Liberals Working on Apology for 1939 Decision to Refuse Ship of Jewish Refugees

By Levitz, Stephanie | The Canadian Press, September 28, 2017 | Go to article overview

Liberals Working on Apology for 1939 Decision to Refuse Ship of Jewish Refugees


Levitz, Stephanie, The Canadian Press


Liberals working on apology for MS St. Louis

--

OTTAWA - The federal Liberals are working on an apology for the Canadian government's decision in 1939 to turn away a boat of German Jews hoping to seek asylum in Canada, The Canadian Press has learned.

Some wanted the apology for the MS St. Louis to come in concert with Wednesday's inauguration of the National Holocaust Monument in Ottawa, but Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made only passing reference to the incident in his speech marking the occasion.

From the monument, Trudeau noted, it is possible to see the Peace Tower. But that's also a reminder that Canada has not always been a welcoming nation.

"May this monument remind us to always open our arms and our hearts to those in need," he said.

The ship had 900 Jews aboard when it was turned away from both Cuba and the United States before a group of Canadians tried to convince then-prime minister Mackenzie King's government to let it dock in Halifax.

While history records King trying to convince Frederick Blair -- director of the immigration branch of the federal Department of Mines and Resources at the time -- to consider their plea, Blair ultimately refused.

The ship returned to Europe. While some passengers were taken in by Belgium, France, Holland and the UK, about 500 ended up back in Germany, half of whom did not survive the Holocaust.

The story of the ship gained renewed attention earlier this year when pictures and stories of the victims circulated on social media in response to U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to ban immigration and refugee settlement from certain countries.

Liberal MP Anthony Housefather also referenced the MS St. Louis during a debate on Trump's travel ban, saying Canada must remember it hasn't been immune to its executives making similar decisions.

"I hope one day a Canadian government will apologize for what happened with the St. Louis," Housefather said at the time.

Trudeau sent a strong signal earlier this year that the government is considering the idea.

When asked during a New York Times interview in June how Canada avoids anti-immigrant sentiment, Trudeau said Canada must acknowledge times in its history when it wasn't a welcoming county.

He raised the MS St. Louis incident as one example among others, such as Canada's refusal to accept a shipload of Sikhs aboard the Komagata Maru in 1914, or the internment of Japanese citizens during the Second World War -- two cases that have since elicited formal apologies. …

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