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PMO mum over whether Trudeau raised concerns over ‘rising tide’ of anti-Semitism with the Latvian PM

By Neil Moss      

The feds can be more forthright to condemn Nazi glorification and anti-Semitism in Europe, says a leading Jewish Canadian advocacy group.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, centre right, meets with Latvian Prime Minister Māris Kučinskis, opposite him, last week during Mr. Trudeau's visit to the European nation. Photograph courtesy of Harjit Sajjan's Twitter
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The Prime Minister’s Office is staying quiet on whether Justin Trudeau discussed concerns over creeping anti-Semitism and Nazi glorification in Europe with the Latvian prime minister or NATO leaders during his recent trip abroad.

In an email statement to The Hill Times responding to the question, Chantal Gagnon, one of Mr. Trudeau’s press secretaries, said: “Canada is strongly opposed to the glorification of Nazism and all forms of racism, racial discrimination, anti-Semitism, xenophobia, intolerance, and extremism.”

Ms. Gagnon said the government works to “promote inclusiveness” and “respect for human rights, diversity, and the rule of law,” adding that Canadians must “never forget” the Holocaust and “never again” let history repeat itself.

In response to a subsequent email to the PMO asking for further comment on the issue, Ms. Gagnon referred The Hill Times to the readout released following Mr. Trudeau’s meeting with his counterpart, Latvian Prime Minister Māris Kučinskis. The readout indicated the two leaders discussed “the rise of antidemocratic forces and regional issues.”

Mr. Trudeau was in Riga, Latvia, a couple of days ahead of the NATO summit in Brussels last week, during which he announced an extension of Canada’s Latvia mission to at least 2023.

Questions over whether Mr. Trudeau spoke about the issue were raised in part because of a July 4 letter sent to the prime minister from B’nai Brith Canada, a Jewish human rights group, in which it called on Canada to counter any Nazi glorification by European NATO-allied countries and attempts to distort the historical record of the Holocaust.

The letter, sent in anticipation of the summit and the Latvian trip, included reference to “widespread and credible reporting” on a parade in Latvia glorifying the Latvia Legion, which included the 15th Waffen Grenadier and the 19th Waffen Grenadier Division, both of which were divisions of the armed wing of Nazi Germany’s SS organization.

Brian Herman, B’nai Brith Canada’s director of government relations, said in an interview that his organization has not heard of “substantive” reaction from the prime minister’s office, aside from thanking the organization for bringing the issue to its attention.

“We know Canada speaks out against anti-Semitism and is concerned about Holocaust denial and distortion,” said Mr. Herman. “We just feel that in today’s circumstances, governments at all levels in Canada can more forthright condemn what’s going on.”

At a time when there’s growing concern over the resurgence of anti-Semitism in Europe, Mr. Herman said, he had hoped the government “would speak out more openly” on the issue. In 2017, B’nai Brith recorded a 26 per cent increase in anti-Semitic incidents from the year before, according to The Globe and Mail. Mr. Herman said that the number of anti-Semitic incidents in Canada rose in 2017, but the increase from the previous year was not as significant as the increase from 2015 to 2016.

“We know that countries like Canada that are respected in this space, when they speak out their voices are heard and that’s why we wanted the prime minister to use his visit to speak out on the issue,” he added.

The parade cited in the letter takes place on March 16, which is a day for remembrance of Latvian legionnaires. It is the only public event in Europe honouring soldiers who fought in the SS’s ranks, according to a Jewish Telegraphic Agency report in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

Avi Benlolo, the executive director of the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies, a human rights organization that counters racism and anti-Semitism, said Canada should use the credibility it has acquired with its expanding commitment to NATO to influence NATO countries over the “rising tide” of Nazism and extremism.

Mr. Benlolo said there is “no question” that the Liberal government, like the previous Conservative government, finds anti-Semitism “abhorrent.”

But he added that he would like to see “much more” condemnation of anti-Semitism and Nazi glorification from the government.

He said that increasingly more people feel comfortable publicly espousing their anti-Semitic views and there are not enough voices of authority condemning it.

Mr. Benlolo added that there has been “a spike” of anti-Semitic incidents following a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., in August 2017, where one counter-protester was murdered.

He said white supremacists, anti-Semites, and right-wing extremists have become “emboldened” and there is a need for “people in power [and] people in influence to stand up and speak out continuously.”

Liberal MP Anthony Housefather (Mount Royal, Que.) said, “I think most Canadians and the government share the opinion that we don’t support Nazi glorification.”

He said the government should continue do what it has been doing to condemn Nazi glorification and anti-Semitism, which is continuing in the footsteps of the Harper government.

“We continue to do our best to make sure that all Canadians understand that hate is never acceptable whether at home or abroad,” Mr. Housefather, chair of the House Justice and Human Rights Committee, told The Hill Times.

Latvian Ambassador to Canada Kārlis Eihenbaums was unable to comment due to short notice, but referred The Hill Times to a statement from the Latvian ministry of foreign affairs, issued on March 16, the day of the parade.

“The state of Latvia has been consistent in condemning the crimes against humanity committed by both totalitarian regimes—Latvia denounces the Holocaust and mourns its victims,” reads the statement. “Since the restoration of independence, the Latvian government has consistently pursued an approach that Latvia commemorates its fallen soldiers on Nov. 11 (the Lāčplēsis Day)—the day we remember our heroes.”

Referring to the March 16 events, the release also states that “senior officials and members of the government do not participate in these commemorative gatherings in the centre of Latvia’s capital city.” It also says the day is an opportunity to “explore the tragic lessons of history in order to prevent politicization, radicalism, and the spread of extremist ideas.”

“We think there is ample evidence in the historical record to suggest that this cannot be dismissed as fake news,” Mr. Herman said.

He added that B’nai Brith Canada is concerned that “the same things” happening in Latvia are also taking place in Lithuania.

nmoss@hilltimes.com

The Hill Times

Correction: A previous version of this article misstated that Brian Herman said anti-Semitism incidents decreased this year. He said that anti-Semitism incidents rose in 2017, but the rate of increase decreased from 2016 to 2017 compared to 2015 to 2016.

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