Rideau Hall is apologizing for the historic appointment of a man who fought for a Nazi unit in the Second World War, to the Order of Canada. Now, Gov. Gen. Mary Simon’s office says it is examining two subsequent medals granted in the last two decades.
“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,” said Lynne Santerre, a spokesperson in the Office of the Secretary to the Governor General, in a statement to CTV News.
Savaryn was a law partner, former chancellor of the University of Alberta and world leader of the World Congress of Free Ukrainians, lauded for working “to promote multiculturalism in Canada,” according to his Order of Canada biography.
However, as first reported by American Jewish news outlet The Forward, Savaryn also served in the Waffen-SS Galicia Division during World War II, the same voluntary Nazi unit the 98-year-old man recognized by Parliament, Yaroslav Hunka, was affiliated with, before similarly coming to Canada.
Simon’s office said that it is committed to working to ensure the esteemed national honours system is reflective of current Canadian values, but that historical appointments would have been made relative to the specific moment and “limited information sources available at that time.”
In instances where more information comes to light after an appointment, a termination is possible, but in this instance, Savaryn’s appointment was terminated when he died in 2017, according to Simon’s office.
However, the subsequent Golden Jubilee medal he received in 2002 and the Diamond Jubilee medal granted in 2012 “are currently under examination.”
FEDS ASKED TO UNSEAL HOLOCAUST-RELATED RECORDS
Hunka’s now-infamous invitation and the historic fallout in the House of Commons has renewed scrutiny of Canada permitting Nazi-era veterans to come to Canada following the Second World War, prompting renewed calls for the release of related documents, including an un-redacted version of the Deschênes Commission of Inquiry on War Criminals final report.
Completed in 1986—a year before Savaryn’s Order in Council appointment—the investigation probed more than 800 cases of people accused of committing war crimes and suspected of having escaped to Canada.
Much of the inquiry’s findings and final report remain redacted. However, among the publicly-released findings were that hundreds of members of the Waffen-SS Galicia Division were living in Canada by the mid-1980s, according to The Canadian Press. Justice Jules Deschênes, who oversaw the commission, said at the time that membership in the division did not itself constitute a war crime.
Now, Jewish advocacy groups say these recent international-headline-grabbing examples further make their case for the need to unseal Holocaust-related records.
“We should be telling the truth about our own history. If we don’t learn from the past what took place, we’re going to be doomed to repeat it,” B’nai Brith Canada CEO Michael Mostyn told CTV News. “And none of us want to see that in Canada.”
So far, the federal government has not committed to unsealing the Deschênes Commission records, and MPs are unsure whether it is the right thing to do.
“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,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Wednesday.
More to come…
With files from CTV News’ Annie Bergeron-Oliver, and Spencer Van Dyk