Ontario and B.C. Take Lead in Holocaust Education, Advocates Urge National Embrace

Ontario and British Columbia will update their high school curriculum by the 2025 school year in an effort to combat antisemitism. B.C. says it will make it mandatory for Grade 10 students to learn about the Holocaust while Ontario will expand its current Holocaust curriculum.

As Ontario begins its mandate for sixth graders to learn about the Holocaust, educators and advocates across Canada are pushing for a wider adoption of similar educational requirements, according to CBC News.

Marilyn Sinclair, who spearheads the Holocaust education organization Liberation 75, is buoyed by Ontario’s decision, evident in the distribution of over 8,000 books on the Holocaust aimed at Grade 6 students. These books, telling the ordeal of Jewish refugees on the St. Louis ship in 1939, are part of an educational package equipped with teaching resources and support for educators.

Sinclair emphasizes the careful crafting of these materials to be age-appropriate, introducing students to the concept of ‘othering’ and historical injustice without delving into the most harrowing details of the Holocaust. This initiative is a response to the long-standing advocacy for Holocaust education to be a mandatory aspect of Canadian students’ curriculum, highlighting the systemic mass killing of six million Jews during the Second World War.

Holocaust survivor Eva Olsson speaks to Edmonton junior high students about bullying and hate.

The recent move by Ontario’s Education Minister, Stephen Lecce, to integrate Holocaust education into the Grade 10 curriculum by the 2025-26 school year is a step towards enhancing fundamental knowledge about extreme ideologies and antisemitism throughout history, including its occurrence in Canada during the 1930s and ’40s. “This is about building capacity as a society to stand up against all forms of hate,” Lecce told CBC News.

Simultaneously, B.C. Premier David Eby announced the province’s commitment to mandatory Holocaust education for Grade 10 students, commencing in the same academic year. The decision is underscored by recent increases in antisemitic incidents in schools and on social media.

Supporting these educational developments, Nina Krieger, the executive director of the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre, highlighted the necessity for investments in curriculum development, lesson plans, and particularly in educator support. The centre, ready to assist in developing B.C.’s curriculum updates, is poised to share its expertise with Ontario and potentially other regions.

Vince Lecroce, a community and spiritual animator for the English Montreal School Board, speaks to Grade 5 students about the Holocaust. (Charles Contant/CBC)

This educational priority is mirrored by the English Montreal School Board, which organizes special events and activities focused on Holocaust education. Joe Ortona, the board’s chair, expressed disappointment in Quebec’s lack of response to a resolution passed on Oct. 3, urging the provincial government to mandate Holocaust education.

According to research cited by Ortona, learning about the Holocaust not only decreases hate incidents against Jewish people but also against other marginalized groups. “That’s a good thing because that is essentially what we’re striving for: a more diverse, inclusive, tolerant society, where everybody is made to feel welcome,” Ortona stated to CBC News.

The push for comprehensive Holocaust education reflects a growing awareness of the need to confront past atrocities to build a more informed and empathetic future. With Ontario and British Columbia setting a precedent, the hope is that other provinces will soon follow suit.