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NATIONAL HOLOCAUST MONUMENT BILL

Honourable senators, I would like to speak this afternoon about Bill C-442, An Act to establish a National Holocaust Monument. Before focusing on this proposed legislation, it is worthwhile to consider some facets of the contextual background leading to it.

For thousands of years, communities have erected structures to collectively commemorate important events, individuals or groups of people that have made significant contributions or who have died or suffered as a result of war or other catastrophic events. There are a number of monuments, such as the ancient pyramids and the Parthenon, known to have been constructed by ancient civilizations and many remain to symbolize these historical periods.

Many words in modern English relating to monuments find their roots in historical languages. For example, "cenotaph" is derived from the Greek words "kenos" and "taphos," which taken together mean "empty tomb." Similarly, the word "monument" originates from the Latin "monere" which means "to remind" or "to warn."

Canadians also recognize the social importance of paying tribute to those who have given up their lives, even as innocent civilians, so that others can benefit from a better understanding of their sacrifices. This is demonstrated by the many monuments established in localities across Canada. For instance, there are close to 50 memorials in Montreal alone, and hundreds of war memorials in towns and villages across the country.

There are also a number of statues and other monuments prominently on display on federal public land throughout the National Capital Region.

The Canadian Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was added to the War Memorial in Confederation Square in 2000. It holds the remains of an unidentified soldier selected from a cemetery near Vimy Ridge where Canadians fought in the famous battle in the First World War. This tomb honours Canadians who have died during their service with the Armed Forces.

The National Aboriginal Veterans Monument is located in Confederation Park and was installed in 2001. It pays homage to the contribution of our Aboriginal men and women to Canada's Armed Forces over the years. It reflects traditional beliefs and its highest point is the symbol of the Creator.

The Canadian Tribute to Human Rights can be seen at the corner of Elgin and Lisgar Streets in Ottawa. It honours the fundamental values of personal freedom and respect for the dignity of every person. In 1988, President Nelson Mandela unveiled a plaque at the monument honouring a Canadian, John Peters Humphrey, who authored the first draft of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This served to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

There are certainly other monuments of significant importance within a few kilometres of Canada's Parliament buildings that are maintained by the National Capital Commission.

As honourable senators are most certainly aware, however, Canada does not yet have a national Holocaust monument. The atrocities of the Holocaust occurred during the 1930s and the Second World War in which our country took so active a part. The Nazi state sought to eliminate the Jews of Europe and vulnerable groups, such as disabled persons. This Holocaust must have a permanent place in our nation's consciousness and memory. We must honour the memory of all Holocaust victims as part of our collective resolve never to forget. A national monument will remind Canadians of one of the darkest chapters in human history and of the dangers of state-sanctioned hatred and anti-Semitism. It will encourage future generations to learn about the root causes of the Holocaust and its consequences to help prevent future acts of genocide.

The Second World War became the most widespread and deadliest war in the world's history, with at least 100 million military personnel and more than 50 million fatalities. A substantial number of these deaths resulted from Nazi ideological policies, including the genocide of Jews and other ethnic and minority groups.

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Canada entered that war with its the declaration of war against Germany on September 10, 1939, seven days after France and Britain declared war, and nine days after Poland was invaded by Germany.

Canadians served in our own military forces as well as in the service of various Allied countries. Our nation experienced a significant number of losses during this period. With a population of between 11 million and 12 million people at that time, approximately 1.1 million Canadians served during the Second World War. There were 730,000 personnel enlisted in the army, 260,000 in the air force, and a further 115,000 Canadians in the navy. By the end of the war, more than 45,000 Canadians had lost their lives and another 55 thousand were wounded.

In the years following the Second World War, a number of countries decided to install structures or museums to commemorate the Holocaust. The first country to erect a national Holocaust memorial was Israel, the country that had the greatest number of Holocaust survivors. In August 1953, the Knesset, the Parliament of Israel, passed legislation that established the commemoration of Jews who died during the Holocaust, the survivors, and those who risked their lives to save the Jewish people. After a ten-year renovation and expansion project that was planned by Israeli-Canadian architect Moshe Safdie, the memorial in Jerusalem reopened in 2005.

