I’ve heard it all before. It was fake news then and it’s still fake now. Allegations about supposed “Nazis in Canada” – the most recent regurgitation targeting our minister of foreign affairs, Chrystia Freeland – have been around for decades. Understandably, just after the war’s end, Jewish Canadians were alarmed at the prospect of “Ukrainian Nazis” escaping justice by posing as displaced persons. In response, the Liberal government initiated high-level inquiries ensuring no such villains resettled in our midst.
Nevertheless, claims about “thousands of Nazi war criminals hiding in Canada” resurfaced in the early 1980s, resulting in a Progressive Conservative government establishing the Commission of Inquiry on War Criminals headed by the late Justice Jules Deschênes. Tellingly, its public report, released in the spring of 1987, rebuked those who had spread “increasingly large and grossly exaggerated” figures about “Nazi war criminals,” a campaign engineered to provoke public disquiet. Back then an anonymous denunciation could get your name added to a suspects list – in one case a couple were investigated for having a German surname and two black dogs on their secluded property, “evidence” enough for self-styled “Nazi hunters” to pounce.
I helped draft the Ukrainian Canadian community’s response to this hysteria. We recommended anyone found in Canada and accused of being a war criminal, regardless of their ethnic, religious or racial origins, be brought to justice in a Canadian criminal court, knowing that the stringent rules of evidence followed in such a venue would ensure justice was done. That “made in Canada” position was eventually adopted by Ottawa. Not a single person was ever convicted of being a “Nazi” in a Canadian criminal court of law.
Unfortunately, no effort was made to investigate whether any Soviet war criminals managed to enter Canada pretending to be refugees. The Deschênes Commission’s report perhaps explains this partiality. Listed on page 857 is the name of a man who published an English-language book in Montreal in 1981 admitting he served in the Judenrat under Nazi rule, later joined a Communist partisan group and was then an officer in the NKVD, the notoriously murderous Soviet secret police. With that record he was legally inadmissible to Canada. Yet he got in and even had the chutzpah to offer the commission his self-serving spin on history, although I doubt he ever gifted Justice Deschênes with a copy of his book. When a history of the commission is written, its peculiar bias will need to be addressed.
Today Chrystia Freeland is being pilloried for the unproven wartime misconduct of her grandfather, an editor at Krakivski Visti (Krakow News). Years ago another journalist who worked there told me his colleagues had no affinity for Nazi aims but did use their positions with the newspaper to sustain the clandestine work of the Ukrainian resistance. Of course, from the Kremlin’s point of view, Ukrainian nationalism represented a threat, one they would expend considerable resources on eradicating, well into the 1950s. There followed a concerted Soviet defamation campaign, portraying Ukrainian nationalists as “war criminals,” “collaborators” and “agents of Western imperialism.” Moscow’s men still spout the same lines, a rather unimaginative repetitiveness in their disinformation program. Perhaps they share Hitler’s view that if you keep repeating a lie people will eventually believe it.
What is shocking about this recent effort, however, is how the Russians have deployed a “blood libel” argument to undermine Ms Freeland. Certainly she made herself a target of their yellow journalism by taking a principled position supporting Ukraine against Russian imperialism. But who believes she should be judged because of the supposed sins of her grandfather? Thankfully her political opponents, like Conservative foreign affairs critic Peter Kent, do not, recognizing Moscow’s muck-racking for what it is.
That said, let’s not forget that Vladimir Putin’s grandfather was Stalin’s loyal servant, his father was an NKVD man, and he not only carried on the family tradition as a KGB officer but did better than all the previous Putins, somehow becoming a billionaire on his secret policeman’s pension while securing the sinecure of president-in-perpetuity of the so-called Russian Federation. Now there’s a family tree demanding scrutiny.
By way of full disclosure I acknowledge my paternal grandfather was a veteran of the Austro-Hungarian army during the Great War and then a POW in Siberia, returning to his village many years after the war’s end, a traumatized man. And my maternal grandfather, a forester and Ukrainian nationalist, joined the struggle for Ukraine’s independence against the Polish, Nazi and Soviet occupations before he was betrayed, imprisoned and murdered by the Communists, his remains dumped into an unmarked grave. I never met either man but am proud of them both because I know they fought for Ukraine’s freedom, just as Ms. Freeland’s grandfather did in the circumstances he found himself in during the second world war.
So to my way of thinking, she has nothing to be ashamed of and is exactly the right person to be Canada’s minister of foreign affairs as the Trudeau government rightfully condemns Russia’s subversion of the peace of Europe, just as the Harper government did before it.
Dr. Lubomyr Luciuk teaches political geography at the Royal Military College of Canada.