistics Canada show the Jewish population was the most frequent target of religiously motivated hate crimes in 2016.
Anti-Semitic incidents increased 24 per cent that year. B’nai Brith Canada said 2017 saw another increase.
The timing of this apology confirms that hate crimes against Jews was an issue in 1939 and it remains an issue in 2018.