Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has apologised for his country’s role in turning away a ship carrying over 900 Jewish refugees fleeing persecution.

In 1939, German liner the MS St Louis sailed to Havana, Cuba, but that country’s government refused them entry, although they had visas.

The US and Canada also blocked them, denying the passengers safe haven.
The ship was forced to return to Europe and 254 of the refugees later died in Nazi concentration camps.

Addressing Canada’s parliament, Trudeau spoke of how the Liberal government of the day “was unmoved by the plight of these refugees”.

“The government chose to turn its back on these innocent victims of Hitler’s regime,” he said.

Canada’s refusal was indicative of its restrictive rules towards Jewish immigration at the time.

“Bitter resentment towards Jews were enshrined in our policies,” said the prime minister on Wednesday.

During the 12-year Nazi regime in Germany, from 1933 to 1945, Canada accepted fewer Jewish refugees than any other Western nation.

A senior Canadian immigration official, asked during the war about how many Jews would eventually be considered for entry into Canada, had a now infamous response: “None is too many.”

Trudeau called Wednesday’s formal recognition of the historic wrongdoing “a long overdue apology”.

“We are sorry for the callousness of Canada’s response, we are sorry for not apologising sooner.”