Jenny Kwan, MP

Member of Parliament, Vancouver East

Jewish Heritage Month

I am proud to have this opportunity today to stand in the House in support of Bill S-232, which would establish May as Jewish heritage month.
I must admit that I am a bit surprised that such a bill has not yet already been passed in the House. The United States proclaimed May as the month to celebrate the contributions of the American Jewish community in 2006, and Ontario established May as Jewish Heritage Month in 2012.
I suppose it was not so long ago that Canada had the unofficial policy of “none is too many”. Anti-Semitism in Canada's immigration policy ultimately led to the admittance of only 5,000 Jewish refugees between 1933 and 1948. It is my sincere hope that passing this declaration and promoting the month of May as Jewish heritage month will allow for us as a society to ensure “never again”.
At this point, I would like to take a moment to recognize the strength and resiliency of the Holocaust survivors. On a number of occasions, I have had the opportunity to hear first-hand the stories from survivors and their families. Their stories are beyond inspirational. Their survival speaks to the greatest strength of all, and that is the strength of the human spirit. As we debate the bill before us, I would be remiss if I did not pay tribute to them.
January 27 is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. An estimated six million Jewish people were murdered. This horrendous crime against humanity must never be forgotten.
In 2018, one might ask what action we can take today. One way to commemorate this genocide is for Canada to prioritize the resettlement of those who are faced with genocide today. Another way to honour the survivors and their families is to ensure that we do everything we can to combat anti-Semitism in Canada.
It is with dismay that I note that the Jewish community in Canada continues to be the most targeted group for hate crimes on an annual basis. In 2016, there were 221 police-reported hate crimes against Jewish Canadians, which is up from 178 in 2015. This fact should not be acceptable to anyone and it cannot be the path forward. It highlights the importance of a bill like the one before us and the fact that much work remains to be done in combatting hate in Canada.
I had the privilege of sitting on the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage during its study of systemic racism and religious discrimination. Committee members had the opportunity to hear from Canada's Jewish communities, such as the Canadian Association of Jews and Muslims, B'nai Brith Canada, and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs. It was noted that once a crime has been reported and is being investigated, in some cases, that motivation, i.e., hate, was not being examined. David Matas, senior legal counsel for B'nai Brith Canada explained:
One of the problems we see with the police forces when dealing with hate-motivated crimes is sometimes—indeed, perhaps all too often—they will identify the crime without looking at the motivation. I mean, obviously if somebody paints a swastika, you can see the motivation, but if it's a simple assault, they may just go after the assault without looking at the motivation. The low figures we hear about hate-motivated crimes are in some instances the result of the police just not looking to see whether it's a hate-motivated crime. One of the things we could usefully do in terms of training is sensitize police forces, so that when there is a hate dimension to a crime, it gets noticed, it gets reported, and it gets acted on.
The difficulty in laying a hate crime charge, difficulties in having complaints responded to in a standardized and thoughtful manner, and the lack of trust that complainants will be taken seriously led to what many witnesses described as significant under-reporting of hate crimes in Canada. This is because official statistics rely only on police-reported hate crimes.
Shimon Fogel, chief executive officer of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs recommended that “the government establish uniform national guidelines and standards for the collection and handling of hate crime and hate incident data.” Going forward, I hope that the government will act on this recommendation.
That being said, Jewish Canadians have still created vibrant, long-established communities across Canada.
Over the holidays, I had the opportunity to participate in the candle lighting ceremony in celebration of Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of lights. I was honoured to light the seventh candle with Alycia Fridkin in Vancouver this past December. The Jewish community, like so many other communities, has unique practices and celebrations. In a rich and diverse multicultural society, it is truly our good fortune that we have the opportunity to learn about and experience these different practices.
In my time spent as an elected official municipally, provincially, and now federally, the resiliency and compassion of Canada's Jewish community always shine through. I believe this is part of how many Jewish Canadians attempt to embody the concept of tikkun olam, the Hebrew term meaning “repair of the world”. For many people of the Jewish faith, this is the aspiration to behave kindly, act constructively, and help those who are disadvantaged. The Jewish community's effort to showcase this belief is the beauty and strength of Canada's multiculturalism policy, and highlights why our diversity is such a strength for us.
At the immigration committee, whenever we study the issue of refugee resettlement, Canada's Jewish community has provided a voice with its expertise and desire to do even more than it already is. I was proud to bring representatives of Or Shalom Synagogue in Vancouver East to our study of the federal government's initiative to resettle Syrian refugees in Canada. Their humanitarian spirit and efforts to resettle Syrian refugees in Vancouver was incredibly inspiring.
To date, representatives of Or Shalom continue to call, write, and speak to me about their desire to do more and to call for the federal government to address the lengthy processing delays of their sponsorship applications. Back in July, after waiting anxiously for the arrival of its sponsored families, Or Shalom was finally able to host a Syrian resettlement initiative welcome gathering in celebration of the arrival of its sponsored Syrian families.
Whether it is Or Shalom's efforts in Vancouver to resettle Syrian refugees or the efforts of Operation Ezra in Winnipeg to resettle Yazidi refugees, I have been inspired time and again by the work and spirit of Canada's Jewish communities on these important humanitarian efforts. With more than 65 million people displaced due to global conflicts, these groups want to do more and are constantly advocating for the government to take further action.
They have called for and continue to demand that the government lift the artificially imposed cap on the private sponsorship of refugees. They have the capacity, resources, and the desire to sponsor more people and to allow for more people to rebuild their lives in safety here in Canada. Canada needs to lift the cap on privately sponsored refugee applications, and we need to expeditiously resettle accepted privately sponsored refugee applications. The outpouring of generosity and humanitarianism shown, not just by these Jewish communities but by Canadians from coast to coast to coast, should be celebrated and not stifled.
It is an honour for me to stand in the House to recognize the incredible efforts in refugee resettlement and interfaith dialogues of Canada's Jewish communities. I, along with my NDP caucus, will vote in favour of recognizing May as Jewish heritage month in Canada. We believe this will give Canadians an opportunity to reflect on the great contributions Canada's Jewish community has made and will continue to make in this country.
It will also provide us with the opportunity to reflect on a history of injustice, intolerance, and the tragedies that can occur if we allow for the politics of hate and division to win the day. We cannot stand idly by and allow for hate crimes to continue to increase, as we saw from 2015 to 2016. We must act. While the notion of none is too many might no longer be said about members of the Jewish faith, it is unfortunately not as uncommon as it should be to hear that type of rhetoric employed against other groups.
We must remember this history and redouble our efforts to ensure “never again”. The strength and resiliency of Canada's Jewish community is something I am very proud to celebrate. We must, with love and courage, continue this work to build a more just, inclusive, and equal Canada.