The anti-Semitic history that brought Canada’s MS St. Louis decision to light

Good read on how the history became known:

The telegram reached Prime Minister Mackenzie King as he was escorting the Royal Family in Washington in early June, 1939. Now was the time to show “true Christian charity,” said a group of writers, historians and business people, and let the 907 German Jews of the St. Louis come ashore.

But Mr. King said it was not Canada’s problem and left the matter to officials such as Frederick Blair, the architect of Canada’s restrictive immigration policies, known for his inflexibility. “The line must be drawn somewhere,” Mr. Blair wrote in an internal document.

Almost 80 years later, another Liberal prime minister, Justin Trudeau, will apologize to Canadian Jews after Question Period on Wednesday for turning away the desperate refugees of the St. Louis, hundreds of whom would die in Nazi death camps. The purpose, he said last May, is to draw attention to this country’s failings, “as we vow never to let history repeat itself.”

The broader story – of Canada’s closed-door policy toward the Jews of Europe before, during and even after the war – is by now well-known. But that history, of which the St. Louis forms but one episode, might have slipped down a memory hole if not for a student’s discovery in public archives of that telegram entreating Mr. King to act, as well as memos revealing the chilly rejections that passed between government officials, which she copied and sent to her professor, Harold Troper, at the University of Toronto.

Intrigued, Prof. Troper sought additional expertise. A friend introduced him to Irving Abella, a labour historian. The two went to Ottawa thinking they might write an academic article on Canada’s prewar refugee policy. “We weren’t sure there was any story at all,” said Prof. Troper, still teaching full-time at the age of 76 at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, in an interview. “Once we started digging, we found ourselves with a Niagara Falls of paper.”

They spent four years in archives and conducting interviews from Canada and the United States to Switzerland, Britain and France. The title of their 1982 book, None Is Too Many: Canada and the Jews of Europe, 1933-1948, would be drawn from a remark by an anonymous government official, at a press briefing after the war, about how many Jews were now to be admitted into the country. “It was a sense of uncovering a scab,” Prof. Abella, 77, a professor emeritus of history at York University, said of the research. “We discovered how deep the commitment was to keep Jews out of Canada.”

The scholarly partnership came naturally to the two academics. Prof. Troper’s father was a garment worker, and Prof. Abella’s father ran a restaurant serving dairy meals to garment workers. Both had lost relatives in the Holocaust. (A “cascade of death,” Prof. Troper called it, in his family and that of his neighbours.) Prof. Abella had married a child of survivors, born in a refugee camp in Germany in 1946. (Rosalie Abella is now a Supreme Court justice, the first refugee to hold that post.)

“I was a Jewish kid raised in Toronto with a PhD in history,” Prof. Troper said. “It had never occurred to me … what Canada’s role in the unfolding events might be.”

In all, Canada took in fewer than 5,000 Jewish refugees between 1933 and 1945, a period in which the United States (which also turned the St. Louis away) accepted 200,000 and Britain 70,000 (plus another 125,000 into British-administered Palestine). As for the refugees on the St. Louis, they were taken in by Britain, the Netherlands, France and Belgium – but were ultimately safe only in Britain. Two hundred and fifty-four died in death camps.

Prof. Troper recalls finding appeals from European Jews to a Jewish immigrant aid agency, who understood Canada was closed to them but enclosed photographs of their children.

“I was so caught up seeing parents trying to give away their children so they would have a chance at life.” He went home early from his research that day, overwhelmed.

“You read many of the documents, there are anti-Semitic comments – as if they’re talking about the weather,” Prof. Abella said. “It was just normal conversation. And this was a time when anti-Semitism was current in Canada. There were no Jewish university professors in all of Canada in the 1930s. There were no Jewish doctors in hospitals. No judges who were Jewish.”

Prof. Troper says he will never forget an interview with Malcolm John MacDonald, who had been British High Commissioner in Ottawa. “He told us the year he spent in Ottawa he had never seen such anti-Semitism in all his life.”

“Nobody cared,” Prof. Abella said. “Jews were a marginal issue. There was never a full cabinet discussion about Jews. It was always talked about at the tail end of meetings, sotto voce.”

