Canada’s Deputy PM Posed With A Ukrainian Fascist Symbol

By Davide Mastracci,, March 1, 2022

n February 27, a large Ukraine solidarity protest was held in downtown Toronto. The event unsurprisingly received a ton of coverage from mainstream media, but all of it failed to mention a certain red and black flag at the protest.

The red and black flag in question belongs to the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), which was a fascist paramilitary group that operated during the Second World War, and collaborated with the Nazis at times throughout this period. 

In 1943, according to researcher Terry Martin, the UPA “adopted a policy of massacring and expelling the Polish population of Volhynia and Eastern Galicia.” Researchers estimate that members of the group killed around 100,000 Polish civilians over the next year. In his 2006 book, Europe at War 1939–1945: No Simple Victory, historian Norman Davies wrote, “Villages were torched. Roman Catholic priests were axed or crucified. Churches were burned with all their parishioners. Isolated farms were attacked by gangs carrying pitchforks and kitchen knives. Throats were cut. Pregnant women were bayoneted. Children were cut in two.”

The flag continues to be used by groups in Ukraine today that share a similar far-right, fascist ideology. This resurgence of the flag has been tracked by Eduard Dolinsky, the director general of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee in Ukraine, among others. He has documented that it has appeared at all levels of society and government throughout Ukraine (although obviously not all Ukrainians support it.) 

Going back to Toronto, on the day of the protest I tweeted a photo of the UPA flag being held by a protester. Now, I’ve been at pro-Palestine protests before that have been smeared in the press because of a single flag or banner being held by someone in the crowd. I didn’t think the coverage was fair, and I detested how anyone at the protest who ended up in the media (including one or two politicians) was forced to answer if they condemned the flag’s presence or not. 

So, I’m well aware that the presence of one UPA flag at Toronto’s protest wouldn’t indicate that everyone there supports the group’s ideology, and it would be unfair for the media to cover it as such. Still, I think there are many fundamental differences between this example and what I’ve dealt with in the past, that both make it more troubling, and also render the media’s lack of coverage of the flag’s presence inexcusable. 

Here’s why the media should have absolutely dedicated some reporting to this matter, and needs to do so in the future.

First, as I mentioned, a ton of media outlets covered this protest with original reporting as well as photography and video work, including: CTV NewsCBC NewsGlobal NewsToronto SunNational PostToronto StarCity News, and Toronto Life. This means these publications decided the rally was newsworthy, and had already dedicated resources to covering what happened throughout the day.

Second, there was not just one UPA flag — there were many at various points in the protest in Toronto, including at the front of the march. As I’ve documented, this flag also appeared at Ukraine solidarity protests throughout Canada, including in Montreal, Winnipeg, Vancouver, Prince George, B.C., Edmonton, London, Ont., and likely others. You can’t reduce the presence of this flag at these protests to just one crank.

Third, all of these media outlets had some description of the sort of flags and signs being held at the protest, yet not one mentioned the UPA flag. Instead, they whitewashed the protest, and only talked about yellow and blue flags, as well as anti-Putin signs. 

Fourth, even though these media outlets didn’t write about the flag, we know that nearly all of them did see it, because every single article (except the one from the Toronto Star) contained a photo and/or video with the UPA flag. Oftentimes the flag was even the focus of the shot. What are the chances of this happening if the flag couldn’t be found at the protest in large numbers? 

Fifth, the rally wasn’t just attended by regular people, who the media might decide aren’t worth writing about when they carry fascist flags (although this certainly isn’t their standard for other protests). In fact, the rally was attended by Toronto’s Mayor, John Tory, as well as Canada’s Deputy Prime Minister, Chrystia Freeland, who also gave a speech (which all of the articles noted).

Sixth, it’s not just that Freeland (who is a Ukrainian Canadian that claims to be well versed in the country’s history and speak the language, and thus almost certainly knows what the flag is) was at a rally where the flag was, but also that she appeared in a photo with the flag.

Seventh, it’s not just that Freeland appeared in a photo with the flag, but that she was photographed holding a scarf with UPA colours, meaning she knew it was there, and decided to pose with it.

