Two former federal cabinet ministers from Ottawa – the late Mauril Bélanger and John Baird – received the Raoul Wallenberg Citation for Moral Courage in the Face of Anti-Semitism in a ceremony held, October 17, at the National Holocaust Monument.
It was the third annual presentation hosted by the Wallenberg Citation Initiative. The award – named for a Swedish diplomat who saved thousands of Jews from the Holocaust and who disappeared after being taken into custody by Soviet authorities in 1945 – recognizes “outstanding individuals (or groups) who stand up to and speak out against anti-Semitism in Canada and the world.”
“We are here today for an important purpose, and I believe our purpose will be a memorable experience for all of us,” said Daniel Stringer, co-founder of the Wallenberg Citation Initiative and MC of the event.
The 2018 national citation was presented posthumously to Bélanger, the Liberal MP who represented Ottawa-Vanier and served as minister of internal trade under prime minister Paul Martin, and who proposed the bill changing Canada’s national anthem to be gender neutral. Lawrence Greenspon, who spoke “not as a lawyer, but as Mauril’s friend,” presented the award to Bélanger’s wife, Catherine.
The 2018 international citation was presented by Rabbi Reuven P. Bulka to John Baird, the former Conservative MP for Ottawa West-Nepean who served as minister of Foreign Affairs from 2011 to 2015. Rabbi Bulka said it was a “personal thrill” to be able to present the award to “one of my heroes.”
“John changed the discourse in foreign affairs. This was principled leadership of standing up to – and calling out – the modern incarnations of
Holocaust deniers,” Rabbi Bulka said. “Not only did he do this with regards to defending Israel, but he also did it with regards to defending human rights.”
In accepting the award, Baird spoke at length about his grandfather, who fought in Europe during the Second World War.
“That generation understood the great struggle of needing to be morally sound and morally strong. But regrettably, those struggles aren’t over,” he said.
“We have seen the metamorphosis of traditional anti-Semitism that targets the individual Jew, to anti-Semitism that targets the Jewish state,” Baird said. “We need moral clarity, and standing up for Israel is just the right thing to do.”
Also participating in the ceremony were author Fred Litwin, who spoke hopefully about a world without anti-Semitism, violinist Ralitsa Tcholakova, who played for the audience, and Cantor Pinchas Levinson, who led the singing of “O Canada.”