Yaroslav Hunka is the Tip of the Iceberg

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Examining new arrivals in Immigration Examination Hall, Pier 21. Chris Lund/National Film Board of Canada. Photothèque collection/Library and Archives Canada/PA-111579.

(Editor’s note: This is the second of two posts discussing the historical roots of the 2023 controversy over the warm welcome–subsequently retracted–given by the Canadian Parliament to Ukrainian-Canadian and former member of the 14th SS Division Yaroslav Hunka. You can read the first post, by Katelyn Arac, here.)

Alvin Finkel

William Kelly, the RCMP officer in charge of security screening for prospective immigrants from Europe, provided in 1953 his view that the Department of Citizenship and Immigration was knowingly allowing war criminals into Canada. He wrote the officer-in-charge of Special Branch, the security-screening division of the Force, that members of the Nazi Schutzstaffel (SS), and its subsidiaries, the Sicherheitsdienst (SD) and Waffen-SS along with members of the Abwehr should all be considered “major offenders” within the Nazi world and ineligible for immigration into Canada. Only those who joined the Waffen-SS after September, 1944 might have done so because of coercion.[i] He rejected Immigration’s view that individuals for whom no specific proof existed that they had joined these bodies of their free will might be considered “minor offenders” and therefore eligible for immigration to Canada.

The SS was the elite protection unit of the Nazi party and government meant to guarantee the ethnic purity of the German population. Controlling both the German police forces and the concentration camps, it led the campaign to exterminate the Jewish people. The SD was its intelligence service, and the Waffen-SS its military. The Abwehr was the German counter-intelligence service. Kelly’s view that members of the above agencies were war criminals was based on “Allied Control Directive Number 38” in 1946 which distinguished between offenders and followers of the Nazi regime. It indicated that the SS, SD, Waffen-SS, and Abwehr were lynchpins of the Nazi apparatus.[ii] Kelly lamented Immigration’s willingness to accept verdicts of German denazification tribunals, which he claimed “invariably classified in much lower categories than should be the case.”[iii]

A year earlier, Inspector K.W.N. Hall of the RCMP had urged the Immigration Branch “that collaboration is a matter which should be very carefully considered, taking into consideration the responsibility of the RCMP for the internal security of Canada.” It was “difficult to believe that prospective immigrants who were disloyal to the country of their birth would in fact be any more loyal to the country of their adoption.”[iv]

The RCMP also failed to persuade the authorities to exclude active Italian fascists from entering Canada. In 1953 it called for members of Movimento Sociale Italiano (MSI), the major Italian fascist party, to be excluded from consideration as prospective immigrants. The Security Panel, established by the Cabinet, rejected this suggestion.

Immigration policy was less lax at war’s end. As immigration resumed slowly, the Immigration Branch informed its office managers in all countries that “Persons who served with the enemy in any capacity are not eligible for admission.” [v] By late 1949 this policy begin to unravel. The government began to accept pressures from both short-staffed employers and right-wing ethnic organizations to forgive and forget collaboration with Nazis.[vi] The first concession was to allow German husbands, wives, children, and aged parents of Canadian citizens to enter Canada.[vii]

That small crack led to an almost open window in 1950. A Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration was established that year. Minister Walter Harris encouraged Cabinet to open the door to both willing German emigres and non-German wartime collaborators with Germany. Two orders-in-council in 1950 opened the door to Germans without Canadian relatives to enter as farm labourers even if they had been members of the German Army or the Nazi Party. Then, in May, 1950, 8000 Ukrainians detained in Britain for having served voluntarily in the German army’s First Ukrainian Division, whom Canada had denied entry in 1949, were granted the right to settle in Canada.[viii] This was a victory for the right-wing Ukrainian Canadian Committee (UCC) which the federal government had created during the war in an effort to unite previously quarreling non-Communist Ukrainian organizations in Canada. The UCC’s founding organizations had all demonstrated support for authoritarianism and fascism and sometimes support for German Nazism in the 1930s but agreed to set those perspectives aside in order to gain federal government support as the official voice of Ukrainians in Canada.[ix]

Eight days earlier, the government agreed to liberalize immigration policy to allow entry to “any person, other than one of Asiatic race, who met, to the satisfaction of the Minister, certain requirements relating to suitability and capacity to be integrated into the Canadian community as set forth in Section 38 of the Immigration Act.” [x] The exclusion of Asians reflected the overall desire of the Liberal government to keep Canada as lily-white as possible. No mention was made of African-origin potential immigrants because a long history of instructions to immigration agents made it clear that Blacks were unwanted in Canada. An order-in-council from the Laurier Liberal government in 1911 said the “Negro race” were unsuitable “to the climate and requirements” of Canada.[xi] Though never entrenched in legislation, the order-in-council reinforced instructions to immigrant agents in the United States that suggested “Canadian officials were not desirous of having Colored people enter Canada.”[xii]

Quietly, the Canadian government in the early post-war years was also limiting Jewish immigration to Canada, though not to the extent that Irving Abella and Harold Troper document for the inter-war period.[xiii] The chief of the Operations Division of the Immigration Branch explained to his counterpart in the Administration Division the bogus character of official claims that security dictated that displaced persons were only allowed to apply to enter Canada as immigrants after spending two full years in the country from which they were applying. “We were faced at one time with an increasing volume of applications filed in several of our offices in Europe largely by two national groups—Jews and Italians. In the absence of any legal basis for refusing to deal with such applications, I thought that any stall would be helpful, that is the institution of a residence rule…the two year residence rule boils down to an immigration device which was at the same time helpful to the RCMP which gave us the cover of ‘security requirements’ for instituting that role.”[xiv]