In France, the Holocaust memorial of Paris was unveiled in 1956. Similar to that in Jerusalem, the French memorial is a crypt with a flame that burns amongst the names of concentration camps. Ashes from the concentration camps and the Warsaw ghetto have been deposited in the crypt. The French monument also underwent renovations in 2005, during which two white marble walls were added with the names of Holocaust victims who had been deported from France.

In 1980, the United States Congress agreed that a Holocaust memorial and museum should be built on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, which was opened in 1994, is amongst the most visited in the U.S. capital. A number of its rooms are reminiscent of barbed wire camps and fenced ghettos.

Germany's national museum commemorating the murdered Jews of Europe is located in Berlin. Designed by another renowned architect with strong ties to Canada, Daniel Libeskind, it was inaugurated on May 10, 2005, 60 years after the end of the Second World War. His design at the site incorporates over 2,700 rectangular slots made of concrete that appear like tombstones to evoke the sense of concentration camps.

Monuments and museums that are dedicated to remembering the Holocaust are situated in other countries as well, including Argentina, Australia, Greece and Hungary.

I am proud, therefore, that we are now considering a private member's bill endorsed by the House of Commons of this Parliament that proposes to establish a national Holocaust monument in our own country.

With this proposed legislation, the Minister of Transport, in his capacity as Minister Responsible for the National Capital Commission, would oversee the realization of a national Holocaust monument in the National Capital Region. The minister would rely on efforts undertaken by a council formed for the purpose of establishing this monument, as well as on the expertise of the National Capital Commission.

It is fitting that the National Capital Commission participate in planning, designing, installing and even maintaining the monument.

The National Capital Commission is responsible, under its enabling statute, to assist in the planning and improvement of the National Capital Region, coordinating the development of federal public lands in the region, and approving proposals regarding buildings and other structures on these lands. In keeping with its mandated responsibilities, the National Capital Commission has developed a comprehensive policy on commemoration. Under this policy, the commission usually receives ownership once the commemoration has been installed and the commission ensures that the commemoration is properly maintained.

The National Capital Commission identifies potential sites on public land that can accommodate the commemorative structure. In most cases, the proponent is responsible for seeking and obtaining financial contributions to cover all costs associated with the project. The most appropriate location is selected following consultations with the proponent and other stakeholders. The implementation phase of the commemoration project commences when fundraising has been completed.

A recent example of involvement by the National Capital Commission in establishing commemorative structures is the decision to erect a memorial for the victims of communism in the Garden of the Provinces and Territories in downtown Ottawa. This memorial is being realized with the efforts of an organization named Tribute to Liberty, which was created for this purpose.

Having considered a variety of background information relevant to the amendments proposed in Bill C-442, it is appropriate now to consider the bill itself.

This legislation provides that a national Holocaust monument be established in the National Capital Region and that the timeline for doing so depends on the amount of funds raised by the council for this purpose. I am convinced that Canadians have such high regard for this initiative that undoubtedly there will be ample resources to secure the establishment of this monument.

In addition to carrying out responsibilities for the realization of a national Holocaust monument as provided for in Bill C-442, the Government of Canada supports other programs that pertain to remembering the Holocaust. These efforts underline Canada's commitment to ensuring that the Holocaust is not forgotten. This is part of Canada's overall objective of combating racism and discrimination in order to build a socially integrated society.

Just over a year ago, Canada became the twenty-seventh member of the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research, ITF. This organization was established in 1998 under the guiding principles outlined in the Declaration of the Stockholm International Forum on the Holocaust in January 2000. The ITF is a coalition of government and non-government organizations whose purpose is to build support behind the need for Holocaust education, remembrance and research, both nationally and internationally. Members must be committed to the implementation of national policies and programs in support of Holocaust education, remembrance and research.

Canada has a long history of promoting human rights and combating hate and discrimination. In its continued efforts to remember the Holocaust, it is fitting that the Government of Canada adopt Bill C-442 that has as its objective the establishment of a national Holocaust monument in the region of our own country's capital.

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