Eighth, Freeland decided to share this photo on Twitter, along with the phrase “Slava Ukraini” (Glory to Ukraine), which was used by the UPA as well as other Ukrainian Nazi-collaborator groups that helped perpetrate the Holocaust. 

Ninth, Freeland ended up deleting the tweet, though she hasn’t explained why.

Finally, the new tweet Freeland put out about the march was identical to the original one but with a different photo, and yet even this one had the UPA flag in the background.

Can anyone in the media honestly tell me that with all of these factors in mind, they shouldn’t have noted the troubling presence of the UPA flag at the protest, or at least done follow up reporting afterwards? 

Is there any plausible excuse for why none of the reporters are grilling Freeland for doing what she did? Remember that a couple weeks ago, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau attacked the Conservative Party and some of its members for attending the Ottawa Convoy because of the presence of swastikas, which the media fixated on for weeks. Also remember that NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has been the subject of media barrages for appearing at Sikh-related events in the past.

Maybe reporters and editors will claim they didn’t know what the red and black flag meant. That’s not a good excuse either, as reporters should be trained on these sorts of issues if they’re going to cover protests. And if they didn’t know then, or at any point over the last decade of researchers increasingly talking about the Ukrainian nationalist far-right in Canada, there’s no excuse for them not to have learned since, and put out follow-up articles.

If the media claims to care about the far-right in Canada, and the connection of politicians to it or at least comfort with it, they need to start informing their readers about its particular Ukrainian nationalist manifestation here.

I don’t expect that to happen any time soon though, so for now, please consider reading these other articles we’ve published:


More of Canada's foreign policy towards Ukraine:


Why a photo of Freeland holding a black-and-red scarf sparked a firestorm online

By Taylor C. Noakes, CTV News, March 4, 2022

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland was photographed holding a scarf bearing colours associated with a far-right Ukrainian paramilitary group from the Second World War this past weekend.

Both her office and the Ukrainian Canadian Congress suggest the questions and criticism she has received about it online is linked to a pattern of Russian-backed disinformation targeting members of the Ukrainian community.

The Twitter account for Freeland shared photos of the federal finance minister at a Ukrainian solidarity march in Toronto on Sunday holding a black-and-red scarf with the Ukrainian phrase “Slava Ukraini,” which translates to “Glory to Ukraine,” written in Cyrillic.

Toronto Mayor John Tory was in the group and his account also shared photos of the moment, including one that showed the other side of the scarf, which had the phrase “Heroyam Slava,” or “Glory to heroes.” Neither Tory nor Freeland are touching the scarf in that photo.

Both accounts deleted the photos the next day. Freeland then issued an identical tweet about her presence at the march organized to show solidarity with Ukraine after Russia launched a multi-pronged attack on the sovereign country. It featured a photo without the scarf.

Ivan Katchanovski, a political scientist at the University of Ottawa, said the red-and-black flag, along with the “Glory to Ukraine, glory to the heroes” slogan, was adopted by the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) during its congress in Nazi-occupied Poland in April 1941. The UPA was the armed wing of Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN), an ultranationalist, antisemitic and fascist organization.

Adrienne Vaupshas, press secretary to Freeland, said in a written statement Wednesday that there were thousands of people at the event in Toronto, that many were trying to get a photo or give the Liberal cabinet minister tokens, such as ribbons, and that she tried to be friendly with everyone.

She added that someone “pushed a scarf (that read “Slava Ukraini”) in front of some politicians,” including Freeland. Vaupshas described it as the “slogan of Ukraine in today’s fight against Russia,” and that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson have used the phrase too.

The original tweet, and its subsequent deletion, garnered a lot of reaction, which intensified after online conservative news site True North Centre wrote about it on Monday. The article noted that Trudeau had called out “Nazi symbolism” at the recent protests in Ottawa after a swastika flag was seen in the crowd.

“Can you see the hypocrisy and double standard now?” People’s Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier tweeted the next day, adding that he does not believe Freeland is an “actual Nazi.”

