Canada’s Nazi ovation gaffe in the House of Commons was just the tip of the iceberg. For years, the country deliberately admitted World War II Nazi collaborators in the hopes of dismantling political radicalism and suppressing labor militancy.

Heinrich Himmler (in the foreground) in front of the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS, May 1943. (Wikimedia Commons)

In September, Canada’s parliament ignited controversy when it celebrated Yaroslav Hunka, a ninety-eight-year-old World War II Nazi collaborator. The incident has brought renewed focus to the issue of war criminals who immigrated to the country after 1945. The primary source of outrage has rightly centered on how someone like Hunka, who voluntarily served in the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS (1st Galician), gained entry into Canada, and why the government never deported or prosecuted suspected war criminals. Even a desultory 1980s investigation into the matter of Nazi immigrants is still mostly sealed from the public, despite identifying dozens of suspected war criminals living freely in Canada — most of whom are now likely all dead.

However, media coverage has largely failed to engage with the question of why Canada let people like Hunka immigrate, resulting in the current political controversy lacking essential historical context. There have been some exceptions, such as pieces in these pages that have pointed out that there is a troubling history that Canada must reckon with, and correctly suggested that this immigration of war criminals was tied to anti-communism. It is important to delve further into this history, as it reveals a deliberate effort by the Canadian state to dismantle political radicalism and tame labor militancy in the postwar period.

Immigrants like Hunka were granted entry specifically because their collaborationist pasts made them useful in crushing left-wing organizing in Ukrainian Canadian communities. Collaborators assumed control of community organizations, some of which were transferred to them by the federal government, having seized them from socialist groups during the war. The process was often quite violent, with mob violence intimidating leftists, fascists serving as strikebreakers in mining towns, and a Ukrainian labor temple being attacked with a bomb during a concert. All of these actions were condoned by the Canadian state in the name of anti-communism.

Ukrainian Labor Temples and “Hall Socialism”

Contrary to the present existence of Ukrainian Nazi collaborator monuments in Canada, there was once a robust Ukrainian Canadian left. Organized around the Ukrainian Labour Farmer Temple Association (ULFTA), it played a pivotal role in various chapters of Canadian labor history, often adopting radical stances. The ULFTA operated hundreds of “labor temples” across the country that nurtured a political movement often called “hall socialism.” Labor temples hosted political rallies, contained lending libraries, published newspapers, supported Ukrainian immigrants, sponsored cultural activities, and provided a venue for collective socialization. In Winnipeg, Manitoba, the finest still-existing labor temple was completed in 1919, just in time to serve as the headquarters of the city’s general strike that same year.

Between the world wars, the Canadian government feared Ukrainian Canadian radicalism and its connections to communist agitation. Ukrainians were enormously overrepresented in the Communist Party of Canada, which even had a Ukrainian language section. The ULFTA was formally affiliated with the party and helped organize Winnipeg’s large Ukrainian Canadian working class to elect communists like Bill Kardash from the 1930s to the 1950s. In contrast, Ukrainian nationalists in Canada were marginal. They expressed admiration for Hitler and denounced communist politicians as the triumph of the “Bolshevik-Jewish clique.” In 1934, they published a Ukrainian edition of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

Between the world wars, the Canadian government feared Ukrainian Canadian radicalism and its connections to communist agitation.

When Canada declared war on Germany in September 1939, the Communist Party opposed the war, following the Soviet political line after the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Subsequently, the party and its many affiliated organizations were outlawed. On June 4, 1940, the ULFTA was banned, and the government seized all of the organization’s assets and interned many of its members. Over 180 halls were confiscated, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) took control of all archives, meticulously reviewing them to augment their already extensive knowledge of the movement. A recent purge of members with nationalist sympathies caught the attention of the Mounties, prompting them to contact these individuals as informants.

Following the banning of the ULFTA, the federal government took further action to force a unification of the Ukrainian nationalist groups in Canada in November 1940. Inviting the various groups’ leaders to a meeting, government officials presented a stack of police intelligence reports documenting their awareness of fascist political connections and recommendations that they be outlawed. The ultimatum was clear: unless these groups unified according to the government’s preferences, they would face prohibition. Responding to this pressure, the Ukrainian Canadian Committee (later Congress) (UCC) was promptly formed and remains in existence today. The UCC was expected to support the war effort and act as an intermediary between the government and the Ukrainian Canadian community. In return the government would lend support to the claim that the nationalists represented Ukrainian-Canadians.

After the Soviet Union joined the Allies in 1941, the Canadian government was slow to reverse the ban on the now very pro-war Communist Party and its affiliates. Internees were released in the fall of 1942, and the ban on the ULFTA was lifted in October 1943. Property still in government possession was returned starting in 1944. In many cases the halls had been sold, often to rival Ukrainian groups, with their contents dispersed or discarded. Halls that were taken over by nationalists had their libraries stripped of any subversive material.

