With Europe engulfed in war starting in 1939, charitable organizations petitioned the Canadian government to provide asylum for child refugees, including Jews living in Britain, France, Switzerland, Spain, and Portugal. Eventually more than 4,500 children and 1,000 mothers were allowed to immigrate, but virtually all were non-Jewish Britons.
With the outbreak of World War II, the Canadian National Committee for Refugees (CNCR) and Canadian Friends Service Committee (CFSC) encouraged the Canadian government to admit 100 continental Jewish children who had been temporarily relocated to Britain. Initial steps were taken to allow them in, with the costs being borne by the private agencies. With British entry into the war in summer 1940, however, the Canadian government reversed its decision. The ruthless Nazi German bombing of civilian populations in Britain led to widespread sympathy for the resettlement of British children, and more than 50,000 Canadians offered to host children and mothers until the end of the war, which came in 1945. Despite the fact that Canadian Jews were prepared to host the previously approved Jewish children, the government refused to include them in the evacuation plan, fearing that it would lead to immigration of their families following the war. The Canadian government approved a plan to host up to 10,000 British children, with Britain responsible for screening and transportation costs, Canadian provincial agencies and relief organizations responsible for placement, and private citizens responsible for daily care. After about 1,500 children were placed, the sinking of the SS City of Benares on September 14, 1940, and the resulting deaths of 73 children, led to discontinuation of the guest children program.