“A classic KGB disinformation smear is accusing Ukrainians and Ukrainian-Canadians of being far right extremists or fascists or Nazis,” Vaupshas wrote in the beginning of her statement sent Wednesday.

The KGB, which existed from 1954 to 1991, was the security service in the Soviet Union.

“A photo was taken, tweeted, and later replaced when it was clear some accounts were distorting the intent of the rally and photo,” she added.

“We condemn all far-right and extremist views and organizations, whether they are in Russia, Ukraine, or Canada. The deputy prime minister has no association with any far-right organizations,” she added.

Vaupshas did not comment when asked about what was written on the other side of the scarf the minister was holding.

A statement from Tory’s office said the mayor attended the rally to show both his and Toronto’s support for Ukraine and its people. “We are not aware of this particular scarf or its meaning. The mayor is always focused on bringing our city together during difficult times and in no way wants to do anything that divides our residents as we work to support the Ukrainian community.”

Conservative MP James Bezan, who was also at the rally and seen in the photo holding a sign someone gave him that said "pray for Ukraine and stop war," said Thursday that he was not aware of what was happening with the scarf at the time. But he also suggested the attention the original photo is getting is feeding into Russian disinformation efforts.

"I just don't think in the moment … people are thinking about how all this plays out with a Putin disinformation campaign," he said.

According to Katchanovski, contemporary Ukrainian ultranationalist groups, such as Right Sector, have adopted the red-and-black flag along with the "Glory to Ukraine" greeting before and during the pro-western Euromaidan protests that led to the removal of former Ukraine president Viktor Yanukovych from power in 2014. He said its widespread subsequent use has led some to believe that it is a traditional Ukrainian greeting.

There have also been attempts in modern Ukraine “to recast the OUN and the UPA as popular national liberation movement, which fought against both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, and to present OUN and UPA leaders as national heroes,” said Katchanovski.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has argued Ukraine is committing genocide against ethnic Russians and that the state needs to be “de-nazified” as justification for his invasion.

“The glorification of these organizations has been the subject of an emerging criticism by historians both in the West and within Ukraine,” said historian John-Paul Himka, a professor emeritus at the University of Alberta and an uncle to Freeland.

“Putin has exploited the heroization of these nationalists in his propaganda. With his invasion, he has only brightened their image.”

Katchanovski said scholarly studies and archival documents show the OUN collaborated with Nazi Germany in the beginning, and at the end, of the Second World War. The Bandera faction of the OUN, which controlled the UPA, led a campaign of ethnic cleansing of Poles in Volhynia in 1943. (Poland’s Parliament voted in 2016 to recognize the massacre as a genocide.)

“Many OUN and UPA leaders and members, who headed or served in the police and local administration during the Nazi occupation of Ukraine, helped Nazi Germany to perpetrate in the Holocaust and Nazi genocides of Jews, Roma, Ukrainians, Byelorussians and Russians,” Katchanovski said.

Katchanovski nonetheless said neither the OUN nor the UPA were Nazis, who killed millions of Ukrainians.

He also said Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who is Jewish and a descendant of Holocaust survivors, and his government “are not Nazis or neo-Nazis, and there is no genocide in Ukraine.”

Marvin Rotrand, national director of the League for Human Rights at B’nai Brith Canada, condemned the use of the black-and-red flags spotted at pro-Ukraine events.

“The UPA’s black-and-red flag is consistently recognized as a fascist emblem and a hate symbol throughout the international community,” he said.

After The Canadian Press contacted Freeland’s office for comment, the Ukrainian Canadian Congress sent a statement from its president, Alexandra Chyczij, reacting to allegations on social media that Freeland was showing support for extremists with the scarf.

"The Ukrainian Canadian Congress strongly and categorically rejects these unfounded allegations and attacks against Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland. Ms. Freeland obviously does not support far-right extremist organizations,” she wrote.

“Ms. Freeland has been a victim of Russian disinformation before and this is a typical Russian smear to discredit Ukrainians and Ukrainian-Canadians."

Freeland, a Toronto MP of Ukrainian heritage, was banned by Russia in 2014 after Putin retaliated against sanctions imposed on his country over its annexation of Crimea.