In 1940, in Edmonton, a display of anti-communist fervor saw five hundred books publicly burned in the street. In Winnipeg, nationalists were given a print shop, and with RCMP help, they revised the editorial line of a socialist newspaper. However, readers responded by returning their copies wrapped around bricks, leading to bankruptcy through postal charges.

This period had a devastating effect on the Ukrainian Canadian left, as the halls and their contents, crucial to the movement and carefully built up over decades, suffered significant losses. Government interference in Ukrainian Canadian politics tipped the scales in the nationalists’ favor, empowering the conservative UCC to dominate the community after 1945.

Displaced War Criminals

In 1945, the surrendered 14th SS Division was held at a POW camp in Rimini, Italy, while the Western Allies decided what to do with them. The Soviets wanted them repatriated to face consequences for collaboration, but the onset of the Cold War altered the political landscape. Former enemy collaborators, such as Ukrainians who had served in the 14th SS Division, were reconsidered as potential allies against Soviet communism.

By June 1947, displaced persons registered as ethnic Ukrainian totaled 106,549. Initially, the Canadian government showed limited interest in admitting more Ukrainians, reflecting a long-standing bias against non-Western European immigrants. Furthermore, Canadian law prohibited the acceptance of former combatants who had voluntarily served in the German armed forces. However, much of the screening was conducted by British major Denis Hills, a self-described fascist who instructed collaborators on how to avoid investigation. The British exonerated the Galicia Division and transferred many of them to Britain to fill labor shortages in agriculture.

The UCC lobbied the Canadian government to accept Ukrainian displaced persons and emphasized their anti-communist potential. Against the backdrop of a booming labor market in Canada, these Ukrainians were portrayed as disciplined workers opposed to any sort of union radicalism. They were positively characterized as capable of filling vacancies in mining and forestry, where they could break up left-wing Ukrainian Canadian organizations.

Starting in 1947, this lobbying began to yield results, especially as the British government pressured Canada to accept them. In 1950, the immigration ban on Ukrainians who served in the SS was lifted, thanks to UCC advocacy that claimed they were simply soldiers who had fought against communism.

Many Ukrainian Canadians and Jewish groups opposed the admission of Nazi collaborators. The Association of United Ukrainian Canadians (AUUC), created in 1946 as the successor to the ULFTA, lobbied against the move. While supporting the immigration of Ukrainian refugees to Canada, they argued for thorough screening of their wartime activities. They were largely ignored.

Canada’s admittance of Ukrainian collaborators after 1945 was not a failure to properly screen immigrants, but an intentional policy decision.

By January 1952, official figures indicated that twenty-six thousand Ukrainian displaced persons had been accepted. However, later historical research suggests that official figures undercounted, and that the actual number could have been as high as fifty thousand, with half originating from western Ukraine, the heartland of the nationalist movement. Approximately 3 percent were veterans of the 14th SS Division, about 1,500 people, although some sources cite figures as high as two thousand. Additionally, there were other nationalists who collaborated in less formal ways than joining the SS, but were still active participants in the Holocaust.

Canada’s admittance of Ukrainian collaborators after 1945 was not a failure to properly screen immigrants, but an intentional policy decision. Canada did not care what many of these people were accused of doing in eastern Europe. The primary consideration was their usefulness in domestic anti-communism.

Expunging the Reds

On October 8, 1950, a bomb went off during a concert at the Central Ukrainian Labor Temple on Bathurst Street in Toronto. Eleven people were injured, and the explosion leveled part of the building. Authorities offered a $1,500 reward for information, but no one was ever caught. The long-standing suspicion is that Ukrainian nationalists were responsible, as this attack aligned with a pattern of violence directed against the Ukrainian Canadian left during the 1950s. Ukrainian labor temples and the broader labor movement were central to the postwar struggle between Ukrainian fascist emigres and the Ukrainian Canadian Left.

Soon after arriving in Canada in the late 1940s, Ukrainian nationalist immigrants organized to target labor temples and disrupt meetings. In December 1948 in Val-d’or, Quebec, a group of them attacked a temple hosting a speaker discussing the Soviet Union. Armed with sticks, stones, and bottles they invaded the event to attack the speaker but were repulsed and thrown out. Unable to kidnap the speaker, they split up into smaller groups to stake out the homes of suspected communists.

In the immediate postwar years, it became clear that an independent Ukraine was unlikely. Consequently, attacking leftists in the Ukrainian Canadian community became a sort of consolation prize. The Canadian state was to some extent pleased with this change of focus by the nationalists, and tacitly approved of such attacks.

Official anti-communist sentiment was coupled with the need for more workers in Canada’s booming postwar economy. Ukrainian displaced persons, as a condition for immigration, often entered into work contracts binding them to an employer, typically in resource extraction towns in the north of Ontario or Quebec. Mining company agents visited refugee camps in Europe, screening prospective employees for anti-communist beliefs, and then recruited them to relocate to Canada. They often arrived in places that had a preexisting Ukrainian Canadian left.

