Apologizing for Canada’s rejection of Jews in 1939, Trudeau vows to fight anti-Semitism
Updated: Nov 9, 2018
Washington Post, Emily Rauhala, November 7 at 3:45 PM
OTTAWA — It started as an apology for a shameful chapter in Canadian history and ended with an urgent call to fight anti-Semitism here and now.
On Wednesday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau issued a long-planned apology for the government’s 1939 decision to turn away the M.S. St. Louis, an ocean liner carrying more than 900 German Jews fleeing Europe.
His speech, just over a week after the massacre at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, showed how anti-Semitism shaped Canada’s response to Jewish refugees fleeing Germany.
“Today, I rise in this House of Commons to issue a long overdue apology to the Jewish refugees Canada turned away,” he said in Ottawa.
“We used our laws to mask our anti-Semitism, our antipathy, our resentment. We are sorry for the callousness of Canada’s response. And we are sorry for not apologizing sooner.”
Since taking office, Trudeau has delivered several high-profile apologies, so many that he has faced the charge of apologizing too much. Critics wonder what work an apology does, who benefits and whether saying “sorry” is ever really enough.
But coming soon after what may have been the deadliest attack on Jews in American history, at a time when anti-Semitic memes and conspiracy theories abound, Trudeau’s remarks felt urgent.
“His speech, his words and his apology were very moving and meaningful,” said Avi Benlolo, president of the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies, a Canadian nonprofit organization. “What we appreciated from his speech was his focus on contemporary anti-Semitism.”
The apology connected past to present, showing how the hate that animated Canada’s treatment of Jewish refugees is still ingrained in contemporary politics in Canada, the United States and elsewhere.