An expert warned Canadian Heritage that names listed for commemoration on the “Victims of Communism” monument in Ottawa could be linked to Nazi collaborators and potential war criminals, a confidential report obtained by The Maple shows.

The 2021 report authored by historian Michael Petrou told the government department they would need to conduct extensive background research on hundreds of the submitted names to ensure against problematic commemorations.

The Maple obtained Petrou’s report through an Access to Information request. Previous informal requests for the report were declined.

The “Victims of Communism” monument was originally a private initiative led by the charity Tribute to Liberty, but it has since been taken over by the Department of Canadian Heritage.

Tribute to Liberty remains an active participant in the project, and was slated to develop as-yet undefined public educational materials for the monument at some point in the future.

A CBC News report in 2021 revealed that the names of wartime Nazi collaborators and assorted fascists had been listed for commemoration on Tribute to Liberty’s website, the names having been submitted to the charity by donors as part of a fundraising drive.

Tribute to Liberty then supplied the list of names to Canadian Heritage in order for them to be commemorated on the monument’s “Wall of Remembrance.”

It is not clear if Tribute to Liberty undertook any kind of independent analysis or assessment of the names provided to them by the donors before turning over the list to Canadian Heritage.

The CBC report indicated that the names of two high-profile Nazi collaborators were removed from the Tribute to Liberty website.

At the time, Tribute to Liberty chair Ludwik Klimkowski said it was “premature” to comment on the names listed on his charity’s website, as they and Canadian Heritage were still reviewing the final commemorative list. This review, he said, would be completed by the end of 2021.

Petrou’s report was submitted to Canadian Heritage in the spring of that year. Canadian Heritage said in an emailed statement to The Maple that it was not responsible for the content of Tribute to Liberty’s website.

‘Controversy And Criticism’

In his January 2021 report, Petrou warned that “a Wall of Remembrance that honours all the victims of Communism named in this document will attract controversy and criticism. Several of the named victims were fascists and Nazi collaborators or belonged to groups that might be described as such.”

Names associated with the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) and its armed wing, the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), were identified by Petrou as being the most problematic.

Commemorations to the OUN, UPA, and the wartime leaders of those organizations — such as Stepan Bandera, Roman Shukhevych and Yaroslav Stetsko — can be found in several locations across Canada.

There are also at least two monuments dedicated to veterans of the 14th Waffen-SS “Galicia Division” in Canada, one of which was recently removed from an Oakville cemetery. There was considerable overlap in the memberships of the OUN, Galicia Division and UPA.

Cenotaph Honouring SS Veterans Won’t Return To Oakville Cemetery: Source
A second monument honouring the far-right Ukrainian Insurgent Army still stands.

Because of these groups’ direct involvement in mass murder and ethnic cleansing, Petrou wrote that some of the higher profile members of the OUN-UPA would be easy to identify, and justifying their exclusion from the monument would be relatively straightforward.

Petrou singled out UPA leader Shukhevych, who is commemorated at a highly controversial monument in Edmonton, as an example.

However, Petrou noted that detailed information was lacking for most of the OUN-UPA members listed for commemoration.

“We do not have details about the wartime activities of most of the named victims who were members of the OUN-UPA,” wrote Petrou. “[…] It would be tricky to know where to draw the line. The department may have to decide whether it should honour any members of the OUN-UPA at all.”

Petrou identified three potential avenues that Canadian Heritage could pursue concerning the problematic commemorations.

First, Petrou suggested the department could research the most high-profile individuals he flagged and remove them from the monument if additional research confirmed Petrou’s suspicions. He noted this would likely result in protest from donors and supporters of the named individuals.

He further indicated that taking the narrow view would also likely result in lesser known collaborators and fascists making it onto the monument, which in turn would inevitably draw criticism from the public.

The second option would be to develop a criteria to judge the submitted names, apply it equally, and conduct extensive research into the life of every individual listed for commemoration. Petrou noted this would be a considerable undertaking, and that donors may not cooperate with the department’s investigators.

A third option would be to only name the donors, and not who they proposed as a “victim” of communism. Petrou indicated this would avoid most potential criticism, but would likely be very unpopular with the donors.

The Maple asked Canadian Heritage which of these avenues, if any, they chose to pursue.

Department spokesperson Caroline Czajkowski said: “Canadian Heritage is currently reviewing the names and events that have been proposed by Tribute to Liberty. We are not in a position to disclose further information about the process at this stage.”

If this is the case, it would be at least the second time the department has publicly admitted it has reviewed the names of those proposed for commemoration.

‘Holocaust Envy’

The Maple learned that Canadian Heritage also contacted University of Ottawa historian Jan Grabowski in April 2023 for help in reviewing the commemorative list.

In an interview, Grabowski told The Maple he had heard criticisms and concerns for years “about the monument being a ‘countermeasure’ to the Holocaust Monument, about the need to ‘elevate’ the suffering of the victims of Communism to the level of the Holocaust.”

Scholars refer to this as “Holocaust envy,” Grabowski explained.

Support for the monument came from right-wing nationalist organizations that are mostly active among Canadians of Eastern European backgrounds, he added.