Quebec was an important influence on the government’s policy, he said. “Quebec was opposed to all immigration because it felt that its influence in Confederation would be undermined. And since Jews at that time were the most visible of the minorities allowed into Canada, [Quebec] led the campaign against Jewish immigration and threatened Mackenzie King with separation, with a crisis in Confederation.”

But it was Mr. King – in power for most of the 1920s and from 1935-48 – and his cabinet who were ultimately responsible for closing Canada’s doors, the authors wrote. The PM’s diary records his sympathy for the racial ideas emanating from Nazi Germany: He feared “too great an intermixture of foreign strains of blood.”

A pro-refugee petition from the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, Dec. 7, 1943.

UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO PRESS

The work of the two professors had an immediate impact. At a time when Vietnamese refugees were fleeing their country in boats, Canada’s top-ranking immigration official, Jack Manion, read their academic article, published long before the book, and gave it to the immigration minister, Ron Atkey.

”This should not be you,” he told Mr. Atkey, who then spoke passionately about it to cabinet. “He drew the parallels to our attention, was moved by it himself, and we all were,” Joe Clark, who was then prime minister of a Progressive Conservative government, said in a 2015 interview with The Globe and Mail. Mr. Clark then increased Canada’s resettlement of the Vietnamese refugees to 50,000 from 12,000. And on that resettlement program, widely viewed as a success, the current government modelled its intake of 50,000-plus Syrian refugees over the past three years.

Mr. Trudeau’s apology comes 10 days after a gunman, apparently angry about Jewish efforts to help refugees from Central America, shot 11 Jews dead at a Pittsburgh synagogue.

“For the guy who did the shooting in Pittsburgh,” Prof. Troper said, “when it comes to Jews and refugees, none continues to be too many.”

Source: The anti-Semitic history that brought Canada’s MS St. Louis decision to light

Trudeau to offer formal apology in the Commons for fate of MS St. Louis

Will be interesting to see if any of the groups that suffered from wartime internment or other restrictions (e.g., Ukrainian, German and Italian Canadians) will ask for an apology (Japanese Canadians, given the nature of their internment and displacement, received their apology under the Mulroney government).

This apology completes the most obvious cases of immigration restrictions which merit an apology (Chinese Canadians for the head tax, Indo-Canadians for the Komagatu Maru):

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will deliver another official apology in the House of Commons, this time over the fate of the MS St. Louis.

“When Canada denied asylum to the 907 German Jews on board the MS St. Louis, we failed not only those passengers, but also their descendants and community,” Trudeau said in a statement, which doesn’t say when he plans to deliver the apology.

The prime minister said that while an apology can’t change Canada’s history or bring back those who lost their lives, acknowledging the result of the decision to turn away the MS St. Louis — the deaths of 254 people in the Holocaust — is key to learning from the past.

“It is our collective responsibility to acknowledge this difficult truth, learn from this story, and continue to fight against anti-Semitism every day, as we give meaning to the solemn vow: ‘Never again,'” Trudeau said. “I look forward to offering this apology on the floor of the House.”

In 1939, the St. Louis left Germany carrying 907 Jewish passengers fleeing persecution from the Nazi regime. The ship was turned away from Cuba and the United States before trying to dock in Halifax.

When the government of William Lyon Mackenzie King refused to let them disembark, the ship returned to Europe.

About half the passengers were taken in by the U.K., the Netherlands, France and Belgium. About 500 of them returned to Germany, where 254 were killed in concentration and internment camps.

Source: Trudeau to offer formal apology in the Commons for fate of MS St. Louis

How to apologize, the National Geographic way: Denise Balkissoon

Good commentary:

Everybody’s saying sorry these days, for transgressions old and new, big and small. Earlier this month, Canadian singer Jacob Hoggard, of the band Hedley, joined the list of high-profile men issuing apologies for their past treatment of women after an accusation of sexual assault.

The President of Poland apologized for the 1968 expulsion of Jewish people from the country, and The Chronicle-Journal newspaper in Thunder Bay apologized for a headline that made fun of a wave of assaults on Indigenous people.

None of this went over well.

