Home Canadian News Hunka controversy stalled Victims of Communism monument

Hunka controversy stalled Victims of Communism monument

Hunka controversy stalled Victims of Communism monument

Planning for the unveiling came to a grinding halt on Oct. 13, according to records obtained by this newspaper under the Access to Information law.

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The unveiling of the Victims of Communism memorial was put on hold because of the controversy over parliamentarians honouring a Waffen SS soldier and potential links between the monument and Nazi collaborators, newly released records show.

The Ottawa memorial was supposed to be unveiled Nov. 2, 2023, and Department of Canadian Heritage planning for that event was in its final stages in early October, according to the records obtained by this newspaper using the Access to Information law.

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But on Sept. 22, Yaroslav Hunka of North Bay, Ont., was recognized in the House of Commons by all MPs with a standing ovation. He had been introduced as a Ukrainian Canadian war veteran and a hero, but news quickly emerged that he had served in a Ukrainian Waffen SS unit that fought for the Nazis.

The incident became an international embarrassment for Canada as Holocaust historians, Jewish groups and the Polish government alleged that Hunka’s unit, SS Galicia, had been involved in war crimes, including the massacres of women and children.

The fallout of the Hunka scandal had a direct impact on the unveiling of the Memorial to the Victims of Communism, which had already been criticized for honouring Nazi collaborators and Holocaust perpetrators. Planning for the unveiling came to a grinding halt on Oct. 13, the records show.

“We’ve already chatted about the issues with the Wall of Remembrance, so I think you can imagine that the recent incident of the Ukrainian SS officer who was honoured in the House has had an impact on this project, especially as the matter of possibly Nazi collaborators being included on the Wall has been previously reported in the media,” wrote Sandra Richards, project manager for monuments and public art at Canadian Heritage.

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Yaroslav Hunka House of Commons
A file photo shows Yaroslav Hunka, right, waiting for the arrival of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in the House of Commons on Sept. 22. Photo by Patrick Doyle /Associated Press

The Victims of Communism memorial is supposed to honour those who suffered under communism and will include a wall of remembrance that will allow 600 names of individuals, groups or events to be listed.

But concerns have been raised by Jewish organizations that names of eastern Europeans who collaborated with the Nazis in the Holocaust have been put forward in an attempt to whitewash their past.

Canadian government officials have already identified some individuals who served with the Waffen SS among those names submitted, according to other federal documents obtained by this newspaper. Other alleged Nazi collaborators associated with the memorial have also been identified by the Canadian Heritage, but the exact number is censored from the records.

“It is important to note that many anti-communist and anti-Soviet advocates and fighters were also active Nazi collaborators, who committed documented massacres,” Global Affairs Canada officials warned their counterparts at Canadian Heritage in 2021.

“We anticipate that the listing of names that are not thoroughly vetted and the result of a broad consensus could generate significant controversy both in Canada and abroad,” the diplomats added.

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Private donations had already been made to the monument in the names of Nazi collaborators, the CBC reported in July 2021. Those included Roman Shukhevych, a Ukrainian nationalist whose troops murdered Jews and Poles, and Ante Pavelić who ran a Nazi puppet regime in Croatia and is considered a chief perpetrator of the Holocaust in the Balkans, the CBC reported.

The $7.5-million Memorial to the Victims of Communism, financed mainly by the federal government, is now essentially completed at a fenced-off site along Wellington Street in downtown Ottawa.

The Department of Canadian Heritage did not provide comment.

However, a statement posted at a government website for the project on Oct. 18 said that, “although the Memorial to the Victims of Communism-Canada, a Land of Refuge was scheduled to be inaugurated by the end of 2023, the Government of Canada is doing its due diligence to ensure all aspects of the memorial remain compatible with Canadian values on democracy and human rights.”

Canadian Heritage noted it was “reviewing all aspects of the project” before the unveiling. That included the names of individuals, groups or events provided by Tribute to Liberty, the proponent of the project,  department spokesperson Caroline Czajkowski said in a previous statement.

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“We are not in a position to disclose further information about the process at this stage,” she added. No date has been publicly announced for the unveiling.

The main spokesperson for Tribute to Liberty did not respond to a request for comment.

David Pugliese is an award-winning journalist covering Canadian Forces and military issues in Canada. To support his work, including exclusive content for subscribers only, sign up here: ottawacitizen.com/subscribe

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