OTTAWA — The federal Liberals are working on an apology for the Canadian government’s decision in 1939 to turn away a boat of German Jews hoping to seek asylum in Canada, The Canadian Press has learned.
Some wanted the apology for the MS St. Louis to come in concert with Wednesday’s inauguration of the National Holocaust Monument in Ottawa, but Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made only passing reference to the incident in his speech marking the occasion.
From the monument, Trudeau noted, it is possible to see the Peace Tower. But that’s also a reminder that Canada has not always been a welcoming nation.
“May this monument remind us to always open our arms and our hearts to those in need,” he said.
The ship had 900 Jews aboard when it was turned away from both Cuba and the United States before a group of Canadians tried to convince then-prime minister Mackenzie King’s government to let it dock in Halifax.
While history records King trying to convince Frederick Blair — director of the immigration branch of the federal Department of Mines and Resources at the time — to consider their plea, Blair ultimately refused.
The ship returned to Europe. While some passengers were taken in by Belgium, France, Holland and the UK, about 500 ended up back in Germany, half of whom did not survive the Holocaust.