Edmonton Police: Defacement of Statue Not a Hate Crime

Aug. 10, 2020 – By JEREMY APPEL 

The late-2019 vandalism of an Edmonton monument honouring a Nazi commander is no longer being investigated as a hate crime, police say.

A statue of Roman Shukhevych, who commanded the Nazi-trained Ukrainian Insurgent Army that massacred between 10,000 and 15,000 Jews and 60,000-90,000 Poles, stands outside the Ukrainian Youth Unity Complex in Alberta’s capital, where it has been since the centre opened in 1973, with the assistance of a $75,000 provincial grant.

In December, the bust was defaced with red tape around its face and its base spray painted with “Nazi scum.” The case was referred to Edmonton police’s Hate Crime and Violent Extremism Unit (HCVEU).

The CJR has learned that earlier this year, police dismissed hate as a motivating factor in the vandalism.

“That investigation was concluded and was categorized as a mischief incident,” Edmonton Police Service spokesperson Cheryl Voordenhout told the CJR.

There are no suspects, Voordenhout said in an email, adding that “if more information comes to light, the investigation would continue.”

The HCVEU is called in when a crime is determined to have been possibly motivated by hate towards an identifiable group, or when it is reported directly to the unit, she said. 

“The involvement of HCVEU does not necessarily mean that a file is a hate crime – determining that is part of the investigation,” Voordenhout emphasized.

Abe Silverman, B’nai Brith’s Alberta public affairs manager, said he doesn’t see how the vandalism could be construed as an act motivated by hatred against Ukrainians.

“I don’t know how anybody could be charged and logically convicted of defacing a war criminal’s statue – and he is a war criminal,” Silverman said.

Silverman said he has a “dossier that is three-inches thick” with extensive documentation of Shukhevych’s crimes written by top historians in the field, in addition to work by the Simon Wiesenthal Centre and Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem Holocaust authority.

“He was the head of an SS battalion and that was what the SS did – they went around killing people,” said Silverman. 

This was not the first incident this year that the vandalism of a Ukrainian Nazi collaborator statue was investigated as a possible hate crime.

As the CJR previously reported, a memorial to the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS at St. Volodymyr Ukrainian Cemetery in Oakville, Ont., was spray painted in June with “Nazi war monument,” which Halton Regional Police investigated as a potential hate crime before backtracking and apologizing. 

There is a monument to the same division at St. Michael’s Cemetery in north Edmonton. 

Silverman said B’nai Brith is working to have proper historical context affixed to the monuments, at a minimum.

“It’s something that occupies a lot of my time,” he said, adding B’nai Brith “will not allow these statues to remain in the form that they’re in right now.” 

Silverman said he has been in touch with the Ukrainian Youth Unity Complex, which he said rejected his overture.

The complex didn’t respond to the CJR’s request for comment by deadline.

However, representatives told the Progress Report, which first reported that the HCVEU had opened an investigation, that documentation of Shukhevych’s responsibility for Nazi war crimes was fabricated by the Soviet Union and Communist East Germany to discredit Ukrainian nationalism.

“The statue of Roman Shukhevych is on private property. He heroically led the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, seeking freedom for Ukraine from Nazi and Soviet rule and died in battle against Soviet operatives in 1950,” their statement read. “We will not succumb to false accusations.”

(Disclosure: This writer is a regular contributor to the Progress Report).

* For more on this issue, read columnist Belle Jarniewski’s take in the Commentary section.

Editorial: Jewish Leaders Must Act Now

As reported in the Canadian Jewish Record this week, Halton Regional Police released a report this month of a vandalized monument in the St. Volodymyr Ukrainian Cemetery in Oakville. According to the CJR:

“Someone had painted ‘Nazi war monument’ on a stone cenotaph commemorating those who served with the 14th SS Division in the Second World War.

“Formed in 1943, it was part of the Waffen SS, the military branch of the SS. Members of the unit have been accused of killing Polish civilians and Jews during the war.”

The debate surrounding this unit continued long after the end of the war. Apologists have claimed that the unit was formed to fight against the Soviets, and that its being under Nazi command was a historical anomaly.

But beyond doubt is that the 14th Waffen SS Division was under Nazi charge. Indeed, it was considered such a gem within SS paramilitary squads that SS leader Heinrich Himmler personally visited the division in 1944 to laud members’ willingness to rid Galicia of a “dirty blemish…namely the Jews.”

Despite the damage to it, the cenotaph is exactly what the graffiti described: A “Nazi war monument.” Unfortunately, when news of the vandalism was released, Halton police mistakenly claimed that the crime was being investigated under Canada’s anti-hate laws.

Social media erupted, and Halton Police Chief Steven Tanner wisely clarified: “The Nazi Party/SS are by no means a protected group under any hate crime related legislation,” he stated. “The most unfortunate part of all of this is that any such monument would exist in the first place.”

Also unfortunate was the stances of mainstream Jewish advocacy groups. The CJR has been unable to find a single mention of this incident in the news section of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs’ website.

Meantime, it seemed to take prodding from no less an august publication as The Nation for B’nai Brith Canada to issue a statement.

“There is no place for monuments in our society that glorify military units, political organizations or individuals who collaborated with the Nazis in World War II,” the organization told The Nation on July 21. “B’nai Brith Canada calls for such monuments to be removed and for comprehensive education efforts to accurately portray the historical record of those individuals and organizations involved.”

