by Ron Csillag, "As I was saying", Canadian Jewish News, February 10, 2000
Canada's wholly unsatisfactory response to the United Nations on the subject of Ontario's discriminatory school funding policy came on the heels of another statement
Ottawa issued at the end of the recent Stockholm conference on Holocaust education, remembrance and research – this one only slightly more gratifying, but only because it was re-drafted at least twice.
First, it should be noted that among the 46 countries at the historic conference, Canada was among those left off a list of delegates who made oral statements. My sources tell me this greatly upset and embarrassed Deputy Prime Minister Herb Gray, who led the 10-member Canadian team. Gray reportedly demanded an explanation from our embassy in Stockholm whose response is unavailable.
Of the countries that did address the conference directly, many either apologized outright for their inaction or their miserly immigration quotas during the Holocaust, or read out a list of their failings and inaction during the period. This would have afforded Canada the perfect opportunity to explain its dismal none-is-too-many policy on Jewish immigration before, during and even after the war.
At any event, Canada ended up drafting a final written statement a little over a page long. The original document, which landed on my desk last week, reads as though it was scribbled on a cocktail napkin at the 11th hour. It's a bland paean to multiculturalism that notes Canada's commitments to UN covenants on genocide and throws in some platitudes about the importance of the Holocaust as a touchstone for further understanding.
There's no reference to Canadian history, no reference to our record on prosecuting war criminals. And while the draft says that "Canada has identified as one of its first steps, the development of a systematic Canada-wide study of Holocaust education in our 10 provinces and territories," it then admits that this study won't be conducted by Canada at all, but rather by B'nai Brith Canada's League for Human Rights!
To his credit, Gray rolled up his sleeves and sat down with MP and delegation co-chair Irwin Cotler; Moshe Ronen and Nate Leipciger of Canadian Jewish Congress; Rochelle Wilner and Karen Mock of B'nai Brith; and human rights advocate David Matas, and rewrote the draft late into the night.
The result was a document more than twice as long that excised nothing from the original, but added paragraphs citing Canada's closed-door policy on Jews, and (at the insistence of Matas) one on the need to learn the fate of Swedish war hero, Raoul Wallenberg, who rescued more Jews from Hitler than did Canada, and is Canada's only honorary citizen.
Because many more cooks were contributing to the stew, the document was also to contain a reference to the fact that it was not until 1987 that Canada enacted legislation to bring Nazi war criminals to justice (the implication being: shame on Canada). But my copy of the second draft shows this entry as scratched out.
Gray, Cotler, Ronen and Leipciger left the conference before it ended, and Ronen, at least, was surprised to learn, upon his return to Toronto, that the final, final document issued by Canada left out two things: The paragraph stating that Canada could have done more to save refugees fleeing the Holocaust, and, to Matas's dismay, the one on Raoul Wallenberg.
Matas is a circumspect fellow. He displayed no anger at the exclusion of the Wallenberg reference (a few years ago, armed with a government grant, he conducted extensive research into Wallenberg's fate). He did say, last week, that Ottawa simply "wasn't in a position to make a bolder statement."
But he did rue the fact that Canada did not confront its past at the conference and did not show initiative to do more than the minimum.
Ronen, for his part, was more direct in his assessment. Although he welcomed the opportunity to help redraft the Canadian statement, he said it was probably a good thing Canada did not contribute to the conference's final declaration because if it had, that too would have been watered down.
Both Canada's and the conference's final declarations can be found at www.holocaustforum.gov.se.