The Victims of Communism monument’s public unveiling has been postponed to an as-yet undetermined date in 2024 as Canadian Heritage conducts an additional review to ensure the monument is compatible with what the ministry deems to be Canadian values.

This includes a review of the list of names of alleged victims of communism to be commemorated by the monument.

The controversial monument, already $6 million over its original cost estimate of $1.5 million and years behind schedule, gained national attention in 2021 when CBC News reported that commemorative “virtual bricks” were purchased to pay tribute to an assortment of suspected war criminals, fascists and Nazi collaborators.

The bricks were purchased as part of a fundraising drive run by the charity Tribute to Liberty. Ludwik Klimkowski, Tribute to Liberty’s chair, would not confirm whether funds raised in tribute to suspected collaborators or fascists were returned to the donors back in 2021. He did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

Canadian Heritage had a list of 600 presumed victims of communism that were to be included in a commemorative component of the monument. In 2021, the ministry indicated that the list had been reviewed by a historian, Michael Petrou. 

“I was given a list of names to research,” said Petrou. “I flagged names that were potentially problematic because they appeared to have belonged to people who were involved in fascist or collaborationist outfits during the Second World War, mostly in Eastern Europe or the Balkans.” Petrou said he also flagged names that couldn’t be directly connected to communism.

Despite that internal review, bricks purchased in tribute to collaborators and fascists were listed on Tribute to Liberty’s website. Several problematic commemorations have since been removed. Petrou told CBC News in 2021 that there was overlap between the names he reviewed and the problematic names listed for commemoration on the Tribute to Liberty donor page.

Petrou added that his final report to Canadian Heritage, which The Maple has not been able to independently review, provided background information on those fascist and collaborationist organizations, as well as an explanation of events that took place on the Eastern front during the Second World War.

“We are continuing to do the appropriate due diligence in partnership with the main proponent, experts, historians and communities,” a spokesperson for the office of the minister of Canadian Heritage said in an emailed statement. “Canadians expect this monument to meet the values of human rights — and so does our government.”

The monument’s origins date back to 2007 and it was originally slated to cost $1.5 million drawn entirely from private donations, but the project’s fundraising effort stalled shortly after it began. The Harper government pledged to cover its costs in 2013, and by the end of 2014 the cost of the project had ballooned to $5.5 million, with $4.3 million coming from public funds.

The monument, which was supposed to be unveiled to the public later this year, is currently estimated to cost $7.5 million.

Neither the department nor the Canadian Heritage minister’s office would specify when the decision was made to postpone the unveiling of the monument and revisit the list of names to be commemorated.

However, on September 21, Tribute to Liberty tweeted a video of the installation of a portion of the monument, as well as text indicating the monument was scheduled to be unveiled at a ceremony on November 2.

The next day, a packed House of Commons honoured Yaroslav Hunka, a 98 year-old Waffen SS veteran, in front of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Hunka was introduced to those assembled as a “Canadian and Ukrainian hero” who had fought against the Russians during the Second World War.

Canada and the Soviet Union were allied against the Nazis during the war, a basic fact about the war that critics said should have been obvious to anyone – including MPs in all parties who were present in the House of Commons – with an elementary-level knowledge of the conflict.

The scandal cost then-house speaker Anthony Rota — who invited Hunka — his job, and renewed calls for Canada to open secret files concerning SS veterans who were allowed to immigrate to Canada after the war. Subsequent investigations by The Forward and the Progress Report revealed that the Hunka family had given a $30,000 endowment to the University of Alberta’s Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies and that as many as a dozen former SS veterans may have donated $1.4 million to the same institution over the past 40 years.

One of the most notorious names that was originally supposed to have been commemorated on the Victims of Communism monument — Roman Shukhevych — is already honoured by a highly contentious monument in Edmonton.

According to historian Per Anders Rudling at the University of Lund, “[…] Shukhevych commanded the Nachtigall battalion, a Ukrainian unit embedded in the Wehrmacht, which partook in the anti-Jewish Lviv pogrom on July 1, 1941.”

As a commander of various Nazi units, and later as the leader of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (the armed wing of the far-right Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists) Shukhevych is believed to be responsible for the deaths of around 90,000 Polish civilians, according to Rudling, as well as thousands of Jews, Armenians, Russian prisoners of war, Czechs and other minority groups across Eastern Europe.

The Shukhevych monument in Edmonton, one of several monuments to Nazi collaborators across Canada, has been the target of anti-racist and anti-fascist graffiti. The Ukrainian Youth Unity Council, which owns and operates the cultural centre in north Edmonton where the monument is located, applied for and received a $35,000 grant from Public Safety Canada’s “Communities at Risk: Security Infrastructure Program” in 2020, to install a security system to protect the monument.

Ottawa’s Victims of Communism monument is also supposed to contain an as-yet undefined public educational component, which has been left in the hands of Tribute to Liberty. A spokesperson for Canadian Heritage wouldn’t indicate whether this aspect was also being reviewed, only that the department is “committed (to) upholding democracy and human rights through all of its programming, including monuments.”

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

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