moved that Bill C-442, An Act to establish a National Holocaust Monument, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to introduce my private member’s bill, Bill C-442, An Act to establish a National Holocaust Monument.
As a student growing up in Edmonton, I learned about the history of the Holocaust as part of the second world war. Textbooks recount the events that unfolded, the battles that were waged, the sacrifices of our soldiers, airmen and sailors, along with their families, and the eventual victory of the allies over the Nazis. I also learned about the Holocaust, how groups of people who did not fit certain stereotypes were exterminated in the name of racial purity.
However, as a student reading from a textbook, those events seemed distant and dated. They happened before I was born, to people I did not know much about, in countries on the other side of the world. I had only a superficial understanding of the Holocaust. It was a part of history. It was something I learned about but never truly understood or appreciated.
For young people today, it is even more remote. Privileged to live in a country like Canada, the Holocaust can seem totally foreign, something which people have difficulty understanding because they cannot relate to the atrocities and horrors.
For some, a deeper understanding of those terrible events is provided through the stories and retelling of family members and veterans who were witness to the Holocaust, and in some cases, survived it. Elie Wiesel and Branko Lustig have done much to remind us of what they experienced. However, as time passes and the ranks of those who are able to tell those stories dwindle, there comes a danger that this unparalleled crime will become just a part of history, something which may exist in a textbook but whose real significance is lost.
In a way, it is a tribute to the progress we have made that our children have difficulty understanding this brutality. Today’s Canada is a nation of hope and opportunity, a beacon to those around the world seeking to find a new home and brighter future for themselves and their families. As Canadians, we pride ourselves on a nation that values and demands respect toward other people, affords a personal dignity to all people and provides an environment of tolerance and understanding. Our society is the dream for many around the world and is something that the thousands of men and women in our armed forces have fought for in distant, war-torn and oppressed nations.
My own parents came to Canada in order to take advantage of all that Canada affords to newcomers and we remain deeply grateful toward this country that values its new Canadians as positive assets to our national identity.
Today’s Canada and those who are honoured to call Canada home would have tremendous difficulty identifying with the deep horrors of the Holocaust. The concept of state-sanctioned killing and ethnic cleansing is completely alien.
The dangers we as a country now face are complacency and fatigue, to allow things like the Holocaust to rest in the pages of history. To do so, invites a return to the terror of those dark years, and losing those very things which we hold most dear.
We must remember that just because no crime so horrible has occurred in Canada does not mean we need not concern ourselves. After all, the history of our country is not perfect: the internment of Japanese Canadians; the events surrounding the Komagata Maru incident; and the treatment of aboriginal Canadians. We should not pretend that crimes against whole groups of people are something that only ever happen far away and long ago. Time and time again our government has urged vigilance and for people to learn the lessons of history so we never find ourselves ignoring the signs of trouble.
And lest we think that hatred and anti-Semitism are relics of the past, we are reminded on an almost daily basis that there are individuals around the world who continue to deny the very existence of the Holocaust, or who seek to downplay the extent of the crimes that were committed against humanity.
President Ahmadinejad of Iran continues to outrage people with his denial of the Holocaust. His myopic and ignorant comments on the subject of the Holocaust have resulted in condemnation from virtually all quarters of the world, but there are people even in our country who agree with him.
The denial of the Holocaust and those who voice such opinions must continue to be fought in the public square. This monument will be a testament to where Canada stands.
Others have not been so vocal and public with their hatred, but have cloaked their denial of the Holocaust behind a veneer of claiming respect for human rights. The rise of anti-Semitism in some places around the world, whether overt or subtle, is another compelling reason why Canada must continue to ensure that the Holocaust is both acknowledged and condemned.
As a member of Parliament, I am privileged to represent the citizens of Edmonton-Sherwood Park in Ottawa. In my opinion, members of Parliament are charged with two important roles: fighting for the interests of their constituents; and pursuing issues which will benefit Canada as a whole. I believe that establishing a national Holocaust monument speaks to both of these roles and will help to instill in generations of future Canadians an understanding of the atrocities of the Holocaust through a visible, tangible icon in the nation’s capital.
Some people have suggested that a monument is not necessary. After all, who has not heard of the Holocaust, they say. Do we really need a monument? I believe that yes, yes we do. Remember, after the second world war was over, people began speaking about the Holocaust. Newspapers printed the crimes that had been committed, but they were not fully understood or appreciated. No one really grasped what happened. It was not until we saw the photographs, until there was a more tangible and visible way to understand, that the significance of the Holocaust began to sink in.
This is why I believe that reading about the Holocaust in a textbook is not enough. Every year there are thousands of Canadians who come to visit our capital, many of them schoolchildren. A physical, tangible monument, given space in our nation’s capital, will make a different impression than the words they read on a page.
Like many, I was surprised to learn that Canada remained the only allied nation without a Holocaust monument in its nation’s capital. As it is the case in these other countries, with the passage of time there are fewer and fewer survivors who can bear the personal witness to the Holocaust.
A permanent monument to those who died in concentration camps or in their own homes at the hands of the Nazis will serve as a lasting reminder of a dark era of hatred and violence that we must ensure never occurs again. By placing the monument in the nation’s capital, at the seat of government, we accord an appropriate respect and acknowledge the gravity of this terrible event. Great Britain, the United States, France, all our allies have understood the importance of remembering the Holocaust, and so should Canada.
I would like to express my sincere appreciation to those who have made fighting anti-Semitism, bigotry and racism their cause, and in doing so, have helped make our nation and our world a better place. In particular, I would like to extend my deepest appreciation to the men and women of the armed forces who continue to battle extremism and uphold our values of freedom and justice around the world. As Canadians, we owe them a tremendous debt which we can never repay.
I have been thrilled with the broad level of support I have received to establish a national Holocaust monument, both from my colleagues in the House and from organizations throughout Canada, specifically Laura Grosman from the Canadian Holocaust Memorial Project, senior parliamentarians such as the hon. member for Mount Royal and the hon. member for Winnipeg North, along with a number of my colleagues in the Conservative caucus, and in particular, the hon. Minister of State for Foreign Affairs. They have been strong supporters of moving this initiative forward.
I see this bill as an example of the best of what Parliament can do when we transcend traditional party lines and move forward on an issue of tremendous importance to Canadians. I would urge all hon. members to support this legislation. Let our commitment to remembering those who died in the Holocaust and those who continue to be confronted with anti-Semitism be represented by a visible, concrete reminder of that dark time. Let it stand as a testament to our own ideals and values and be the embodiment of the words and stories inscribed in the textbooks of history, read but not fully appreciated.
Our Prime Minister, when he visited the Nazi death camp in Auschwitz in the spring of 2008 commented that on one hand he was profoundly moved by the inconceivable suffering of the Jewish people who were killed, but on the other hand he felt hope from the limitless spirit and strength of the Jewish people.
This monument is a statement made by Canadians to the world that honours those to who died in the tragedy of the Holocaust and says to future generations of Canadians, never again.
To view the complete debate in the House of Commons click here