Police apologize for saying anti-Nazi vandalism was 'hate motivated'
Investigation continues after spray-painting of memorial to controversial military unit
Police are apologizing for saying they had launched a hate crime investigation into a vandalized memorial in an Oakville, Ont., cemetery that has been linked to the Nazis.
Halton Regional Police said last month someone had recently spray-painted a message on a monument at St. Volodymyr Ukrainian Cemetery.
Investigators said it was being investigated as a "hate motivated offence." They did not share pictures or state what was painted on the memorial to avoid "further spreading the suspect's message."
But a report from Ukrainian Kontakt TV on YouTube shows it had been scrawled with the words "Nazi war monument."
Representatives for the cemetery did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The memorial in question, which is in a private cemetery, is meant to commemorate the 1st Ukrainian Division of the Ukrainian National Army, which was first known as the Waffen-SS "Galicia" Division.
We regret any hurt caused by misinformation that suggests that the Service in any way supports Nazism.- Halton Regional Police
The unit was created by Nazi Germany from mostly Ukrainian volunteers in 1943 and 1944, according to a study. Its involvement in war crimes is still debated today.
"It's ludicrous that it would be considered a hate crime to vandalize this monument," Moss Robeson, a self-described independent researcher on nationalist networks, told CBC News.
Controversy about how police described the investigation grew after Robeson posted about it on Twitter in early July.
He says calling the vandalism a hate crime is "ridiculous."
On Friday, Halton police walked back their original statement and apologized, saying the "initial information" indicated that the group being targeted was "Ukrainians in general," or members of this specific cultural centre.
"At no time did the Halton Regional Police Service consider that the identifiable group targeted by the graffiti was Nazis," police said in a news release.
"We regret any hurt caused by misinformation that suggests that the Service in any way supports Nazism."
On Twitter, Chief Steve Tanner agreed with a post calling for the monument to be removed.
"I am personally shocked and surprised that such a monument existed at all," Tanner said.
Police said the investigation is ongoing, and they will provide an update at its conclusion.
In a statement, the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies commended the police.
"Any monument which venerates soldiers who fought for Hitler's genocidal regime is nothing less than a blight and insults the memory of Canadian soldiers who made the supreme sacrifice during WWII on behalf of the freedoms we all hold dear," said Rabbi Meyer H. May, executive director.
According to a study in the Kyiv-Mohyla Humanities Journal, the Galicia division was, after its creation, reformed with new recruits and soldiers from other units after it suffered heavy losses in the Battle of Brody in July 1944.
The study says there are "contrasting views" about the unit and that, over the last several decades, some have said it should be seen as a "tool of Nazi Germany" that committed violence against civilians.
But that view has been rejected by British and Canadian investigative commissions.
In 1985, the government of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney established a royal commission that, in part, looked at ex-members of the Ukrainian Galicia Division.
It concluded they should not be indicted as a group for their association with the Waffen-SS, and that no war crimes charges against any individual members could be substantiated.
The post-war military tribunal at Nuremberg declared the Waffen-SS a criminal organization, but with the caveat that 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 the 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 in regulating the contents of private cemeteries.
"It is personally repugnant to me, I have family who died fighting Nazis," he said in a statement Friday. "If Ontario laws permitted me to have it removed, it would have been gone 14 years ago."
With files from Chris Brown