Canada mulls releasing names of Ukrainian Nazis
The Canadian government is looking again at the contentious issue of the classified sections of a 1980s report on former-Nazi fighters then living in the country, according to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. It follows the scandal around a standing ovation given to a Ukrainian Waffen SS veteran in the country's parliament.
“We have made sure that there are top public servants who are looking very carefully into the issue, including digging into the archives, and they’re going to make recommendations to the relevant ministers,” Trudeau told reporters on Wednesday.
He was referring to the contents of the Commission of Inquiry on War Criminals, headed by Justice Jules Deschenes. Convened in 1985, the panel was responsible for investigating the presence of war criminals taking refuge in Canada, and released its findings the following year.
According to the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Ottawa had taken in more than 2,000 former members of the 14th Waffen SS Division Galicia, mostly comprised of Ukrainian volunteers, after the war. The Nazi soldiers posed as refugees and anti-Soviet freedom fighters to get admittance, and British authorities facilitated their escape from Europe, according to declassified archives.
The Deschenes Commission, which investigated over 800 individuals, made a controversial decision that veterans of the Nazi unit “should not be indicted as a group.” This stands in contrast to the Nuremberg trials, which declared the entire SS organization criminal. Large portions of the commission’s final report and most of its findings were redacted.
Last month, a 98-year-old veteran of the SS Galicia Division, Yaroslav Hunka, was invited to the parliament in Ottowa to be honored as a “Canadian hero” who fought “for Ukrainian independence against the Russians” during World War II.
Following the revelation of Hunka’s Nazi affiliation, Anthony Rota, who was then the speaker of the House of Commons, took responsibility for extending the invitation and subsequently stepped down from his leadership position.
Jewish organizations, such as B’nai Brith Canada and the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center, have renewed their demands for the full release of the Deschenes Commission’s findings in light of the scandal.
Quebec Liberal MP Anthony Housefather, who is Jewish, said that while the government didn’t want to “bring pain” to “Eastern European communities,” Canadians “have to recognize we have a horrible past with Nazi war criminals.”
“We opened our country to people after the war in a way that made it easier to come if you were a Nazi than if you were a Jew,” he said.
Quebec Conservative MP Gerard Deltell opposed the idea of releasing the report “at this time,” arguing that “history is history.” However, he acknowledged that his late father, a WWII veteran, would probably be disturbed by the Hunka incident.