Bomb-painted graffiti on a monument to Nazi soldiers in a small Canadian town is being investigated by the police as a hate crime – a move that has aroused disbelief among human rights defenders.
Around June 21, the words “Nazi war memorial” were spray painted on a cenotaph commemorating soldiers of the 14th SS Division in an Ontario cemetery, reported the Ottawa Citizen.
The cenotaph is located in the Ukrainian cemetery at Oakville in St Volodymyr, approximately 40 km (25 miles) from Toronto.
Regional police said they treated the graffiti as a “hate-motivated” incident – but refused to disclose the wording of the message.
The 14th Division was made up of Ukrainian nationalists who joined the Nazis during the Second World War. Members of the division reportedly killed Polish women and children as well as Jews.
However, due to their role in Ukrainian nationalism, the soldiers have been commemorated by at least two diaspora communities in Canada.
It is illegal in Canada to make a public statement that “incites hatred against any identifiable group”. Police said “the incident took place at a monument and the graffiti appeared to be aimed at an identifiable group,” said Constable Steve Elms to the Ottawa Citizen.
But an investigation into hate crimes against Nazi supporters has confused at least one prominent human rights specialist.
“I’m frankly stunned! Tweeted Bernie Farber, president of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, who added that he would be happy to offer a workshop to officers to educate them on the nature of hate crimes – and called for police retraction.
“At no time did the Halton Regional Police Service consider the identifiable group targeted by the graffiti to be Nazis,” said the police, suggesting instead that the Ukrainian community was the target. “We regret any harm caused by misinformation suggesting that the service whatever sort of supports Nazism. “
The hate crime investigation comes as countries around the world wrestle with difficult questions about monuments to people or groups with a controversial or racist heritage. Two years ago, the city of Halifax removed a statue of Edward Cornwallis, a British general who offered a bonus for the scalps of the local Mi’kmaq people.
And in Victoria, city council voted to remove a statue of John A MacDonald, Canada’s first prime minister and architect of the country’s famous Indian residential school system.
There are at least two other statues in Canada commemorating the Ukrainians who fought alongside German forces. In Edmonton, a statue – partially funded by taxpayers – of Roman Shukhevych, a Nazi collaborator, was examined after the Russian Embassy in Ottawa tweeted about “Nazi monuments” in Canada. There is also a second statue dedicated to the 14th SS Division in an Edmonton cemetery.