Police apologize for saying they have opened a hate crime investigation into a vandalized memorial at a cemetery in Oakville, Ont., Which has been linked to the Nazis.
Halton regional police said last month that someone had recently spray painted a message on a monument in the Ukrainian cemetery of Saint-Volodymyr.
Investigators said it was a “hate motivated offense”. They did not share photos or disclose what was painted on the memorial to avoid “spreading the suspect’s message further.”
But a report by the Ukrainian channel Kontakt on YouTube shows that he had been scribbled with the words “Nazi war monument”.
Representatives of the cemetery did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The memorial in question, which is in a private cemetery, is intended to commemorate the 1st Ukrainian division of the Ukrainian national army, originally known as the Waffen-SS “Galicia” division.
We regret any harm caused by misinformation which suggests that the Service in any way supports Nazism.– Halton Regional Police
The unit was created by Nazi Germany from predominantly Ukrainian volunteers in 1943 and 1944, according to a study. His involvement in war crimes is still debated today.
“It is ridiculous that it is considered a hate crime to vandalize this monument,” Moss Robeson, a self-proclaimed independent researcher on nationalist networks, told CBC News.
The controversy over how the police described the investigation grew after Robeson posted about it on Twitter in early July.
He says calling vandalism a hate crime is “ridiculous”.
On Friday, Halton police reversed their initial statement and apologized, saying the “initial information” indicated that the target group was “Ukrainians in general”, or members of this specific cultural center.
“At no time did the Halton Regional Police Department consider the identifiable group targeted by the graffiti to be Nazis,” police said in a press release.
“We regret any injury caused by misinformation which suggests that the Service in any way supports Nazism. “
On Twitter, Chief Steve Tanner approved a message asking for the monument to be removed.
“I am personally shocked and surprised that such a monument ever existed,” Tanner said.
Police said the investigation is ongoing and will provide an update to its conclusion.
In a statement, the Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies congratulated the police.
“Any monument that worships the soldiers who fought for the genocide regime of Hitler is nothing less than a scourge and insults the memory of the Canadian soldiers who made the supreme sacrifice during the Second World War in the name of the freedoms that we all cherish, ”said Rabbi Meyer H. May, Executive Director.
According to a study published in the Kyiv-Mohyla Humanities Journal, the Galicia Division was, after its creation, reformed with new recruits and soldiers from other units after suffering heavy casualties in the Battle of Brody in July 1944.
The study indicates that there are “contrasting views” on unity and that over the past decades some have said that it should be viewed as a “tool of Nazi Germany” which has committed violence against civilians.
But this view was rejected by the British and Canadian commissions of inquiry.
In 1985, the government of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney created a royal commission which, in part, looked at the former members of the Ukrainian division of Galicia.
He concluded that they should not be charged as a group for their association with the Waffen-SS, and that no war crime charge against any individual member could be substantiated.
The postwar military court in Nuremberg declared the Waffen-SS a criminal organization, but with the reservation that “this evidence was not relevant to every Waffen-SS division or every individual who had served in these forces” , according to the study. .
The Galicia division was renamed 1st Ukrainian division of the Ukrainian national army before surrendering to the Allies at the end of the Second World War, according to the study.
Oakville Mayor Rob Burton says municipalities have no role to play in regulating the content of private cemeteries.
“It is personally repugnant to me, I have a family who died fighting the Nazis,” he said in a statement on Friday. “If the laws of Ontario had allowed me to remove it, it would have disappeared 14 years ago.