For 37 years, Canada has closely guarded a classified report that contains 883 names of possible Nazi war criminals who sought refuge in the country after World War II. The report provides insights into what the government knew about their presence, the extent of their investigation, and why most of them escaped prosecution. However, due to Canada’s strong privacy laws and government secrecy, the report has remained confidential. A recent political blunder, where a Ukrainian Canadian man who volunteered for the Nazi Waffen-SS was honored during a visit by President Volodymyr Zelensky, has increased pressure on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government to unseal the report.
Prime Minister Trudeau’s government is now discussing the possibility of releasing the report. Canadian lawmaker Anthony Housefather, a member of Trudeau’s Liberal Party caucus who has been advocating for the declassification, stated that the deliberations began before the incident with the Ukrainian Canadian man. Nevertheless, the incident has intensified the government’s consideration of unsealing the report. After the honoring of Mr. Hunka as a “hero,” both Mr. Trudeau and the speaker of the House of Commons, Anthony Rota, issued apologies. In a brief statement to reporters, Mr. Trudeau stated that top public servants were examining the possibility of releasing the secret list by digging into the archives and making recommendations.
The reasons behind the classification of the report, the second part of a 1986 inquiry into war criminals in Canada, while the first part was released that year, remain unclear. However, some Ukrainian Canadians strongly opposed the inquiry, believing it to be a witch hunt and a smear campaign, as some of their communities included former Nazis. In contrast, the United States has been steadily declassifying millions of pages of documents related to Nazi war crimes and their perpetrators since 1998. In Canada, Jewish groups and scholars have been seeking the release of the report for decades, as the country has had a poor track record of prosecuting or deporting Nazis who found refuge there after the war.
Only four former Nazis have been charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity in Canada since 1986 when they became crimes under Canadian law. However, none of them were convicted due to problems with evidence. Speaking on the need for the report’s release, David Matas of B’nai Brith Canada emphasized that the honoring of Mr. Hunka further highlights the problem of historical ignorance and the necessity of understanding the past to prevent its repetition. According to Mr. Housefather, the report’s disclosure is long overdue, and it can be done without revealing the names of the individuals on the list.
The incident in Parliament occurred during a visit by President Volodymyr Zelensky, who is Jewish, to address Canada’s Parliament. Mr. Rota introduced Mr. Hunka as a “hero,” leading to applause and a fist pump from President Zelensky. The gaffe resulted in calls for the speaker’s resignation from various political factions and drew mocking remarks from Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has claimed that his invasion of Ukraine is an effort to “de-Nazify” the nation. Mr. Trudeau apologized for the incident, stating that it violated the memory of the Holocaust victims.
After World War II, there were rumors that Canada had become a safe haven for former Nazis. In response, the Commission of Inquiry on War Criminals in Canada produced the report, creating three secret lists of possible Nazi war criminals residing in the country. The published portion of the report indicated that 448 individuals had never arrived in Canada or had died by 1986. The status of four individuals entering the country could not be concluded. There was no direct evidence of war crimes for another 154 people on the list. Insufficient evidence was found against 131 individuals; however, there may have been evidence in other countries. The status of 17 people was undetermined from the public report.
During the inquiry, the commission discovered additional potential suspects and created a second list of 38 names, along with a third list of 71 German scientists and technicians who may have been involved in war crimes. Unfortunately, the commission had to report its findings before it could investigate the people on those two lists. Ultimately, the commission found substantial evidence of war crimes involving 20 individuals and provided detailed recommendations on how to prosecute them, which are included in the confidential report.
Between 1987 and 1992, the Canadian government brought multiple charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity against four former Nazis, but none of them were convicted. One man was acquitted, charges were dropped in two cases due to evidence issues, and an aging defendant’s poor health led to the charges being stayed in the fourth case. The Canadian government also attempted to strip citizenship and deport 22 former Nazis for immigration law violations related to concealing their pasts. However, according to records compiled by B’nai Brith, only one deportation occurred. Two individuals left voluntarily, and two others were not in Canada at the time of deportation orders. The majority of deportation cases were closed following the death of the former Nazis.
Michael Levitt, the president and CEO of the Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies, has emphasized the importance of holding accountable any surviving individuals named in the report, despite their advanced age. Levitt stated that Holocaust survivors deserve justice and that it is important to pursue it for their sake.