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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

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Incoming Holocaust body chair visits Toronto

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Mario Silva

TORONTO — Canada is committed to memorializing the Holocaust in all its nuances, says Mario Silva, the incoming chair of the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research, known as the ITF.

Silva, who officially assumes his position in a ceremony in Berlin next March, was recently in Toronto to meet officials of the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem, including Fran Sonshine, the national chair, and Yaron Ashkenazi, the executive director.

He informed them of initiatives Canada intends to take in 2013.

Established in 1998, the ITF is the only inter-governmental body devoted exclusively to the memory of the Holocaust.

Composed of 31 member states from Argentina and Germany to Israel and the United States, the ITF has granted observer status to three nations: Turkey, Portugal and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

Membership is open to any country, but a nation can only join after meeting ITF requirements. Members must create a national day for Holocaust remembrance, open their archives to researchers and make a public policy commitment to Holocaust education.

Silva – a legal scholar and a former Liberal party member of Parliament who represented the midtown Toronto riding of Davenport from 2004 to 2011 – was appointed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper to be Canada’s representative at the ITF, which Canada joined three years ago.

As an MP, Silva served on a subcommittee charged with monitoring the state of international human rights, and was vice-chair of the steering committee of the Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Antisemitism.

Currently, Canada is pursuing initiatives in three key areas, said Silva, who holds a master’s degree in international human rights from Oxford University and a PhD in law from the National University of Ireland.

In education, Canada is working with three organizations – the Sarah and Chaim Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre in Toronto, the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre and the Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre – to preserve Holocaust survivor testimony, said Silva, who works closely with Jason Kenny, the minister of citizenship, immigration and multiculturalism.

“We expect further details will be forthcoming in early 2013,” Silva said in an interview.

Canada is also considering projects to engage students and teachers in Holocaust education, he added. Here, too, details will be announced early next year.

With respect to remembrance, Canada Post will release a commemorative stamp on Jan. 17, 2013, to honour Raoul Wallenberg, the Swede who helped save about 100,000 Hungarian Jews in Nazi-occupied Budapest.

Where research is concerned, Citizenship and Immigration Canada has partnered with Library and Archives Canada to develop a research guide on Canada’s holdings on the Holocaust.

“The ITF is committed to ensuring open access to archival materials related to the Holocaust, and although Canada’s archives are already open, we hope that this guide will further support Canadian students and researchers studying the Holocaust,” said Silva.

Asked what Canada has already done in Holocaust remembrance, Silva replied, “The government, under the auspices of Foreign Minister John Baird, is working to establish a National Holocaust Monument in Ottawa.”

 Legislation to build a monument received royal assent two years ago, and currently, a development council is trying to secure the required funding, he noted.

As well, a Community Historical Recognition Program, funded by the department of citizenship and immigration, has provided more than $2.5 million to projects that commemorate the experiences of Canadian Jews under Canada’s restrictive immigration policies during World War II.

Another project raises awareness of the internment of 2,000 European Jewish refugees as enemy aliens in camps in Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick during the war.

A third project tells the story of the St. Louis, a German cruise ship whose Jewish passengers were refused admittance to Canada and the United States in 1939.

Silva said that since the signing of the Stockholm Declaration in 2000, the ITF’s foundational document, international organizations such as the Council of Europe and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe have made Holocaust remembrance “a fundamental part of their mission.”

He said Canada will work with countries interested in joining the ITF.

In closing, Silva said he has worked co-operatively with Canadian Jewish organizations and Jewish communal leaders since the announcement of his appointment.

“I have been inspired by their dedication and passion for Holocaust education,” he said. “I am looking forward to continuing to work closely with the Canadian Jewish community throughout my chair year.”

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