In every case, observers accused the apologizers of acting insincerely: of being more sorry that they got caught than of their hurtful actions, of offering hollow mea culpas without committing to meaningful change. There was, though, one admission of guilt widely considered sincere and it was made by National Geographic.

This week, the 130-year-old magazine published its April issue, on the topic of race. Alongside stories about twins born with different skin tones and a lengthy, genetics-based explanation of why race doesn’t really exist, it included an editor’s letter with a headline that made a stark admission: For Decades, Our Coverage Was Racist. To Rise Above Our Past, We Must Acknowledge It.

Identifying herself as the magazine’s first female, Jewish editor-in-chief, Susan Goldberg details the findings of historian John Edwin Mason, whom she enlisted to parse how the magazine’s historical coverage has presented race and ethnicity. He found that it often ignored the voices and movements of African-Americans and other communities of colour in the United States, while presenting non-white people around the world as exotic, primitive creatures with inferior intellect.

“National Geographic comes into existence at the height of colonialism and the world was divided into the colonizers and the colonized,” Mr. Mason said. “That was a colour line and National Geographic was reflecting that view of the world.”

After unashamedly dissecting the past, Ms. Goldberg promised a future full of writing, photograph and videos made by a true diversity of creators. This month’s contributors’ masthead is encouraging.

The issue is meant to commemorate, on April 4, the 50th anniversary of the assassination of civil-rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. It’s a fitting occasion to look at the realities, rather than the ideals, of racial justice. Since his death, Dr. King has often been, well, white-washed: depicted as a kind, hand-holding teddy bear willing to spend his lifetime coaxing white Americans into sharing.

It’s common for people uncomfortable with discussions of race to simplify Dr. King’s work. Too often, his dream that “people … not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character” is invoked as a way to avoid grappling with the privileges and responsibilities of whiteness.

But Dr. King was very clear that he didn’t find good intentions to be of much use in the fight for civil rights. When criticized by white clergy for direct-action tactics, such as sit-ins, the Baptist minister sharply condemned their unwillingness to disturb their own comfort, which he saw as complicity in black oppression.

“I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block is not … the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate,” he wrote in his 1963 Letter From a Birmingham Jail, published the same year as his more famous Nobel acceptance speech. “Shallow understanding by people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding by people of ill will,” he added.

It seemed fairly shallow this week when actor-producers Ben Affleck and Matt Damon announced future projects by their production company Pearl Street will have an “inclusion rider.” A concept introduced to the wider world by Frances McDormand when she picked up her Oscar, an inclusion rider is a requirement by the biggest players on a movie that various types of diversity be represented among cast and crew.

Such targets are a great idea, but these BFF-bros have multiple failings on the diversity front to atone for – such as when Mr. Damon mansplained diversity to black producer Effie Brown; or when Mr. Affleck coerced Henry Louis Gates Jr. into concealing the movie star’s relatives’ slave-owning past, leading to questions about the integrity of Prof. Gates’s geneological TV show, Finding Your Roots. Before attempting to change the system, they need to admit their place in it.

As National Geographic has shown, change begins at home. The magazine’s broad approach to rectifying its past is promising because it recognizes both individual actions and a larger system. As the age of apologies rolls on, it’s a good example to follow.

via How to apologize, the National Geographic way – The Globe and Mail

Reflecting on the Canadian government’s apology to Japanese-Canadians | Paul Kariya

28 years after, Kariya, one of the negotiators for the apology, reflects:

What heinous crime was committed that necessitated such harsh treatment with no recourse to justice?  The War Measures Act was employed to infringe human rights and property title and brand these people enemy aliens.  Although the cloak of national security was used to justify the government actions, no evidence has ever been found of sabotage or espionage on the part of any Japanese-Canadian.

 Canada was at war with Japan, Italy and Germany. But the same actions were not taken against all residents of Italian and German descent.  Why Japanese-Canadians?  The instigation and motivation was racism and economic opportunism led by a small number of politicians and other interest groups who used the Second World War as a cover to whip up hysteria and manipulate government to destroy a vibrant, peaceful and contributing community.

