By Isaac Olson
Free Press, Feb. 14, 2017
In a speech delivered during an emergency immigration debate on January 30, MP Anthony Housefather, representing the Mount Royal riding, called on the federal government to issue an apology for refusing the entry of over 900 Jewish refugees on the SS St. Louis in 1939.
Rising to his feet in the house of commons as he has done several times since taking office, Housefather was taking part in a discussion centred around the controversial travel and immigration restrictions in the United States.
During the speech, Housefather reminded Canadians that there have been times in this country’s history where the United States has been more welcoming.
“I’ve heard a lot of congratulatory comments tonight about how in Canada we’re different – how in Canada we have had this incredible tradition of bringing in immigrants and refugees and we’ve always done it,” said Housefather, who acknowledged that this has been true for the last few decades. However, he added, “that has not always been true.”
Housefather said he was inspired to make the leap from municipal to federal politics after Quebec’s “separatist government” proposed its “charter of values,” which would have required him to “fire people because they were going to wear a kippah, or a hijab, or a turban to work.” He cited the religious freedom rally that was held in Côte St. Luc in 2013 when that debate was taking place. As mayor, he led a charge against the charter and now, looking back on that time, he said it shows that Canadian politicians “are no different here than they are elsewhere” because people can always capitalize on xenophobia and spark fear in the population.
Citing President Donald Trump’s executive order as an American issue, he said there is still a lot to learn from this debate such as the importance of not putting forward policies without public consultation or ensuring that an order is legal under a country’s constitution. He encouraged Canada to continue such practices of vetting policies thoroughly before pushing them forward. He said orders should not be made retroactively so as to affect people with valid visas in transit and it is important not to enact laws that discriminate against people of certain countries or religions.
This, he said, is where it is important to remember Canada’s history, citing the many ethnic and religious groups that have been excluded from the country. The SS St. Louis, he said, was among those rejected. The Jewish refugees had Cuban visas but the Caribbean country changed its rules last minute and turned them away. The ship was then denied entry into the United States and Canada.
“I hope one day Canada will apologize for what happened with the St. Louis,” said Housefather. “We should always remember that this could happen here. We have to be vigilant.”
The full video is available on Housefather’s YouTube page.