Asked the next day whether B’nai Brith would issue a statement to the CJR, the group sent the following from CEO Michael Mostyn:

“B’nai Brith Canada calls for the removal of any monuments glorifying military units, political organizations or individuals that collaborated with the Nazis in World War II. There is no place for such monuments in Canada.

“Regarding the specific cenotaph in Oakville, Ont., we are in the process of reaching out to other groups affected by this monument in the hopes of achieving real progress on this issue.

“At a bare minimum, comprehensive education efforts are needed to shine the light of historical accuracy on Nazi collaborators and their crimes.”

As of July 22, however, this statement was not on B’nai Brith’s website.

And Friends of Simon Wiesenthal would only go as far as to say the monument was a “blight” and “insults” the memory of Canadian soldiers who fought the Nazis. But FSWC was strangely quiet on removing the monument.

We expect more from our Jewish leadership. Jewish advocacy groups quite rightly spoke out strongly and took decisive legal and human rights actions against the owner of Toronto’s Foodbenders eatery, who recently engaged in ugly antisemitic tropes.

But the glorification of actual Nazis, all of whom, no matter where in Europe they fought, aided in the murder of six million Jews, seems to be a bit of an afterthought.

Complacency (or reluctance to raise voices) in the face of Nazi glorification is not an option, especially for Jews. It’s time for everyone to speak out and demand this and other monuments paying tribute to Nazi collaborators be removed once and for all.

Police Backtrack on ‘Hate Crime’ Against Ukrainian Monument

Halton Regional Police, west of Toronto, no longer consider the defacing of a memorial dubbed a “Nazi monument” to be a hate crime and regret any “hurt” arising from the incident.

The event provoked a firestorm on social media, with many questioning why a monument to a World War II-era pro-Nazi unit exists in Canada at all.

The episode began on June 22 when Halton police were called to St. Volodymyr Ukrainian Cemetery in Oakville to examine graffiti on a monument in the graveyard.

Someone had painted “Nazi war monument” on a stone cenotaph commemorating those who served with the 14th SS Division in the Second World War.

Also known as the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS, the paramilitary unit was comprised predominantly of Ukrainians and ethnic Ukrainians from the region of Galicia, according to historian Gordon Williamson.

Formed in 1943, it was part of the Waffen SS, the military branch of the SS. Members of the unit have been accused of killing Polish civilians and Jews during the war.

According to a Halton Regional Police statement, the initial information collected by investigators indicated that the graffiti “may have been hate-motivated, targeting the identifiable group of Ukrainians in general, or Ukrainian members of this cultural centre.”

After reporting and social media posts revealed that the monument pays tribute to a pro-Nazi unit, police changed course.

“At no time did the Halton Regional Police Service consider that the identifiable group targeted by the graffiti was Nazis,” said a July 17 statement from police.

“We regret any hurt caused by misinformation that suggests that the [police] service in any way supports Nazism,” it added.

Police are now treating the incident as a case of vandalism, said Det. Sgt. Barrett Gabriel. The investigation continues, police said.

Halton Regional Police Chief Stephen Tanner went further on Twitter, questioning the reason for the monument.

“The most unfortunate part of all this is that any such monument would exist in the first place,” he tweeted, as reported by the Ottawa Citizen.

“To those who died for the freedom of Ukraine,” states the cenotaph’s inscription. But it also displays the crest of the 14th Waffen SS division, whose members are alleged to have taken part in killing hundreds of Polish civilians in 1944 in the village of Huta Pieniacka, the Citizen added.

The memorial has been in the privately-owned cemetery for years.

Oakville Mayor Rob Burton issued a statement saying the city has little influence in this matter.

“Unfortunately, municipalities have no role in regulating the contents of private cemeteries. [The memorial is] personally repugnant to me. I have family who died fighting Nazis.

“If Ontario laws permitted me to have it removed, it would have been gone 14 years ago,” Burton said, according to insidehalton.com.

On July 18, the Ukrainian Canadian Congress sent a letter to the Ottawa Citizen about the paper’s coverage of the incident.

The Citizen article “propagates the narrative originating from the Russian Embassy in Canada that Ukrainians in general, and particularly all Ukrainians who took up arms against the Soviet Union during the Second World War, are ‘fascists’ and ‘Nazis,’” the letter stated.

Labeling Ukrainians as Nazis is “part of Russia’s ongoing effort to sow division in Canada and other Western democracies,” said the letter. The Russian campaign is “disinformation.”

The letter said veterans of the Galicia Division “never fought against Allied forces,” and were screened by the Allies before being allowed to immigrate to Canada.

The 1986 Deschenes Inquiry into Nazi-era war criminals in Canada “cleared these veterans of any involvement in war crimes…” said the letter, signed by Ihor Michalchyshyn, CEO of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress.

The memorial in question is not the only problematic one in Canada.

As the CJR reported recently, another is a bust of Roman Shukhevych, located at the entrance of the Ukrainian Youth Unity Complex in Edmonton’s north end.

Shukhevych was supreme commander of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) during World War II and held leadership positions in the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, correspondent Paula Kirman wrote.

“While viewed as a hero by Ukrainian nationalists for his anti-Soviet posture, Shukhevych shared the Nazi ideology and was responsible for commanding troops that committed massacres with the goal of creating an ethnically ‘pure’ Ukraine free of Poles, Jews, and many others during the Holocaust,” Kirman wrote.

CJR Staff