Only a few institutions of society opposed the mass uprooting, suggesting it was wrong and unjust.  Municipal governments, political parties, labour unions, service clubs and mainstream churches either led the charge or passively stood by.  Only the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation Party and some evangelical churches said it was wrong.

Could this happen again?  I don’t think so. The Japanese-Canadian community helped draft the emergency Measures Act (successor to the War Measures Act) and today we have a Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  But as we see in the current U.S. election campaign, the ugliness of racism can emerge in seemingly legitimate circumstances.

The only other group of people treated racially in this manner in B.C. with far more devastating impacts and horrors were First Nations peoples.  And despite progress in health, education and economic development, are we really dealing with the very difficult fundamental subject that a past mentor, the late James Gosnell, Nisga’a leader, named 40 years ago, as “the Land Question.”

My father and mother never got their house, fishing boat or possessions back.  The Custodian of Enemy Alien Property was supposed to keep all confiscated private properties in trust for later return, but instead these were almost all immediately sold off.  It was heart breaking to have my father point out to a twelve year old me, “that boat named Marine K used to be ours.”

In 1988 symbolic individual compensation of $21,000 was awarded to surviving internees. But of course, title, property, possessions, lives and communities could not be returned.

I expect reconciliation with First Nations in B.C. will not see all former lands and resources returned. But we can pick up the pace to resolve the injustices through negotiation.

Let me say, I have never felt prouder to be a Canadian than when Prime Minister Brian Mulroney turned to us in the House of Commons Gallery that September day in 1988 and introduced us Japanese-Canadians and then proceeded to read the government’s apology.

Source: Reflecting on the Canadian government’s apology to Japanese-Canadians | Vancouver Sun

Justin Trudeau to apologize for historic persecution of gay Canadians

Working the way through the needed apology list:

As early as this autumn, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will apologize on behalf of all Canadians to those who were imprisoned, fired from their jobs or otherwise persecuted in the past because of their sexuality.

That apology is a key element in a broad range of reforms that will collectively represent one of the greatest advances for sexual minorities in Canada’s history.

“This is a long-awaited moment and a very emotional moment, to be honest,” said Helen Kennedy, executive director of Egale, a national organization that advocates for the rights of sexual minorities. “For the government to recognize the damage that it caused, the harm that it caused, to thousands and thousands of Canadians is a historic moment for our communities.”

The Globe and Mail has learned of the planned reforms from numerous sources within and outside the government.

In essence, the Liberals have decided to act on most or all of the recommendations of The Just Society, a report submitted to the government in June by Egale. The title refers to former prime minister Pierre Trudeau’s program for rights protection and social reform.

Those recommendations include:

  • Apologizing to people who were convicted of gross indecency for committing homosexual acts in the years before 1969, when same-sex acts between consensual adults were decriminalized. Those convictions will be pardoned, expunged or in some other fashion stricken from the records of those convicted;
  • Apologizing to those who were dismissed from the public service, discharged from the military or otherwise discriminated against in government work because they were homosexual. It was only in the 1990s that the federal government ceased efforts to identify and expel homosexuals in the military;
  • Eliminating the difference in the age of consent for sexual acts. The current age of consent is 16, but it is 18 for anal intercourse, which discriminates against and stigmatizes young homosexuals.
  • Examining whether and how to compensate those who suffered past discrimination because of who they were or whom they loved. This could involve individual compensation and/or funding for programs or services;
  • Requiring all police officers or others who work in the justice system to receive human-rights training, with an emphasis on the historic wrong of treating members of sexual minorities as criminals and on the current bias that all too often still exists;
  • Providing similar training to Customs officials, who still are more likely to ban homosexual materials from crossing the border, while permitting their heterosexual equivalents;
  • Implementing procedures to protect the dignity of transgender or intersex persons in prisons or jails;
  • Eliminating laws, such as keeping a bawdy house, that can be used to criminally charge those who visit a bathhouse or who practise group sex.

Some actions can be taken immediately; others will take longer, though the government is committed to fully acting on the Just Society recommendations before the next election.

