Black-and-white studio portrait photograph of a woman, pictured from the waist up, wearing a dark jacket with a fur stole. She looks directly at the camera.
Cairine Wilson, Senator and Chairperson of the Canadian National Committee on Refugees, 1940-1950. (Library and Archives Canada/Courtesy Shelburne Studios/C-0052280)

During the Holocaust, the Canadian Jewish Congress joined forces with other refugee advocacy groups and prominent non-Jews – including Canada's first female Senator Cairine Wilson – to create the Canadian National Committee on Refugees. The committee pressured government for a more humanitarian immigration policy. At the time, Canada's policy towards refugees was in the hands of Frederick Charles Blair, the Director of the Immigration Branch. Blair, a known antisemite whose attitudes mirrored the prejudices of the Canadian elite, obstructed entry to Jewish refugees. The committee's pleas fell on deaf ears.

Approximately 5,000 Jewish refugees managed to slip into Canada during the war. The largest group was made up of 966 German and Austrian men who were among 2,284 shipped over from Britain as enemy aliens during the summer of 1940. These Jewish refugees remained interned for up to three years while their advocates argued for better conditions and their release into Canada. An Order-in-Council was passed on October 25, 1945, granting immigrant status and eventual citizenship to all refugees who had squeezed into Canada, including the former internees.

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