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Bill S-232: the Canadian Jewish Heritage Month Act - Third Reading

Honourable senators, it is my pleasure to rise in this chamber and speak at third reading in support of Bill S-232, the "Canadian Jewish Heritage Month Act." This legislation enjoys support from all parties in both the House of Commons and the Senate. In that spirit, allow me to acknowledge the efforts of Michael Levitt, Member of Parliament for York Centre, who is responsible for initiating this bill. I would also like to thank Senators Wetston, Fraser, Gold and Jaffer for their speeches during second reading.

During the Human Rights Committee hearing, senators posed questions to leaders of the Jewish community about the impact that Jewish heritage month will have on Canada. For the benefit of those who were not able to attend that meeting, I will share some excerpts.

Shimon Fogel, Chief Executive Officer of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, had this to say about a Canadian Jewish heritage month:

The concept of heritage months offer a proactive approach to peeling back the ignorance that really serves as the engine or driver of the kind of intolerance that all of us would wish to see diminish and eradicated. It is in this context that I think they play an important role in helping other Canadians appreciate the shared values of specific communities . . . . They bring down that sense of suspicion and hostility that is born from a sense of ignorance about other faith communities.

In her question to Michael Mostyn, the CEO of B'Nai Brith, Senator Bernard made the observation that, while cultural months, such as Black History Month, which was established in 1995, may seek to reduce prejudice and enhance mutual understanding, it's not clear that they always succeed in that mission.

Mr. Mostyn agreed that in order for Canadian Jewish heritage month to be successful, it cannot be an insular celebration, a Jewish community celebration only for the Jewish community. He said:

. . . there's no point in any community holding a celebration for itself.

He went on to say:

We are all part of Canada, and the essence of any heritage day has to be how we communicate the contributions of our particular community to other communities so they can understand that . . . .

. . . if communities . . . start thinking more creatively and outside of the box . . . we will find those . . . ways.

Speaking for myself, it is my hope that with the establishment of Canadian Jewish heritage month, all Canadians will have the opportunity to learn about the culture and history of Jewish Canadians and appreciate the integral role that the Jewish community has played in shaping Canada, while also accepting that the challenge of mutual understanding and compassion is ongoing and everlasting.

The timing of this bill coming to third reading in the Senate during the month of May is apropos. The month of May has been proclaimed by the United States as a time to celebrate the contributions of the American Jewish community, and has been ever since 2006, when President George W. Bush and Congress passed a resolution deeming it such.

In Ontario, Jewish Heritage Month was established in 2012 and is also celebrated in the month of May. May is also the month that Israel celebrates one of its more joyful public holidays, Yom Ha'atzmaut, or Israeli independence day.

With luck, with the passage of Bill S-232, Canada will have a national Jewish heritage month of its own starting in May 2018.

I am proud that Canadian Jewish heritage month has received unanimous support thus far and look forward to your continued support during this final stage of debate in the Senate.

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