Canada’s Governor General, Mary Simon, issued an apology for awarding one of the country’s highest honors to Peter Savaryn, a Ukrainian immigrant with a Nazi past. Savaryn, who served as chancellor of the University of Alberta from 1982 to 1986, was appointed to the Order of Canada in 1987, an award equivalent to the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom. The Governor General’s statement expressed deep regret about Savaryn’s appointment and mentioned a review of two other honors given to him in 2002 and 2012.
This apology follows the revelation that Yaroslav Hunka, a veteran who served in the same Nazi unit as Savaryn, was honored in the Canadian Parliament during the visit of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. The disclosure of Hunka’s background led to the resignation of House Speaker Anthony Rota and an apology from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. It also sparked a discussion about Canada’s history of welcoming Nazis and Nazi collaborators after World War II.
The University of Alberta, where Savaryn and Hunka were both honored, announced that it would return the money donated by Hunka’s family and investigate Savaryn’s endowment as well as several others honoring SS Galichina fighters. Both Savaryn and Hunka volunteered in the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS, also known as SS Galichina, which was accused of war crimes during World War II.
It is worth noting that the Order of Canada has been awarded to various notable individuals, including Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Sidney Crosby, James Cameron, Margaret Atwood, Joni Mitchell, and Gen. Roméo Dallaire. Honorary membership has also been granted to non-Canadian citizens like Nelson Mandela and Václav Havel.
While Savaryn’s award cannot be rescinded due to his death in 2017, the Governor General’s office emphasized its commitment to ensuring that the honors system reflects Canadian values and acknowledged that historical appointments may have been made based on limited information available at the time.
The Governor General previously condemned the Hunka scandal, describing it as a shock and an embarrassment.