The MS St. Louis was a boat of over 900 Jewish refugees, departing Germany in 1939, just before the beginning of World War 2. The Jewish refugees were being heavily discriminated against in Nazi Germany, and were trying to enter Cuba. Cuba was their first stop because many passengers had landing visas, and many had their paperwork done for the United Stated- their second stop. The MS St. Louis was not allowed to unload in Cuba. 28 wealthier passengers purchased new papers, one was hospitalized, and the rest were sent back to sea. The refugees were refused entry to the United States and headed for Europe. When the boat neared Canadian shores, 41 influential intellectuals filed a petition to allow the refugees into Canada. However, the PM (William Lyon Mackenzie King) didn’t want to deal with the backlash and left the decision to the current immigration minister- Frederick Blair. Blair argued that if they allowed the refugees into Canada, they would have to let every foreign boat land on Canadian docks, and every foreigner a Canadian citizenship. This argument was a disguise for increased Anti-Semitism. Blair argued that they didn’t fit under the current immigration laws- laws he created. He was concerned that if he let the 907 Jews in, Canada was set up to accept hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees. Even though the ship was only 2 days from Halifax, it set off for Europe, where the passengers disembarked. Most of these passengers were eventually sent to concentration camps, and 254 died.

Although many Canadian’s had an Anti-Semitist attitude, they looked down upon Nazi Germany’s actions. Throughout the war, Canadians had a change of heart. This isn’t saying that they were on the front lines of justice for Jewish people- as you can see in the MS St. Louis incident, a strategy that Canadians have used from the start of time is using their laws to further unjust attitudes. Because of this, many Jewish people weren’t allowed into Canada, and there still aren’t many Jews here today.

If Canada had allowed the Jewish refugees to enter Canada, many of them wouldn’t have suffered as they did, and 254 of them wouldn’t have died. If Canada was truly the welcoming, wonderful place we project, our humanity would have overpowered our laws. Canada accepted the least amount of Jewish refugees among developed nations. The United Stated accepted 200,000, Palestine 150,000, and Britain 70,000. When asked how many Jewish refugees would be admitted to Canada, a senior government official answered ‘none would be too many’.

It was impossible for Canada to know the carnage that would wreck the Jewish German community at the time- WW2 hadn’t even begun. However, it’s attitude after and during the war shows it’s true Anti-Semitic attitude. We can compare this to our attitude towards Syrian refugees. Although we do accept some of these refugees, the Muslim faith and Syrian refugees are commonly regarded as unfavourable, especially among older residents. As a developed nation with global power, it’s important that we try and place ourselves on the right side of history.

Gerald Granston (right) on the deck of the St Louis

Sources:

https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/ms-st-louis/

http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/timelines/second-world-war-timeline/

https://www.britannica.com/topic/MS-St-Louis-German-ship

https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-27373131

https://qspace.library.queensu.ca/bitstream/handle/1974/8567/The%20Impact%20of%20the%20Holocaust%20on%20Canadian%20Society%20and%20on%20Canadians%E2%80%99%20Attitudes%20Towards%20Human%20Rights%20by%20Angela%20Van%20Delft%20and%20Samantha%20Elliott.pdf?sequence=1

https://www.canada.ca/en/canadian-heritage/services/canada-holocaust/history.html