The desire to import white, conservative Christian labourers to meet the needs of Canadian industry and farmers led in 1951 to the Security Council recommending to Cabinet that members of the Waffen-SS be considered for immigration provided they could provide some ‘evidence’ that they were coerced into service.[xv] In 1952 the Security Council extended the same laxity to members of the Sturm Abteilung(SA), the brown-shirted bully boys of the Nazi Party, and to members of the SS, SD, and Abwehr.[xvi] The charade of filtering voluntary from non-voluntary members of the major branches of the Nazi party and government was dropped in 1955 with a decision to exclude only high-ranking members of these institutions as well as the Gestapo, the concentration camp guards. Non-German collaborators would also only be forbidden to enter Canada if they had leadership positions in the Nazi world.[xvii] The Security Panel’s reluctance to reject entry to white, extreme right-wing potential Canadian workers was clear in its slow reaction to the decision of the West German government in October, 1952, to outlaw the Socialist Party of the Reich, a neo-Nazi outfit. Eleven months later it indicated that party members were admissible if they persuaded security officers that they no longer subscribed to Nazi ideas.

But automatic rejection was the fate of anyone perceived to be a Communist, insufficiently anti-Communist, or too involved in “left wing” activities. The Immigration Branch informally denied entry to all Communists as immigration resumed after the war, and in 1947 that received an endorsement from the government. “The Cabinet, after discussion, agreed that where, as a result of security investigation, it was demonstrated that a prospective immigrant was a Communist, admissions should be refused by the Immigration Branch without reason assigned for such action.”[xviii]

In practice, though, as the Branch director made clear, the Branch, the RCMP, and the government wanted to exclude more than just Communists. The RCMP screening, wrote the Branch director, examined whether “the applicant has a record of Left wing activities resulting in their withholding of a clearance on the applicant.” The Cabinet Committee on Immigration, he added, wanted particularly close screening of overseas applicants with sponsors in Canada who had “left-wing tendencies.”[xix]

That broad brush exclusion was applied in particular to the labour movement. Anxious to support capital in its struggles with labour, the Cabinet decided in February 1948 to “compile a confidential list of approved United States labour organizers with a view to having Immigration officers instructed that only such individuals as were on this list (and such others as were cleared on specific reference to Ottawa) were to be admitted to Canada as labour organizers; others seeking entry as such were to be refused.”[xx]

Yaroslav Hunka was welcomed in Canada because he was white, Christian, and likely to be an enemy of left-wing institutions and ideas in Canada. Pretending that he was an anomaly distorts the real history of Canadian immigration policy during the Cold War.

Alvin Finkel is professor emeritus of History at Athabasca University.


Much of the research in this article was undertaken for an article that I published in 1986: Alvin Finkel, “Canadian Immigration Policy and the Cold War, 1945-1980,” Journal of Canadian Studies, 21:3 (Fall, 1986): 53-70.

[i] Library and Archives Canada, Commission of Inquiry on War Criminals—Hon. Mr. Justice Deschenes, Commissioner (Ottawa 1985), Exhibit P-40.

[ii] Commission of Inquiry on War Criminals, Exhibit P-34, “Allied Control Directive Number 38,” 12 October 1946

[iii] Commission of Inquiry on War Criminals, Exhibit P-40.

[iv] Commission of Inquiry on War Criminals, Exhibit P-35, Acting Director, Immigration Branch, to Deputy Minister (Laval Fortier), Immigration Branch File SF-S-1 (Part 2), no date.

[v]  Commission of Inquiry on War Criminals, Exhibit P-35, Instruction Number One. Immigration Branch, Department of Mines and Resources,” 29 March 1947.

[vi] Library and Archives Canada, Cabinet Conclusions, Volume 10, 10 October 1947; Volume 19, 5 April 1950.

[vii] Cabinet Conclusions, Volume 17, 13 September 1949.

[viii] Cabinet Conclusions, Volume 20, 31 May 1950.

[ix] Orest T. Martynovych, “Sympathy for the Devil: The Attitude of Ukrainian War Veterans in Canada to Nazi Germany and the Jews, 1933-1939,” in Rhonda L. Hinther and Jim Mochoruk, Re-Imagining Ukrainian-Canadians: History, Politics and Identity, 173-220.

[x] Cabinet Conclusions, Volume 20, 23 May 1950.

[xi] Library and Archives Canada, Cabinet Documents, 1911 Order-in-Council, 12 August 1911, C-117932.

[xii] Jennifer Kelly and Dan Cui, “Racialization and Work,” in Alvin Finkel et al, Working People in Alberta: A History (Edmonton: Athabasca University Press, 2012), 267. The words quoted above are from a letter written in 1910 by an Omaha, Nebraska-based Canadian immigration agent to the Canadian superintendent of immigration.

[xiii] Irving Abella and Harold Troper, None Is Too Many: Canada and the Jews of Europe, 1933-1948 (Toronto: Lester and Orpen Dennys, 1982).

[xiv] Library and Archives Canada, Immigration Branch papers, 500 Block Series, Volume 800, File 547-1(3), Chief Operations Division to Chief, Administrative Division, no date.

[xv] LAC, Immigration Branch papers, 500 Block Series, Volume 800, File 547-1, Part 2, “Security Panel Meeting: Comments on Document SP119,” Chief, Operations, to Director, Immigration Branch, 12 May 1952.

[xvi] Commission of Inquiry on War Criminals, Exhibit P-35, Acting Deputy Minister of Citizenship and Immigration to Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, 2 February 1956.

[xvii] Ibid.

[xviii] Cabinet Conclusions, Volume 8, 5 March 1947.

[xix] Immigration Branch, Volume 800, File 547-1, Part 1, Director of Immigration Branch “memorandum for File,” 29 May 1947.

[xx] Cabinet Conclusions, Volume 12, 19 February 1948.

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