Source: Justin Trudeau to apologize for historic persecution of gay Canadians – The Globe and Mail

Descendants of Komagata Maru passengers ‘pleased’ by apology

Apologies if made should be done in the House. As former PM Harper discovered, doing so outside satisfies no one (see my earlier Komagatu Maru Apology). Will be particularly powerful with 17 Canadian Sikh MPs:

A century after her great-grandfather was turned away from Canada while on board the Komagata Maru, Sukhi Ghuman will be in the House of Commons this week to hear the Prime Minister apologize for the slight.

“It’s staggering. I don’t think [my great-grandfather] ever thought this moment would come,” says Ms. Ghuman, 36, who will join other descendants of passengers to witness Wednesday’s apology, along with B.C. Premier Christy Clark.

“We’re all just astonished and very pleased Prime Minister [Justin] Trudeau has decided to do a formal apology.”

 Mr. Trudeau will be seeking to make amends for what happened in 1914 when the Komagatu Maru arrived in Vancouver’s harbour from Hong Kong with 376 passengers, mostly Sikhs from India.

Only 24 were allowed to land, while the rest remained on board the ship for two months – victims of the era’s exclusionary laws. The ship’s passengers and crew then returned to India, where 19 people were killed on its arrival in Calcutta in a skirmish with British soldiers. Others were jailed.

Harnam Singh Sohi – Ms. Ghuman’s great-grandfather – came from Punjab hoping to work in Vancouver to provide funds for his family in India and bring them to Canada.

Once the ship returned to India, he forever ruled out returning to Canada.

Former prime minister Stephen Harper apologized in 2008, but not in Parliament. Some who were seeking an apology said few knew about Mr. Harper’s apology until it was over.

On Wednesday, Mr. Trudeau will follow up on a long-standing promise and deliver a formal apology in Parliament.

“The laws that were discriminatory against people considered undesirable were passed in Parliament. So the apology being given in Parliament is a circling back to rectify that original wrong,” says Naveen Girn of Vancouver, who has curated exhibitions about the Komagata Maru at Simon Fraser University and Lower Mainland museums.

Mr. Girn, who will also be in Ottawa for the event, notes that a parliamentary apology means the amends are forever preserved in Hansard, which is important.

Source: Descendants of Komagata Maru passengers ‘pleased’ by apology – The Globe and Mail

Will Japan’s apology to ‘comfort women’ bring closure?

While leave to others the foreign policy and geopolitical dimensions, long overdue apology:

Now, in a landmark agreement this week, Japan has apologized anew for the practice and pledged $8.3-million (U.S.) to a fund set up for survivors in what both sides said was a “final and irreversible resolution.” Does this new agreement have the power to change the course of Asian geopolitics at a time when the U.S. needs a united front against China, or will it join all the other war-time apologies that are issued, criticized, forgotten and buried beneath the remarkably long-lasting, ever-lingering hatreds of East Asia?

The surprise deal was immediately hailed in Japan as a coup for Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who seemed to have finally settled Japan’s grim historical record in Korea, after previously attempting to downplay Japan’s past abuses. This apology was as unambiguous as Mr. Abe was likely to give, offered remorse and considered the immeasurable suffering of the women – rather than trying to justify or fudge the history, as many on Japan’s right still do. The money being pledged also came straight from the Japanese government, which was meant to add an air of formality and officialdom.

But the agreement received a more muted response in Korea, where President Park Geun-hye, who is broadly unpopular, has squeezed anti-Japanese feelings for all they are worth. Former sex slaves and opposition politicians immediately criticized the deal for coming about without the participation of the “comfort women” themselves, for failing to acknowledge legal culpability and for not offering formal financial reparations. Former sex slaves said they were also angry Seoul agreed to discuss with them the possible removal of a statue – placed directly outside the Japanese embassy in Seoul – of a former sex slave sitting next to an empty chair, a symbol of the “comfort women” who died waiting for a full apology from Japan. One group of survivors called the deal “shocking” and said it was an act of “humiliating diplomacy” from Seoul.

Unlike in Europe, which has largely moved on from the scars of the Second World War, memories of Japan’s vicious imperial sweep across much of East and Southeast Asia are still vivid – and influence regional geopolitics to this day. South Korea and Japan still do not share sensitive military information, preferring to rout it through the United States, despite the obviously shared security concerns over China’s growing assertiveness in the region and the perennial problem of North Korea.

