MP seeks apol­ogy for turn­ing away MS St. Louis in WWII

The Canadian Jewish News (Montreal) - - News - JAN­ICE ARNOLD jarnold@the­jcn.ca

Mount Royal Lib­eral MP An­thony House­fa­ther has asked Canada to is­sue an apol­ogy for re­fus­ing the en­try of over 900 Jewish refugees aboard MS St. Louis in 1939.

House­fa­ther made the re­quest on Jan. 31 dur­ing the House of Com­mons’ emer­gency de­bate on the im­pact of the U.S. ex­ec­u­tive or­der sus­pend­ing im­mi­gra­tion from seven pre­dom­i­nantly Mus­lim coun­tries.

While House­fa­ther said he was “pro­foundly shocked” by these re­stric­tions, his mes­sage was that Cana­di­ans should not con­grat­u­late them­selves on be­ing bet­ter than the Amer­i­cans, and the United States at times in his­tory was more wel­com­ing than Canada.

“I come from the Jewish com­mu­nity. We all re­mem­ber that when the Jewish com­mu­nity needed Canada the most, in the ’30s, when Hitler was in power, the doors of Canada were closed to Jewish refugees,” he said.

In May 1939 peo­ple with visas for Cuba flee­ing Nazi per­se­cu­tion left Ham­burg, Ger­many on the St. Louis, he re­counted. When they ar­rived in Havana har­bour, the Cuban gov­ern­ment re­fused them en­try.

Af­ter the ship failed to find a dock in the United States, ap­peals were made to Canada.

“Then there was just one hope be­fore they went back to Europe, and that was Canada – and Mr. [Fred­er­ick] Blair and Mr. [Macken­zie] King closed the doors of Canada to those refugees,” said House­fa­ther, re­fer­ring to Canada’s then-head of im­mi­gra­tion and prime min­is­ter, re­spec­tively.

In June 1939 the St. Louis sailed back to Europe.

Blair was the of­fi­cial to whom his­to­ri­ans Irv­ing Abella and Harold Troper at­trib­uted the com­ment “none is too many” in ref­er­ence to Jewish refugees.

In the same ad­dress, House­fa­ther also brought up the for­mer Parti Québé­cois gov­ern­ment’s pro­posed ban­ning of re­li­gious at­tire in the pub­lic ser­vice in a charter of val­ues.

“The fact that we lived this only a cou­ple of years ago in my home prov­ince of Que­bec means that Cana­dian gov­ern­ments, pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ments, and politi­cians are no dif­fer­ent here from politi­cians else­where. Peo­ple can al­ways cap­i­tal­ize on xeno­pho­bia. Peo­ple can al­ways spark fear in the pop­u­la­tion,” House­fa­ther said.

A les­son from the St. Louis episode, he con­cluded, is that ex­ec­u­tive or­ders should not ar­bi­trar­ily re­verse what a gov­ern­ment has ap­proved, nor should there be dis­crim­i­na­tion based on asy­lum seek­ers’ coun­try of ori­gin or re­li­gion.

House­fa­ther said his gov­ern­ment should con­sider rais­ing the num­ber of pri­vately spon­sored refugees.

“I think the to­tal num­ber of refugees would have to be an in­ter­na­tional agree­ment be­cause we can­not uni­lat­er­ally re­act to what one coun­try does when we are just one small coun­try of the globe,” he said.

The MS St. Louis was turned away from Canada in 1939.

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