Graffiti Abounds! Guelph Black Heritage Hall Vandalized, But So is Nazi Monument (?) in Oakville

So, there are Nazi monuments in Ontario? You might have never found that out if someone hadn’t vandalized the “Monument to the Glory of the UPA” in the St. Volodymyr Ukrainian Cemetery in Oakville before Friday. This is the latest instance of racist, or colonialist, monuments and statues to be challenged or vandalized since protests for social justice started after the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis in May, but this one has a twist.

As reported by the Ottawa Citizen, a stone cenotaph “in honour” of “Those Who Died For the Freedom of Ukraine” was vandalized in Oakville sometime around June 21. The members of the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS (1st Galician) to whom the cenotaph is dedicated were soldiers of Ukrainian decent who fought *for* the Nazis on the Eastern front in 1943 and 1944. The monument to them was erected at St. Volodymyr in 1988.

The cenotaph was vandalized with the words “Nazi war monument,” according to the Citizen, and it’s not the first time that the cenotaph’s been called out in recent years either.

In 2017, the Russian embassy in Canada tweeted a condemnation of “monuments to Nazi collaborators” and how “nobody is doing anything about it” in the country. At the time, the Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC) told the Oakville Beaver that the claims were baseless. “The Russian Embassy is simply dredging long-disproven fabrications. This is standard practice for Soviet, and now Russian, disinformation,” said Alexandra Chyczij, first vice-president of the UCC.

Despite those explanations though, Halton Regional Police has been criticized by members of the public on social media for characterizing the graffiti on the cenotaph as a hate crime. The response was so big and loud that Halton Police had to refine their initial remarks to the media.

“The initial information collected by investigators indicated that the graffiti may have been hate-motivated, targeting the identifiable group of Ukrainians in general, or Ukrainian members of this cultural centre,” said the amended media release. “At no time did the Halton Regional Police Service consider that the identifiable group targeted by the graffiti was Nazis.

“We regret any hurt caused by misinformation that suggests that the Service in any way supports Nazis,” Halton Police added.

The stand by Halton Police against Nazism was further reinforced by it’s Chief, Steve Tanner. “There is no support for the Nazi SS within Canada, nor should there ever be anywhere,” Tanner said on Twitter. “The Nazi party/SS are by no means a protected group under any hate crime related legislation. The most unfortunate part of all of this is that any such monument would exist in the first place.”

On the subject of the monument’s existence, the Mayor of Oakville found himself involved in that debate by saying that there’s nothing he can do. “Unfortunately municipalities have no role in regulating the contents of private cemeteries,” said Mayor Rob Burton in a statement. “It’s personally repugnant to me, I have family who died fighting Nazis. If Ontario laws permitted me to have it removed, it would have been gone 14 years ago.”

Back here in the Royal City, Guelph Black Heritage Society is raising concerns about an increase in vandalism they’ve seen at their building on Essex Street, the Heritage Hall, since they helped organize the Black Lives Matter march on June 6. In a statement, GBHS said that along with the vandalism, their members and volunteers have also also seen an alarming increase in the number of threats made.

“Despite these recent challenges that have threatened our safe haven, the GBHS will continue to thrive and preserve,” the statement read. “The GBHS condemns all acts of violence.”

Guelph Black Heritage Society said that they will continue to advocate for policing reforms and education about mental health and social justice, as well as providing “an essential open and diverse community space for under-serviced communities and visible minorities to host cultural and artistic events.”

“Heritage Hall has been a safe haven for the Black community for 140 years and will continue to do so,” GBHS said. “We thank our community members and allies for their continued support during these challenging times.”

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