The journalists who published a recent editorial in Moose Jaw Today comparing COVID-19 restrictions with the Holocaust need to educate themselves and make amends, religious leaders say.
They say the editorial minimized the immense suffering and death caused by Adolf Hitler and his Nazis.
"The problem with that is it sets a context where our society starts to take genocide, violence, hate less seriously," said Nicholas Jesson, president of Multifaith Saskatchewan.
Rabbi Jeremy Parnes of Regina's Beth Jacob Synagogue agreed.
"Anybody who has experienced or understands what the Holocaust really was would probably find that reference insensitive at best … We are not walking around with yellow stars [symbol used by the Nazis to identify Jewish citizens]," Parnes said.
Editorial claimed anti-religious bias
In the editorial, Moose Jaw Today senior editor Joan Ritchie questions the number of deaths attributed to COVID-19 and laments the loss of freedom caused by the restrictions that have been imposed.
Ritchie wrote that the limits on worship services show an anti-religious bias at all levels of government. She then compared the restrictions with the Holocaust.
"Sort of reminds oneself of what Hitler did to the Jews, and where worshippers are going from here, doesn't it? Lockdowns in homes, then lockdowns in hotels, then lockdowns in facilities, then lockdowns in internment camps?" the editorial reads.
Following a wave of criticism, the editorial was removed from the paper's website and a statement was posted.
"The editorial inappropriately compared pandemic-related lockdowns to the Holocaust. Glacier Media expresses its regret for this error," read the statement from parent company Glacier Media.
It wasn't just a turn of phrase. This was really irresponsible. I'm concerned about someone who's willing to say something like that publicly. - Nicholas Jesson, president, Multifaith Saskatchewan
Moose Jaw Today publisher Rob Ritchie said Monday afternoon he would issue a full statement and answer questions later that day, but he did not return subsequent messages Monday or Tuesday.
Jesson, whose Multifaith Saskatchewan brings together Christian, Jewish, Islamic and other faiths in the province, says the editorial was extremely harmful and can't be remedied by simply taking down the article.
"It wasn't just a turn of phrase," Jesson said. "This was really irresponsible. I'm concerned about someone who's willing to say something like that publicly."
Parnes, who has taught Holocaust studies, says a statement of regret is better than nothing, but an actual apology would help. He says he wishes it had never been published in the first place.
Publisher responds in email
Jesson and Parnes hope Moose Jaw Today officials will consider formally educating themselves. They could go further and educate readers. They note one of the key Holocaust memorial observances is coming up April 8.
"They might want to consider that," Jesson said.
Publisher Robert Ritchie did respond to Jesson and other readers who complained directly to him. One reader, Dennis Kendel, shared Ritchie's emailed response with CBC News.
"It is sad to think that people have indicated this was a comparison to the Holocaust, I believe that was social media inspired and certainly not driven in the editorial or by the heart of the writer. I can agree however, more care should be taken in the written word," Ritchie said in the email.
"In regards to the mention of what Hitler did to the Jews, what was done to the Jews was a travesty and the correlation that was made in regards to COVID lockdowns was a poor choice of comparison. We regard the Jewish race very highly and bless their Nation."
The editorial was also condemned by Health Minister Paul Merriman, opposition leader Ryan Meili, MLA Aleana Young and several Moose Jaw residents and health professionals interviewed by CBC News.
Fraser Tolmie, Moose Jaw's mayor, encouraged everyone to follow the public health rules, but declined to comment on the editorial, saying, "I don't like to get into the middle of debates concerning people's opinions."
During the Holocaust of the 1940s, more than 6 million Jewish people were abducted and killed by mass shooting, gas chamber, exhaustion, starvation and other methods.