Seeking Canada’s Long Overdue Apology

Since 1988, successive Canadian governments have formally (save in one instance) apologised for the  various wrong-doings perpetrated by previous governments to against a number of groups.

To date, such apologies have been made to: the Japanese-Canadians interned during WWII as “enemy aliens” (1988); the Canadians of Italian origin interned following Italy’s 1940 declaration of war against the United Kingdom, also for being “enemy aliens” (an informal apology was extended in 1990- matter remains incomplete); the Chinese community for imposing a Head Tax on them  at the turn of the 20th century (2006); the various Amer-Indian nations of Canada for forcing their children to attend  a residential school system established by the government with the object of securing their complete assimilation into the “white culture and society “, and for the grossly abusive, repulsive treatment and practices inflicted on these children in some of these schools by some of the staff belonging to different Christian denominations (2008); the Canadian citizens  who had immigrated  from Austria-Hungary, Germany and the other Central Powers, for their internment/imprisonment at the beginning of WWI, again, for being “enemy aliens” (2008 ); the prospective immigrants from Indian who sought to challenge Canada’s former practice of excluding immigrants from that country by sailing into Vancouver with the chartered ship Komagata Maru; for refusing them the right to land; their rough treatment by the police, and forcing them to sail back to India (2016), and  to the members of the LGBT community in the federal public service who were dismissed on account of their sexual orientation and those who suffered from systemic discrimination in the society at large(2017).

Some of these apologies were accompanied by financial compensation packages.

Curiously enough, to date, the successive Canadian governments ignored the dastardly deed of the government in 1939 that, as did the U.S. and Cuba before, refused to grant refuge to the German Jews on board of the MS St. Louis thus forcing them to return to Nazi Germany to face the abominable fates that awaited them, as well as to other Jews who sought refuge prior to the onset of the war and thereafter until 1948. In this respect, Canada acted no differently than did, with rare exceptions, most of the other countries of the western hemisphere.

The decision not to let the Jews was the product of an era in which Jews faced extensive social and institutional bigotry. This dark episode in the history of Canada is described in some detail in a book titled “None Is Too Many: Canada and the Jews of Europe 1933-1948” written by two Canadian scholars, Irving Abella and Harold Troper; and published by Lester& Orpen Dennys, Toronto in 1982.

In the concluding chapter, the authors indicate that in 1948, when Canada opened its doors to European refugees and immigrants, it opened it only by a crack for Jews, and more liberally, after the establishment of Israel,when the Jewish refugee crisis lessened.

Ironically enough during WWII, the Canadian Jewish community produced a greater number volunteers and recruits relative to its size than any other ethnic or religious community.

This year, on the eve of Yom HaShoah, the Center for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) and the Canadian Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Descendants (CJHSD) launched a campaign calling on the Government of Canada to “apologise for Canada’s refusal to accept Jewish refugees aboard the MS St. Louis in 1939.”

Last year, after years of lobbying, the government finally constructed a monument dedicated to the memory of the victims of the Holocaust and of other Nazi atrocities in Ottawa, the capital city of Canada.

About the Author
Doğan Akman was born and schooled in Istanbul, Turkey. Upon his graduation from Lycee St. Michel, he immigrated to Canada with his family. In Canada, he taught university in sociology-criminology and social welfare policy and published some articles in criminology journals After a stint as a Judge of the Provincial Court (criminal and family divisions) of the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador, he joined the Federal Department of Justice working first as a Crown prosecutor, and then switching to civil litigation and specialising in aboriginal law. Since his retirement he has published articles in Sephardic Horizons and e-Sefarad and in an anthology edited by Rifat Bali titled This is My New Homeland and published in Istanbul.
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