Initially the AUUC tried to organize the new immigrants, but this was ineffective. In December 1947, several dozen Ukrainian displaced persons took a train to Timmins, Ontario, to start work in a gold mine. Stopping in North Bay, Ontario (where Hunka currently resides), they were greeted by communist organizers at the station who sought to explain the importance of unionization. In response, the organizers were severely beaten and thrown off the train — an event celebrated by the local press.

As the work contracts for the first wave of nationalist emigres expired, they moved into urban areas, leading to an escalation in attacks on the AUUC. Simultaneously, a fresh wave of Ukrainian displaced persons were admitted into Canada in the early 1950s after the removal of the ban on the immigration of collaborators. In Winnipeg, Toronto, and Edmonton, nationalists would attend labor temple events with the intention of disrupting and attacking. This ranged from heckling to shut down a speaker to physical assaults on attendees and organizers, property vandalism, and even following attendees home.

Police investigations into the attacks were largely lackluster, often attributing blame to the AUUC for somehow instigating them. In Dec 1949, a crowd of two hundred nationalists surrounded a labor temple event in Timmins, Ontario. They were denied entry, but refused to leave, shouting and banging on the door. When the police arrived, they concluded that nothing criminal had occurred, and then drove off. Emboldened, the nationalists broke inside and started beating men, women, and children, sending several people to hospital in serious condition. The local police returned but simply stood and watched. Eventually, one nationalist was charged with assault, but the prosecution and the defense colluded to acquit him.

The October 1950 bombing of a Toronto labor temple brought broader public attention to the conflict within the Ukrainian Canadian community. The AUUC accused Galicia Division veterans of the attack and blamed the Canadian government for failing to screen them during immigration. The RCMP investigation into the bombing swiftly eliminated nationalists as suspects, even when lacking alibis and possessing obvious motive. Law enforcement also entertained nationalist claims that the bombing was a false-flag operation carried out by the communists to garner public sympathy.

The October 1950 bombing of a Toronto labor temple brought broader public attention to the conflict within the Ukrainian Canadian community.

The investigation failed to pursue many significant leads, and by early 1951, the case was closed without ever identifying a potential suspect. Instead, the RCMP invested its effort into creating lists of anyone who wrote to the government about the bombing and conducted surveillance on victims of the attack. While it is likely that the bombing was perpetrated by Ukrainian nationalists, the intentionally poor investigation by the RCMP renders it impossible to establish with certainty.

Following the bombing, overt violence against Ukrainian Canadian leftists declined by the mid-1950s. This decline was, in large part, due to its effectiveness in intimidating AUUC supporters from attending events and organizing. Additionally, the far-right nationalists had become increasingly integrated into mainstream Ukrainian Canadian organizations by this point, affording them the legal means to expunge the reds in the community. This alignment with the broader Red Scare, which squashed left radicalism in Canada, further contributed to the decline of the AUUC.

In 1945 the AUUC welcomed 2,579 new members, but by 1969 that figure dwindled to eighty-four annually. The number of temples collapsed to forty-three by 1973. By the late 1960s, both the membership and leadership was aging, while young recruits were scarce.

Enduring Historical Revisionism

By the 1970s the nationalists had established domination over the Ukrainian Canadian experience. This framework excluded diverse points of view, such as labor radicalism, and replaced it with a monolithic identity built on a conservative nationalism. This era coincided with the fashioning of Canada’s official multiculturalism, in which both the federal and provincial governments aimed to celebrate diverse ethnic communities.

Under the fig leaf of celebrating ethnic heritage, statues of Ukrainian Nazi collaborators, such as Roman Shukhevych in Edmonton, began to be erected at this time, often with government money. Having extensively researched postwar violence in the Ukrainian Canadian community, the historian Kassandra Luciuk argues that this was a deliberate project of the Canadian state, intended to marginalize leftists. It left no room for other ideas of “Ukrainianness” other than one tightly wound with anti-communist nationalism.

The presence of Nazi monuments in Canada is symptomatic of this hegemony, visibly illustrating the historical revisionism the Ukrainian nationalists have successfully imposed. These monuments not only celebrate individuals and organizations that took part in war crimes during World War II, but also represent a triumph over left-wing opposition in the Ukrainian Canadian community. This historical revisionism has become so prevalent that even a mainstream politician, such as federal finance minister Chrystia Freeland, regularly extols her Ukrainian grandfather, who happened to run a Nazi collaborationist newspaper recruiting for the 14th SS Division — the same division that Hunka joined.

This revisionism owes its existence to the Canadian state, which used the many tools at its disposal — from the immigration system to the police — to ensure an outcome that has persisted well after its anti-communist purpose faded. Ukrainian Canadian nationalists of course have been active in constructing this revisionism, but they flatter themselves if they believe they could have accomplished it alone.

Understanding the political context of the Hunka affair requires delving into this chapter of Canadian history. It sheds light on how a small minority of far-right immigrants, with state backing, gained substantial influence in Ukrainian Canadian communities, and shaped Canadian policy toward Ukraine. Hunka’s celebration was not a result of historical ignorance, but rather stemmed from active historical revisionism that has sought to recast collaborators as heroes and render invisible Ukrainian Canadian socialist movements.

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