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In June 1991, the newsmagazine L’Actualité published portions of Esther Delisle’s doctoral thesis. It argued that anti-Semitic and pro-fascist sentiments were prominent amongst the French Canadian intelligentsia prior to the Second World War. Delisle claimed that Lionel Groulx was responsible for anti-Semitic statements made in the pages of the influential Montreal newspaper Le Devoir between 1929 and 1939. This research interested Mordecai Richler, who referenced Delisle’s work in his controversial 1992 bestseller, Oh Canada! Oh Quebec! Requiem for a Divided Nation. Delisle and Richler’s arguments and conclusions remained controversial for over a decade.
Jewish School Question
Debates about the rights and place of Jewish children in Montreal’s denominational public schools peaked in the 1920s. These debates divided Jewish, Protestant and Roman Catholic communities. After a decade of failed negotiations and legal challenges, the Quebec government adopted a bill aimed at establishing a separate Jewish school board with the same rights and privileges as Protestant and Catholic boards. The Act was widely criticized and the law was repealed. The unequal treatment of Jews and other religious minorities in Quebec public schools continued until 1997 when the British North America Act was amended to enable the creation of secular linguistic boards.
Christie Pits Riot
The Christie Pits Riot occurred on 16 August 1933 in Toronto, Ontario. It remains one of the worst outbreaks of ethnic violence in Canadian history with over 10,000 participants and spectators. The riot was sparked by Nazi-inspired youth flying a swastika flag at a public baseball game to antagonize and provoke Jewish Canadians.
Jim Keegstra was a secondary school teacher in rural Alberta who taught anti-Semitic propaganda to his students. He was charged with a hate crime in 1984 and was found guilty in 1985. However, Keegstra launched repeated appeals arguing that the Criminal Code violated his constitutionally guaranteed freedom of expression. The landmark case (R. v. Keegstra) tested the balance between the right to freedom of speech outlined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the law’s limits on hate speech stipulated in the Criminal Code. The case came before the Supreme Court of Canada in 1990 and 1996. The Court ultimately ruled against Keegstra by deciding that Canada’s hate laws imposed a “reasonable limit” on a person’s freedom of expression.
Canada and the Holocaust
The Holocaust is defined as the systematic persecution and murder of 6 million Jews and 5 million non-Jews, including Roma and Sinti, Poles, political opponents, LGBTQ people and Soviet prisoners of war (POWs), by Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1945. Jews were the only group targeted for complete destruction. Nazi racial ideology considered them subhuman. Though Jewish Canadians did not experience the Holocaust directly, the majority endured anti-Semitism in Canada. Jewish Canadians were only one generation removed from lands under German occupation from 1933 to 1945. They maintained close ties to Jewish relatives in those lands. These ties affected the community’s response to the Holocaust. There was, for instance, a disproportionate representation of Jews in the Canadian armed forces. Jewish Canadians were also heavily involved in postwar relief efforts for displaced persons and Holocaust survivors in Europe.