“I also heard about the planned individual commemoration of some very unsavoury characters, some of them linked to mass murder of Jews during the Holocaust.”

Grabowski told The Maple that he responded to Canadian Heritage’s offer with three strict conditions, including that his recommendations be accepted in full, and that if the department failed to do so they would have to remove his name from the file.

Grabowski also insisted that he be able to review all names previously submitted to and vetted by the department, and that he have the right to remove individuals listed for commemoration based on their organizational affiliations.

The government refused Grabowski’s terms and it is unclear how they proceeded.

The public unveiling of the “Victims of Communism” monument had been scheduled for Nov. 2, 2023. However, this was put on hold shortly after the scandal surrounding Parliament’s standing ovation for Galicia Division veteran Yaroslav Hunka in late September.

‘Victims Of Communism’ Monument Unveiling Postponed
Canadian Heritage is conducting a review to ensure the monument is compatible with ‘Canadian values.’

A report in the Ottawa Citizen referencing documents obtained through an Access to Information request confirmed that Canadian Heritage decided to postpone the monument’s unveiling on Oct. 13, 2023 as a direct result of the Hunka scandal.

At that time, plans for the unveiling were already in their final stages. In the documents obtained by the Citizen, a Canadian Heritage project manager said the department was already concerned about the possibility of Nazis being named on the monument.

The same concern was echoed by Global Affairs Canada, which warned that Canada’s international reputation could be damaged if the monument’s commemorative elements were not properly vetted.

Other Problematic Names Identified

The problematic entries were not limited to wartime Ukrainian collaborators.

Petrou also identified multiple entries linked to the Independent State of Croatia — a wartime Nazi puppet state — its fascist militia (the Ustaše), and nationalist groups from the Baltic states. In his preliminary review of the names submitted for commemoration, Petrou identified at least one Latvian national who volunteered for the SS.

Where exactly these names were drawn from is not clear. The matter was complicated by Canadian Heritage’s deferral of questions from The Maple to Tribute to Liberty, and the latter organization’s general unwillingness to speak with the press.

The group did not respond to a request for comment from The Maple for this story.

Tribute to Liberty had originally sought to commemorate 1,000 victims of Communism on the monument’s Wall of Remembrance, but a list of only 300 names had been compiled by the end of 2015.

In 2021, Canadian Heritage said they were considering a commemorative list of about 600 names.

The names may have all been selected from Tribute to Liberty’s main fundraising effort. This entailed a virtual “buy-a-brick” campaign called “Pathway to Liberty,” in which donors were encouraged to dedicate virtual bricks to presumed “victims” of Communism.

When Grabowski was contacted by Canadian Heritage in April 2023, there were approximately 400 to 500 names up for consideration.

Most of the individuals identified by Petrou in his 2021 preliminary review remain listed on Tribute to Liberty’s website today.

Of the eight names identified by Petrou as having connections with the OUN-UPA, only Shukhevych was removed. The rest include a senior OUN official and UPA veterans, among others.

All four names identified by Petrou as having been linked to individuals who served with the Nazis during the war remain on the website.

Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac, a polarizing Croatian Catholic priest who was tried and convicted in Yugoslavia after the war for his support of the fascist regime, as well as Ivan Oršanić, leader of the Ustaše Youth, also remain listed.

Petrou also told Canadian Heritage there was insufficient information about roughly half the names listed for commemoration, although these included several names that belonged to “individuals who appear not to have been directly impacted by Communism, including because they were born in Canada.”

As well, Petrou identified individuals who died before the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, an Ottawa realtor with no obvious connection to communism, a murdered Sikh-Canadian journalist and the interwar dictator of Latvia.

Petrou also noted that several virtual bricks were dedicated to Canadian veterans of the Korean War. On that basis, he reiterated that “the department may need a precise definition of who constitutes a victim of Communism.”

The Maple asked Canadian Heritage why some of the names Petrou identified are still listed on Tribute to Liberty’s website. Spokesperson Caroline Czajkowski replied that the department is not responsible for the charity’s website, and suggested that such questions be directed to them.

The Maple reached out to Canadian Heritage in October 2023 about the postponement of the monument’s unveiling and asked what efforts the department was taking to revise the names listed for commemoration.

Czajkowski responded that “the Government of Canada continues to work diligently in collaboration with Tribute to Liberty, the main proponent of the project, to ensure all aspects of the Memorial align with Canadian values and principles.”

When asked if Canadian Heritage had ever inquired why the problematic names identified by Petrou remain on Tribute to Liberty’s website, Czajkowski repeated her response that questions pertaining to the website cannot be answered by the department.

When asked whether Canadian Heritage still intends to have Tribute to Liberty develop a public educational component to the monument, Czajkowski replied “we are not in a position to disclose further information about the process at this stage.”

According to Canadian Heritage, the unveiling of the $7.5 million monument will occur at some point in 2024, with the exact date to be selected in consultation with Tribute to Liberty.

As with the unveilings of other monuments, the public will not be invited to attend.

Taylor C. Noakes is an independent journalist and public historian from Montreal.

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