A Canadian cabinet minister took the unusual step on Tuesday of citing the Holocaust as a reason Parliament should approve a tough new security bill, a sign of the increasingly bitter debate over the proposed law.
Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney spoke a day after Justin Trudeau, leader of the opposition Liberals, also cited the Holocaust era in a condemnation of the Conservative government’s immigration policies toward Muslims.
The draft security legislation would clamp down on hate speech and give spies new powers to disrupt attacks. Critics say the bill is too sweeping.
Blaney, pressed by a parliamentary committee about the hate speech clause, said the Holocaust had begun with words. Opposition legislator Randall Garrison asked Blaney to withdraw the remarks.
“I would assert that there is no equivalence to anything we’re talking about here today to the Holocaust and at best the reference seems to trivialize the Holocaust,” said Garrison, a member of the New Democrats.
“Violence begins with words. Hate begins with words. I can talk about the Rwanda genocide, which began on the radio,” he said.
“I will tell you again - the Holocaust did not start in the gas chambers, it started with words, and that’s the reason why it is important to respect Canadians’ rights of freedom, but not to tolerate incitement to violence,” he said.
The Conservatives, facing a tough battle to retain power in October’s election, are taking a hard line on security and the threat of “jihadist terrorism” amid polls suggesting that stance is popular.
Asked later whether he felt there was a risk of a Holocaust in Canada if the bill failed, Blaney replied “Absolutely not.”
The main electoral threat to the Conservatives comes from the Liberals. Trudeau accused the government on Monday of playing the politics of fear and demonizing Muslims.
“We should all shudder to hear the same rhetoric that led to a ‘none is too many’ immigration policy toward Jews in the 1930s and 1940s, being used to raise fears against Muslims today,” he said.
Trudeau said the Conservative approach to security and Muslims resembled Canadian treatment of the ship St Louis in 1939. The St Louis was filled Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany. The refugees were denied entry to Canada and the ship was forced to return to Europe.
Asked about Trudeau’s remarks, Blaney replied: “This bill is aimed at protecting all Canadians and all communities.”