Irving Abella is dead but the fight against racism and anti-Semitism continues

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“None Is Too Many” was the kind of book most historians could only dream of writing. It is not that the profession discourages the publication of accessible writing, but that monographs tend, by definition, to be unsuitable for mass consumption. For such a book to become an overnight sensation, which forces a nation to question its most basic assumptions, is essentially unheard of.

That the same book becomes “an ethical benchmark against which contemporary government policies are measured”, and that it would further serve to change – correct, one might say – government policy, makes “None Is Too Many” d all the more remarkable.

Written by Harold Troper and Irving Abella (who passed away July 3 after a long illness), “None Is Too Many” unequivocally demonstrated that Canada was not the land of welcome and refuge that many believed it to be. he was and that Canadian government officials largely refused Jewish entry to Canada during the Nazi era because many officials held anti-Semitic beliefs.

Vincent Massey, at the time a high-ranking diplomat in Mackenzie King’s government, opposed Jewish immigration because he believed Jews would bring communism to Canada. And yet, after the war, thousands of Nazi collaborators and other various war criminals were allowed to immigrate to Canada because their war records showed them to be reliably anti-Communists.

It is tempting to believe that we are not like that anymore. For a time at least, Canada turned its back on its xenophobic immigration policies. ‘None Is Too Many’ played a key role in this, as an advance copy of some of the book’s chapters was sent to then-Immigration Minister Ron Atkey amid the Vietnamese refugee crisis. .

Although attitudes towards refugees and immigration in general have already changed for the better, Atkey still faces considerable pressure, both within government and the general public, to deny these refugees entry to Canada. . “None Is Too Many” helped convince Atkey not to repeat past mistakes, and Canada welcomed 200,000 refugees from Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, the highest per capita rate of any country in welcome.

Reflecting on the 30th anniversary of “None Is Too Many” in 2013, Irving Abella lamented that xenophobia and racism were on the rise and that the Nazi war criminals Canada accepted after the war continued to live in peace and comfort. Although most, if not all, of these men have likely died in the past nine years, xenophobic and racist tendencies in Canada have not only increased, but are normalizing.

There has been a proliferation of dangerous far-right groups across the country. Hate crimes, particularly of an anti-Semitic, Islamophobic and anti-Asian nature, are on the rise across the country. More insidiously, the anti-immigrant and anti-refugee rhetoric of the far-right fringe has seeped into the cesspool of Canadian politics.

This manifests itself in several distinct ways, across the political spectrum. Whether it’s the openly xenophobic People’s Party of Canada, the regular references to refugees as “free riders” by Conservative politicians, or the Trudeau government’s deportation of more than 18,000 asylum seekers during the pandemic, Canada is moving away from its own ideal.

Consider also that the Quebec government has passed blatantly discriminatory laws that unfairly target immigrants, and that Canada’s three main federal parties, all of which allegedly support multiculturalism, have remained largely silent. François Legault can say publicly that he opposes multiculturalism, a statement apparently more comfortable in 1930s Quebec than today.

And it’s not just the normalization of xenophobia that has become a disturbing trend, it’s also the continued cleansing of Nazi collaborators and war criminals who found refuge in Canada after the war. When someone painted a “Nazi war memorial” on a cenotaph dedicated to the Waffen-SS in an Oakville cemetery two years ago, police opened a hate crime investigation.

A bust of Ukrainian war criminal Roman Shukhevych outside an Edmonton cultural center has received a $35,000 grant from the Trudeau government to help protect him from hate crimes. And an Ottawa monument to honor victims of communism received donations for memorial stones that honored known and suspected war criminals, Nazi collaborators and various fascist organizations.

The fact that the Department of National Defense pathetically asserted that it had no obligation to be certain of the backgrounds of the far-right Ukrainian extremists they were training recently, even though many of them had tattoos swastika, is unfortunately demonstrative that, just when you think the country has hit rock bottom, it can always go lower.

When Irving Abella served his term as president of the Canadian Jewish Congress in the mid-1990s, he made it a priority to pressure the Canadian government to investigate more thoroughly Canada’s convicted war criminals. . Unfortunately, the government has always dragged its feet on this. We would be wise to pick up the torch and renew the pressure. Throwing a spotlight on this sordid story would be, much like ‘None Is Too Many’ did nearly 40 years ago, to challenge our basic assumptions about who we are as a nation, and would force us to face the reality of our history, not reality. comfortable fiction that we have invented. With luck, such an effort can result in substantial, incremental growth.

There’s reason for optimism: The day after Abella died, Amazon’s stock of “None Is Too Many” was almost exhausted.

Taylor C. Noakes is a freelance journalist and public historian from Montreal.

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