Former Justice Minister Urges Unsealing of WWII-era Documents to Account for Canada’s Nazi Sheltering History

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A former federal justice minister is calling attention to Canada’s past inaction regarding the nation’s history with Nazis. The minister notably cites the parliament’s unwitting recognition of a Nazi war veteran as a consequence of this longstanding indifference. Furthermore, he’s advocating for the unsealing of certain war documents approximately four decades old, which specifically relate to suspected war criminals who sought refuge in Canada.

The public backlash was prompt following Parliament’s recognition of 98-year-old Yaroslav Hunka, a Ukrainian veteran who fought with a Nazi unit during the Second World War. Hunka was brought into the limelight in the House of Commons during the visit of Ukrainian President Voldymyr Zelenskyy to Ottawa.

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The resulting scandal led to the resignation of House Speaker Anthony Rota, as well as public apologies from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on behalf of all Parliamentarians. Furthermore, the unfortunate event reignited demands for parts of the Deschênes Commission of Inquiry on War Criminals’ report, a 1985 investigation into over 800 individuals accused of war crimes who supposedly fled to Canada after World War II, to be made public. A considerable portion of the inquiry’s findings still remain concealed.

Veteran justice minister, Irwin Cotler, who had formerly acted as the chief counsel to the Canadian Jewish Congress during the Deschênes Commission, believes that many facts hidden in the sealed reports need to be revealed. As expressed by Cotler, transparency is the key to understanding the true nature of past events and rectifying historical inaccuracies.

Furthermore, Cotler insists that the report’s disclosure would not violate confidentiality in some cases. He affirms that the evidence concealed needs to see the light of the day, emphasizing the importance of full disclosure for ensuring justice.

The reticence to unseal the Deschênes Commission records, and Parliament’s recognition of Hunka, according to Cotler, are symptomatic of Canada’s continued failure to contend with Nazi war criminals. He criticized Canadian governments’ inaction and indifference that allowed the nation to serve as a sanctuary for Nazi war criminals, which left them devoid of accountability.

With fervor, Cotler encourages Canada to pioneer an independent international tribunal aimed at investigating the alleged invasion of Ukraine by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

However, the Canadian government has not given a firm commitment to disclose the Deschênes Commission records. Their ambivalence continues despite the prompting by Cotler and others and irrespective of growing public sentiment reflecting their determination to combat anti-semitism. The government, it seems, is yet to set a definitive course on whether it would reassess the report’s accessibility or firmly address the need to refine parliamentary invitee evaluation procedures to prevent similar incidents from reoccurring.