TORONTO (JTA) — Following opposition from Jewish groups, Ottawa’s mayor has withdrawn a proposal to name a new building for a former mayor described as an unrepentant anti-Semite.
Jim Watson in a letter sent late Sunday night to City Council members said he would withdraw his proposal because commemorative namings should be celebratory events that "draw the community together," the Ottawa Citizen reported.
On May 3, a city of Ottawa subcommittee voted to rename a new archives and library building after Charlotte Whitton, the Canadian capital’s first female mayor. The full municipal council was set to vote on the measure May 12 and likely had the votes to go forward with the naming. The archives and building are set to open next month.
Watson said he was withdrawing the proposal for "the good of unity in our community." He said he will solicit public suggestions on a name for the building and archives.
Whitton was elected in 1951, but historians and some Jewish leaders have pointed out that during World War II, she actively lobbied against admitting Jewish orphans to Canada.
"Our opposition of Charlotte Whitton is because of the critical role she played in making sure that Canada didn’t accept any Jewish refugees trying to escape the atrocities in Nazi Germany," Mitchell Bellman, president of the Jewish Federation of Ottawa, told CBC News.
Bellman added that Whitton campaigned coast to coast against "anyone who was not British — so that included French Canadians, Armenians, Italians."
The Canadian Jewish Congress also opposed the honor for Whitton. Elected officials received large numbers of e-mails from members of the Jewish community decrying the suggestion, and Op-Eds, letters to the editor and columnists largely came out against naming the archives and building for Whitton, the Ottawa Citizen reported.
Whitton’s role in blocking non-British refugee children — 80 percent of whom were Jewish — is cited in the 1982 book "None is Too Many" by Canadian historians Irving Abella and Harold Troper.
Then a social worker, Whitton was an "influential voice" in the early 1940s when she served on two key committees, the book says.
She "nearly broke up" the inaugural meeting of a committee on war-era refugees "by her insistent opposition and very apparent anti-Semitism," the book says. The CJC, it adds, considered Whitton, who died in 1975, "an enemy of Jewish immigration."