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Canada stumbles into a confrontation with its own Nazi complacency
With all the Nazi rehabilitation going on in Canada these days, I guess what happened on Friday was bound to happen.
Of the more than one million Ukrainians in Canada, the one person who had the honour of being introduced in front of Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky was Yaroslav Hunka, a 98-year-old who served with the SS 14th Waffen Division, or the First Ukrainian Division. House speaker Anthony Rota invited Hunka as he lives in North Bay, in Rota’s riding. Of the Ukrainian-born population in North Bay, there was a 1 in 40 chance that Rota would land on this former Nazi.
When Rota introduced Hunka, MPs from both sides of the aisle jumped to their feet. Applause was vigorous and longlasting. While the cameras in the House of Commons don’t show everyone, the majority of MPs who are on camera are all standing – not a single person looks to be sitting through the applause.
There is so much that can be said about this incident and indeed, I’m far from the only one typing through my anger at all of this. But what was, I think, most notable was that no one seemed to notice (aside from very online leftwing Twitter). Canadian news organizations didn’t name the man nor his military unit. No journalists online posted anything that resembled a “wait, what?” after the introduction which would have made any first-year history student pause and ask, “uhh was he a Nazi?” The decades-long process of whitewashing of Nazis in Canada has seemingly worked — it took the Associated Press to name the military division that Hunka fought with.
After AP reported Hunka’s name and military division, nothing happened for a solid 30 hours until two Jewish organizations – the Simon Wiesenthal Centre and B’nai Brith – condemned the spectacle. It was then that the establishment flinched.
This entire affair is irritating. It combines everything that I hate: anti-communism, the sub-average intelligence levels and seal-like behaviour of Members of Parliament, annoying apologies, simple amalgams, etc.
But mostly, it’s irritating because it’s an outgrowth of a brand of Nazi rehabilitation that we’ve seen growing in Canada over the past fifteen years or so. As people who lived through WW2 are at the age where they’re dying more and more, the memory of WW2 becomes much easier to distort, and there’s been no shortage of distortions. From our deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland claiming that it was Russian propaganda to say that her grandfather and personal hero was a Nazi (it wasn’t and he was) to the idiotic “Victims of Communism” memorial selling bricks to groups who honoured various Nazis (Hungarians, Croatians and Ukrainians who were involved in mass slaughter, to name what has been reported), to charging people who have vandalized memorials to former Nazi leaders with “hate crimes” (including charging the journalist who broke the news about a statue in Edmonton with the crime himself!), these trends have been impossible to ignore.
I imagine you know all of this already too and reading it again is also irritating. It’s irritating to type. And yet, it’s urgent as hell.
Last week, there were protests held in towns and cities all over Canada that targeted transgender children. While nearly all of the protests were met by larger counter protests, there’s no question that there is rising transphobia in Canada that threatens the safety, security and physical and mental health of trans people.
In the past two days, the message that has come out from politicians has uniformly made honouring a Nazi in the House of Commons an affront to Jews in Canada.
And, of course, it is. But it’s more than that. The Simon Wiesenthal Centre importantly condemned that the honouree was involved in the, “murder of Jews and others.” It’s the others that politicians have managed to forget in this round of hoopla.
Take this comment from NDP leader Jagmeet Singh: "This event has caused harm to the Jewish community and for that, I am sorry."
In his first remarks since the controversy broke, Justin Trudeau said this, “I think particularly of Jewish MPs and all members of the Jewish community across the country who are celebrating, commemorating Yom Kippur today, I think it’s going to be really it’s important for all of us to push back against Russian propaganda, Russia disinformation and continue our steadfast and unequivocal support of Ukraine.”
Trudeau did something wildly cynical here, linking the “Jewish community” with Russian propaganda, as if to say that the attack on them is … what … Russian propaganda? Made worse by Russian propaganda? It’s unclear. But Trudeau tying support for Ukraine to the need to resist Russian propaganda (presumably the kind that denied that Freeland’s grandfather was very much involved in the Holocaust) and that this is something he thinks of, in particular, when he thinks of Jewish MPs and the Jewish community, is especially disgusting. Especially considering that practicing Jews are right in the middle of the High Holidays.
None of what Trudeau says here is genuine and you can see this in the various associations that he’s made and, especially, in what he hasn’t said. Yes, seeing the entire House of Commons jump to their feet to honour a former member of the SS is harmful to the Jewish community. But Nazism didn’t solely concern itself with the eradication of Jews. It was disabled people as well. It was homosexuals. It was, as Singh ought to be aware, trade unionists and socialists. It was the many thousands of members of resistance movements. And critically, it was also Trans people. Nazism is an attack on humanity in all of our glorious diversity. Jewish people across Europe were devastated by the Nazis, but the Nazis’ death machine and its impacts cannot be summed up by apologizing to “the Jewish community” alone. Especially when attacks on another one of the Nazis’ target groups, transgender people, are growing in severity and reach.
But again, this is where the lack of intellectual rigor is on full display. There’s no sense among our politicians of how broad and far-reaching Nazi hatred was. We fight Nazis because they were anti-semitic tells only a part of the story and frankly, it’s the part of the story that has been most instrumentalized by non-Jewish politicians. Anti-semitism is on the rise in Canada but as rallies held in Canada literally promoting child abuse remind us that these things are all connected. And when political parties are trying to score points off the culture wars, and it becomes inconvenient to talk about what, historically, attacks from fascists, Nazis and other far-right groups look like, well, we simply repeat the same brand of black and white history that led us here in the first place.
This story didn’t start and end on Friday. It was only made possible thanks to a years-long campaign intended to make us forget that more than 20,000,000 million Russians died fighting Nazism. Or that Canada enthusiastically invited Nazis to immigrate to Canada. Or that our own colonialism was (and is) so brutal that it inspired Hitler himself. And Canadians, in our smug ignorance, hear that this nice old man “fought Russians in WW2” and our leaders instantly assume that, as Rota said, he is a true Canadian hero.