In the wake of backlash from the Canadian House of Commons giving a standing ovation to 98 year old Nazi veteran Yaroslav Hunka, the Governor General’s Office has issued an apology for awarding one of the nation’s highest honors to a man who served in the same Waffen SS unit.
Peter Savaryn, who served alongside Hunka in the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the Nazi SS, moved to Canada after the war and later served as the chancellor of the University of Alberta. The 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the Nazi SS, also known as the First Ukrainian Division, took part in anti-partisan operations in Poland and Slovakia, as well as frontline combat against the Soviets on the Eastern Front. While the unit itself was not specifically found guilty of committing war crimes by military tribunals after the war, the unit has been accused of having involvement in the massacre of Polish civilians.
In 1987, Savaryn was awarded the Order of Canada, the second highest honor Canada can bestow for “exceptional contribution to Canada and humanity.” Savaryn died in 2017 and with that his Order of Canada was automatically withdrawn, per the Canadian constitution.
This week, the Governor General’s Office issued an apology expressing “deep regret” over the decision to award him the honor in the first place. In a statement, Lynne Santerre, deputy director of public affairs for the Office of the Secretary to the Governor General, said that “We express our sincere apology to Canadians for any distress or pain his appointment may have caused,” adding, “Historical appointments to the Order of Canada reflect a specific moment in time and would have been based on limited information sources available at that time.”
Last week, Anthony Rota resigned from his position as Speaker of the Canadian House of Commons after praising Hunka as “a Ukrainian hero, a Canadian hero” during a session on September 22. His praised was followed by a standing ovation by the entire Parliament, as well as from Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, who was there to bolster support for Ukrainian war efforts.