Governor-General Mary Simon apologizes for Waffen-SS veteran’s 1987 Order of Canada appointment

Governor-General Mary Simon apologizes for Waffen-SS veteran’s 1987 Order of Canada appointment
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Governor-General Mary Simon speaks during a Remembering the Children event marking the third annual National Day for Truth and Reconciliation on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, on Saturday, Sept. 30, 2023.Spencer Colby/The Canadian Press

Governor-General Mary Simon has apologized for the appointment to the Order of Canada of Peter Savaryn, a veteran who served in the same Nazi-led Waffen-SS division as Yaroslav Hunka, a 98-year-old who got two standing ovations in Parliament during a visit by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky last month.

Separately, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters Wednesday that senior public servants were looking into publishing the full report of the Deschênes Commission, which examined claims that Canada was playing host to war criminals.

“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,” the Prime Minister said.

Immigration Minister Marc Miller told reporters “people want answers” and the government needs to look at whether it can declassify the document “in a careful, thought-out fashion.”

Mr. Savaryn, a former chancellor of the University of Alberta, was appointed to the Order of Canada in 1987 by governor-general Jeanne Sauvé. Previous governor-generals also awarded him Golden Jubilee and Diamond Jubilee medals in 2002 and 2012.

A statement by the Governor-General apologized for the distress his appointment to the Order of Canada may have caused. It said her office is also probing his Jubilee medals, which are awarded to Canadians who have made a significant contribution to the country.

“It is with deep regret that we acknowledge that Mr. Peter Savaryn was appointed to the Order of Canada in 1987, and we express our sincere apology to Canadians for any distress or pain his appointment may have caused,” the office said in a statement, adding that it had elapsed on his death in 2017. “The Chancellery is committed to working with Canadians to ensure our honours system is reflective of Canadian values.”

The statement also said the Governor-General was concerned about the standing ovations Parliament gave Mr. Hunka.

Mr. Savaryn was a leading Progressive Conservative in Alberta and prominent member of Edmonton’s Ukrainian community who championed multiculturalism and played a key role in establishing schools with Ukrainian-language instruction. He also set up the Edmonton branch of the Ukrainian scout group Plast, whose participants included Chrystia Freeland, now Deputy Prime Minister.

In a 2013 interview with the newspaper Ukrainian Weekly, Ms. Freeland recalled attending the youth group there. “Plast was a very important part of my life growing up,” she said. “I grew up in a Ukrainian community and was active in Plast.”

The University of Alberta says it is reviewing other donations it has received after returning $30,000 from the family of Mr. Hunka.

University of Alberta facing calls to return thousands more in donations connected to Waffen SS veterans

The university’s Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies has received endowments and donations worth over $1-million from Ukrainians who served in the Waffen-SS Galicia division or who helped set it up, according to research by professor Per Anders Rudling of Lund university, Sweden, an expert on the division.

Mr. Savaryn is one of around 12 former members of the Nazi-led Waffen-SS Galicia division with endowments, awards and donations in their name at the university, according to Dr. Rudling.

Mr. Savaryn’s obituary in the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian studies newsletter explained how as a 17-year-old he joined the division, after being summoned with his brother by his father “when Hitler’s drive to the East faltered in 1943 and the Soviet military began its relentless counter-offensive.”

His father told him he was left with two options: “either ‘go to the woods’ to join the Ukrainian partisans fighting the Germans Poles and Soviets” or enlist in the Galicia division.

The Galicia division was set up by Heinrich Himmler, the head of the SS, from Ukrainian volunteers after the German defeat at the battle of Stalingrad, to try to stem the Soviet advance. Soldiers swore an oath to Hitler and the division’s newspaper was infused with antisemitic and National Socialist propaganda. An edition days before the soldiers’ surrender in 1945 claimed Jews were plundering Ukraine.

The University of Alberta received an endowment of about $430,000 in the name of Volodymyr Kubijovych, who played a key role in the SS unit’s establishment in 1943. Mr. Kuijovych settled in France after the war.

Levko Babij, who joined the SS Galicia division and was later Canadian national president of the veterans’ association, has a fund in his name established in 2011 with $50,000. Another division veteran, Edward Brodacky, gave $200,000 to the university’s Canadian Institute of Ukrainian studies, according to its newsletter, before settling in England.

An endowment fund worth around $150,000 is in the name of Petro Malofij, who with the Galician division took part in the 1944 Battle of Brody, where it was defeated by Soviet forces. He moved to Canada after living in Scotland briefly after the Second World War. Roman Kolisnyk, whose endowment fund is worth around $100,900, was an officer in the division and edited its veterans journal.

The Nestor Peczeniuk Memorial Endowment Fund, worth around $87,0000, is named after another volunteer in the Ukrainian division who, after surrendering, was sent to England as a labourer.

The Remeza Family Endowment Fund, worth around $100,000 is named after Sylvester Remeza, who also fought with the division at the Battle of Brody and settled in Ontario, according to Dr. Rudling.


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