Canada’s Liberal government is considering declassifying records of Nazi war criminals who were admitted to the country after World War II, according to Immigration Minister Marc Miller. The controversy stems from the recent veneration of a Ukrainian veteran of the Waffen SS in Canadian parliament. Miller acknowledged Canada’s dark history with Nazis, stating that it was easier for Nazis to enter the country than for Jewish people. He emphasized the need to confront and reconcile with this history.
In 1985, a government-commissioned report revealed that Canada was home to nearly 900 Nazi soldiers, scientists, and their associates at that time. Among them were about 600 members of the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS, also known as the First Ukrainian or First Galician Division. This unit, formed in 1943 with Ukrainian volunteers, committed atrocities against Jews and Poles during its campaign against the Soviet Union.
The report suggested that individual members of the division should not be prosecuted for war crimes, citing that Canadian authorities were fully aware of their actions when they entered the country. However, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Jewish organization tracking down fugitive Nazis, claimed in 1997 that the actual number of war criminals in Canada was closer to 3,000.
While Jewish immigrants were detained as “enemy aliens,” Nazis could freely enter Canada by showing their SS tattoos. Historian Irving Abella explained on ’60 Minutes’ in 1997 that these tattoos served as a distinguishing mark, indicating affiliation with the elite SS and a fervent anti-Communist ideology.
Miller, a member of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party, proposed the declassification of names of Nazis known to have entered Canada after the war. However, Justice Minister Arif Virani did not express explicit support for the idea, suggesting that Canadian war crimes investigators should focus on prosecuting individuals involved in crimes like genocide.
Canada’s relationship with the Third Reich gained international attention when 98-year-old Yaroslav Hunka, a veteran of the First Ukrainian Division, was invited to a parliamentary meeting with Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky and received applause. House Speaker Anthony Rota, who invited Hunka and referred to him as “a Ukrainian hero, a Canadian hero” fighting for Ukrainian independence against the Russians, resigned following the controversy. Trudeau later issued “unreserved apologies” for applauding the Nazi veteran.
The unfolding controversy underscores the need for Canada to acknowledge and address its Nazi immigrant past. Declassifying records and prosecuting individuals involved in war crimes could help reconcile this dark chapter in the country’s history. The government’s response to this issue will be closely watched as it navigates the delicate task of balancing justice, historical reckoning, and international relations.