Michael Levitt

Your member of parliament for


York Centre

Michael Levitt

Your member of parliament for


York Centre

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Speech on Canadian Jewish Heritage Month

 

I had the opportunity to close debate on the second reading stage of Bill S-232, the Canadian Jewish Heritage Month Act, which I am sponsoring in the House of Commons. This Bill will establish the month of May as Canadian Jewish Heritage Month to acknowledge and celebrate Jewish contributions to Canada.

Jewish Canadians from across Canada have greatly contributed to our nation’s successes over the last 150 years, and they will continue to play an important role as our country continues to grow.

You can read the full text of my speech below:

Mr. Speaker, I want to reflect on the importance of the Canadian Jewish heritage month act in the closing minutes of this debate. I would like to thank colleagues from all sides of the House, particularly the members for Thornhill and Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke, for their strong support of this bill.

I also want to thank members of the Jewish community across Canada who have approached me and expressed their gratitude for presenting this bill in the House.

Lastly, I want to thank my co-sponsor, Senator Frum, who did the invaluable legislative legwork shepherding this bill through the other place so it could be before us tonight.

None of this would be possible, though, without the groundwork laid by the former member for Mount Royal, the Hon. Irwin Cotler, who originally introduced the substance of this bill in 2015. I dedicate my efforts on this bill in his honour.

This is the time of year that is very special for Jewish Canadians. Last Saturday was Yom Kippur. Two weeks ago was Rosh Hashanah, and this week will mark the festival of Sukkot. I cannot think of a better time for us to be debating this bill, as Jewish Canadians in communities across Canada come together to celebrate with friends and family.

Last week we saw the Prime Minister inaugurate the national Holocaust monument here in Ottawa. The monument serves to honour the victims of the Holocaust and to remind us of the important lessons it so painfully taught us all.

As the Prime Minister noted in his remarks, the history of the Jewish community in Canada has not always been bright. In 1939, under Canada’s infamous “none is too many policy”, the Government of Canada turned away the MS St. Louis. There were more than 900 Jewish refugees on board seeking sanctuary here in Canada. Government sanctioned anti-Semitism forced them to return to Europe, where 254 of them were murdered in the Holocaust, many at the infamous Auschwitz death camp.

This uncomfortable truth is part of our history, and one we cannot turn away from.

However, the Holocaust monument stands for so much more. It also stands as a testament to the resilience and courage of Holocaust survivors. Many found a home in a more tolerant Canada and profoundly shaped our country and society.

It is a source of pride that my riding of York Centre became home to so many Holocaust survivors who built new lives there.

By enacting a Jewish heritage month, we can preserve their legacies as a lesson to all Canadians, from all faiths and backgrounds, of the consequences of hate and intolerance. Canada and the Canadian Jewish community serve as a testament to the values of tolerance and pluralism.

These lessons were not learned the easy way, but tragedies like the MS St. Louis demonstrate to us the need for compassion and understanding.

Even today our society faces the challenges brought by bigotry and xenophobia. Canada is not immune to anti-Semitism, the oldest hate of them all.

Anti-Semitism does not affect just the Jewish community. It affects all communities and all Canadians. When it comes to hate crime, Jews are the most targeted religious minority in Canada, but Canadians of all backgrounds suffer when their fellow Canadians are targeted for no reason other than their faith.

Our great country, from coast to coast to coast, is an example of how we can build a successful society through inclusion and diversity. Canada itself is a rebuttal to those who would spread hate and intolerance.

This year, the 150th anniversary of Confederation, gives Canadians an opportunity to reflect on the society we have built together and to honour the many cultures, traditions, and beliefs that underpin the very foundation of our country.

Jewish Canadians from across Canada have greatly contributed to our nation’s successes over the last 150 years, and they will continue to play an important role as our country continues to grow. Their stories are many.

As a Scottish Jew who arrived here in 1983, I have met Jewish Canadians from all corners of the world: South Africa, Russia, Israel, Morocco, India, Iran, Argentina, and many other countries. Their histories and experiences shape the Canadian Jewish identity and add to the very fabric of our nation, which is why a bill like this is so important.

The enactment of Canadian Jewish heritage month would ensure that these stories and contributions of Jewish Canadians are recognized, shared, and celebrated across this great country, inspiring all Canadians to build a better, more tolerant Canada for generations to come.

This bill demonstrates the principles for which all of us in the House stand, and that is why I ask for all hon. colleagues to stand and support this bill.