As part of its educational mission, the Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre has produced a Brief History of Anti-Semitism in Canada. It’s a companion guide to its Brief History of the Holocaust handed out to 10,000 students coming annually to the centre. Sixty percent come from francophone schools.
At the launch this spring, University of Ottawa Professor Pierre Anctil, social anthropologist, outlined two streams of anti-Semitism: one involves words and ideas; the other, actions and organized movements.
“In Canada, it was never a dominant theme in political life… changing contexts produced quite different reactions… some attacked the Jews, while others defended them.
“Anglo British Canadians tended to act in terms of social Darwinism—racial conceptions of Jews as inferior on a racial scale. With human rights legislation and with courts, this is difficult to maintain, though some may still think in this way.
“Among French Canadians, objections are doctrinal, based on religious dogma. Jews cannot be accepted in a Catholic milieu because, having rejected Christ, they are non-Christians, apostates.”
Anti-Semitism became antithetical to Church doctrine when Pope Paul VI, in his 1965 encyclical, said the Church “decries hatred, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism, directed against Jews at any time and by anyone.”
Before 1900, there was some “anti-Semitism without Jews.” That changed with the great migration beginning in the 1900s and the numbers of Jews in Canada swelled to 130,000 by 1931. With the Depression came restrictions on immigration and racist editorials in Le Devoir.
As Hitler assumed power in 1933, Canada’s immigration policy, adopted behind the scenes by Order-in-Council, ignored the Jewish plight and exemplifies how anti-Semitism worked in Canada.
“You had to leave your country of birth in one continuous trip with a valid passport within a year of issue and a visa issued in the country of birth, and a certain amount of money to be admitted to Canada,” Anctil noted.
Immigrants from eastern and central Europe were among “non-preferred immigrants”; those from southern Europe and Turkey had to get special permits. In 1931, only wives and children of Canadian residents and those who owned or worked on farms were admissible, except for British immigrants and those from “self-governing dominions” excluding India.
“This was adopted in a democratic (Liberal) regime, without an overt anti-Semitic program, without any specific mention of Jews in Parliament.
“When you’re appeasing Hitler, you’re not going to accept Jews from Germany.”
From 1931-39, total immigration dropped dramatically. Of some 150,000 from Europe, only 5,000 Jews came to Canada, another 3,000 via U.S. ports and, in 1940, England sent 2,000 German and Austrian Jews to be interned in camps as enemy aliens in Quebec and New Brunswick. About 500 refugees arrived from Portugal via the Serpa Pinto in 1944.
“Nothing was done to change the regulations, which did not make it possible to come to the help of Jewish immigrants,” he observed.
After the war, the “second wave” of Jewish immigration to Canada began. Between 1945-50, 20,000 arrived in Canada, 36,000 during the next decade, and then 7,000 Sephardic Jews fleeing North Africa and the Middle East.
“In a context where political and economic crises in Europe did not weigh on Canada, Canada is able to receive large numbers of Jews.”
In his summary, Anctil failed to mention the bloody six-hour riot at Christy Pitts in Toronto on Aug. 16, 1933, after a baseball game involving two teams in which Jews and some Italians battled another team sponsored by the Catholic Church after a Swastika was raised at the game.
There were isolated street battles in Montreal where low-income Jews lived alongside Francophones and Italian Canadians. While dismissing the anti-Semitic Le Goglu publisher Adrien Arcand as marginal, Anctil failed to mention the hugely influential nationalist historian Lionel Groulx, who supported the Achat chez Nous campaign.
Anctil suggested that the moral issues raised by Canada’s record in immigration when it comes to Jews should be raised with respect to Syrians, Iraqis, and other refugees, suffering tremendous hardship and seeking to rebuild shattered lives.
Both guidebooks are at mhmc.ca/en/pages/resources-and-training