Canadian Governor General Mary Simon has issued an apology and expressed regret for awarding the second-highest honor in the country to a Ukrainian-Canadian who served in a Nazi unit. The merit was bestowed upon Peter Savaryn in 1987 and was recently brought to light by Forward, a Jewish news outlet. This revelation sparked international outrage after Savaryn received a standing ovation at the Canadian parliament.
Savaryn, a veteran of the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS, served in the same unit as Yaroslav Hunka, who was previously exposed by Forward for his dark past. Both individuals were part of the Galicia Division, a unit formed in 1943 from volunteers to support Nazi Germany’s campaign on the eastern front. The Galicia Division is accused of committing war crimes against Polish civilians.
Savaryn’s connection to the Hunka scandal became evident due to his tenure as the 12th chancellor of the University of Alberta from 1982 to 1986. As a result, the university decided to shut down an endowment named after Hunka. The Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Jewish advocacy group, urged the university to acknowledge Savaryn’s past as well.
It is important to note that only living individuals can be members of the Order of Canada. Savaryn passed away in 2017, so he no longer holds the honor. The constitution of the order does not allow for retroactive revocation of the honor.
In her statement, Governor General Mary Simon’s office expressed commitment to ensuring that Canada’s honors system reflects Canadian values. Simon, who became the first Canadian indigenous person to hold the position of governor general in 2021, is the British monarch’s personal representative in the country.
The Hunka scandal had further repercussions, leading to the resignation of Canadian parliament speaker Anthony Rota, who took full responsibility for inviting the 98-year-old Hunka to the chamber. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau dismissed the controversy as Russia’s attempt to politicize and undermine Ukraine’s reputation.
While Canadian officials, including Simon, applauded Hunka, Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky has not publicly commented on the situation. In modern Ukraine, Ukrainian Nazi collaborators are often regarded as national heroes for their fight against the Soviet Union in pursuit of an independent Ukrainian state.
The recognition of individuals with ties to Nazi units has ignited a debate about how to address and reconcile historical associations with present-day values. It highlights the importance of examining and understanding history in order to shape a better future. Governments and institutions must take responsibility for acknowledging and rectifying past mistakes to ensure that the honors they bestow and the values they uphold align with the principles of inclusivity, tolerance, and justice.