The U.S. has constantly urged Tokyo and Seoul over the years to reconcile historical disagreements and move forward in a more united fashion on matters of regional importance such as the Six-Party Talks involving North Korea. In a media briefing, a senior State Department official said the deal could be as transformative to regional relations as the monumental Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade deal between the U.S., Canada, Japan and other Pacific nations.

Some, of course, argue that apologies in international politics are too often counterproductive. The academic Jennifer Lind has noted that reconciliation between nations does not necessarily require a formal apology – let alone many formal apologies, as in Japan’s case – because the apology provides a platform for nationalist elements in both countries to again debate and disagree over the facts.

But laying aside the criticisms of civil-society groups and opposition politicians in both countries, who have an obvious stake in milking the issue forever, the deal marks an enormously positive step in Japanese-Korean relations. Better military co-operation between Japan and South Korea might dampen China’s appetite for territorial disputes over islands in the East and South China seas, and will certainly help the U.S. execute its ongoing pivot to Asia. It will also prevent North Korea from using historical grievances as a convenient wedge to distract and divide the coalition of countries concerned about Pyongyang, and might dissuade the dictatorship from its destabilizing antics.

Japan has already indicated that it is ready to discuss the “comfort women” with Taiwan, though conversations on the issue with Beijing are likely far off. Still, Mr. Abe and Ms. Park – both arch-conservatives who thrive on the support of nationalist elements in their respective countries – will not be in power forever, and leadership transitions might generate additional warmth to thawing relations.

Though imperfect, the deal does represent an attempt to move forward peacefully, without forever nursing the sting of historic abuses. That sort of closure is something northeast Asia desperately needs.

Source: Will Japan’s apology to ‘comfort women’ bring closure? – The Globe and Mail

Behind the Komagata Maru’s fight to open Canada’s border and the Question of an Apology

Fascinating account of the legal battles and the lawyer, J. Edward Bird, regarding the passengers of the Komagata Maru. Well worth reading:

The government’s strategy became clear the very day the Komagata Maru arrived in Vancouver. Health screening, a process normally completed within an hour, followed by immigration board interviews of all passengers, dragged on for days. The ship became a prison – no one was allowed off or on; food and water began to run low. The passengers’ lawyer, J. Edward Bird, was denied the right of access to his clients for weeks.

“I can only surmise that the instructions from the department at Ottawa to the immigration authorities here was to delay matters and delay matters and procrastinate and delay until such time as these people were starved back to their original port from whence they came,” he told a meeting hall packed with both South Asians and whites on June 21. “They talk about socialists and anarchists. There are no set of anarchists in Canada like the immigration officials who defy all law and order.”

Behind the Komagata Maru’s fight to open Canada’s border – The Globe and Mail

Interesting that Leader of the Opposition Tom Mulcair has called for a formal apology in Parliament.

I witnessed PM Harper’s “drive-by” apology in 2008 at the Surrey community picnic and it was not pretty. I quickly came to the conclusion that if governments wished to apologize (without legal liability for events which occurred in the past), the only acceptable way to do so was in Parliament, as was the case for Indian Residential Schools, the Chinese Head Tax, and Japanese WW2 Internment:

As we celebrate Asian Heritage Month this May, we cannot ignore the mistakes of our past — we must remember the history of the Komagata Maru Tragedy.

We must condemn these acts, respectfully, officially, and with sincerity, no matter when they occurred.

That is why New Democrats stand with members of the Indo-Canadian community in their call for an official apology from the Parliament of Canada for the Komagata Maru Tragedy.

In 2012, Canada’s New Democrats presented an Opposition Day Motion calling on Stephen Harper and the Conservatives to deliver an apology long overdue — they refused.

While successive Liberal and Conservative governments have failed to do the right thing, the NDP has always advocated for an apology.

Today, we renew our call.

Let’s not wait another 100 years to do the right thing — it’s time for the government to act now.

Mulcair: 100 years after Komagata Maru tragedy, Parliament’s apology is overdue | Toronto Star.