MS St Louis apology must lead to renewed commitment to provide refuge

Refugees aboard MS St. Louis in Havana, Cuba, in May 1939. - U.S. Holocaust Memorial MuseumMS St Louis apology must lead to renewed commitment to provide refuge​

We welcome the federal government’s formal apology for Canada’s turning away of the MS St Louis passengers who were fleeing Nazi persecution in 1939.

Canada’s response to the St Louis was characteristic of immigration policies in place over decades designed to deter and exclude Jewish immigrants and refugees, summed up in the phrase ‘None is too many’. It also reflects a period when Canada’s doors were largely closed to refugees, a part of our history that we too often forget.

Since that time, Canada has committed itself to the principles of human rights, non-discrimination and refugee protection. Canada is signatory to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, which was developed in the aftermath of the Second World War when all could see the devastating consequences of denying refuge to Jews and others persecuted by the Nazis.

Today, we must renew our commitment to provide safe haven to those seeking protection at our door – whether they arrive by plane, by boat or on foot. Those who arrive uninvited and make refugee claims are often fleeing persecution just as the passengers of the St Louis were. History will judge us by whether we respond in ways that respect the rights and dignity of refugee claimants, just as we today judge those who turned away the St Louis and other Jewish refugees.

We must guard against rising anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and xenophobia. When we welcome newcomers and ensure that they can fully contribute here, we all gain.

7 November 2018