Her grandfather, as described in an article written by Himka that the Globe and Mail reported on in 2017, was editor of a Nazi propaganda newspaper, the Krakow News, in occupied Poland during the Second World War. The Globe reported Freeland had edited the article.

When the news of her grandfather’s role was first reported that year, including by pro-Putin sites, Freeland initially linked it to a Russian disinformation campaign.


This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 3, 2022



Far-right extremists in Ukraine brag they have received training from the Canadian Forces: report

By David Pugliese, Ottawa Citizen, Oct. 4, 2022

The study from an institute at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., tracked social media accounts of the far-right group Centuria, documenting its Ukrainian military members giving Nazi salutes, promoting white nationalism and praising members of Nazi SS units.

Far-right extremists in Ukraine’s military have bragged they received training from the Canadian Forces and other NATO nations, a new study from an American university has uncovered.

The study from an institute at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., tracked social media accounts of the far-right group Centuria, documenting its Ukrainian military members giving Nazi salutes, promoting white nationalism and praising members of Nazi SS units.

The far-right group has been active since 2018 at the Hetman Petro Sahaidachny National Army Academy or NAA, according to the report from George Washington’s Institute for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies.

The NAA is Ukraine’s premier military education institution and a major hub for western military assistance to the country, including from Canada.

Centuria members acknowledged on social media they have received training from the Canadian military and have participated in military exercises with Canada. In May, Centuria organizers boasted to their followers that its members currently served as officers in Ukraine’s military and “have succeeded in establishing cooperation with foreign colleagues from such countries as France, the United Kingdom, Canada, the USA, German and Poland,” according to the institute’s report.

“The Ukrainian military’s failure to check Centuria activities suggests a level of tolerance on its part for the apparent proliferation of far-right ideology and influence within the Armed Forces of Ukraine,” the study warned.

One member of the group has received officer training in the United Kingdom’s Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, graduating in late 2020. Another attended the German Army Officer’s Academy in Dresden in 2019.

In the summer of 2019, Centuria came out in support of a rally held by Ukrainian far-right groups to counter the LGBTQ “Kyiv Pride” event. Centuria released a statement that it supported “right patriots, nationalists, conservatives and Christians currently defending the streets of Kyiv from perverts from the LGBT movement and their left-liberal sympathizers.”

The NAA denied to the university researchers that Centuria operated within the academy and noted it had no tolerance for extremism. But the report has a number of photos of NAA cadets giving Nazi salutes and promoting far-right material. One of the NAA cadets was a firearms instructor for a far-right group that the United Jewish Community of Ukraine accused in 2021 of spreading anti-Semitic propaganda.

Canadian Forces spokeswoman Lt.-Cmdr. Julie McDonald said it was up to Ukraine to vet its own security forces. But, if Canadian military personnel saw first-hand evidence of extremist views, they could refuse to train those soldiers, she added. The Canadian Forces, however, does not proactively examine the backgrounds of those they train or look for signs of support for far-right causes.

“The Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces are strongly opposed to the glorification of Nazism and all forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, intolerance and extremism,” McDonald added.

Ukraine’s Ministry of Defence told university researchers that it did not screen those entering the military or military cadets for extremist views and ties. It stated concerns about Centuria were baseless and that such an organization was “fake.”

Bernie Farber, head of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, said it was not good enough for the Canadian military to take a passive approach in regard to far-right extremism when it came to its training of foreign soldiers. “Clearly Canada has a responsibility when it comes to who it trains,” Farber said. “It’s not good enough just to leave it to the Ukrainians. The end result is the fact that Canadian troops may have trained Ukrainian Neo-Nazis.”

Concerns about such training have been circulating since 2015, when it was first decided to send Canadian troops to Ukraine. In April of that year, then-defence minister Jason Kenney acknowledged that Canadian military leaders discussed how to avoid training extremists. That was done initially by stipulating that only units of the Ukrainian National Guard and army be trained as opposed to some of the ad hoc militias that had sprung up in the country at the time.

But MP Jack Harris, then the NDP defence critic, warned that far-right groups were integrating themselves into the military, making it difficult to weed out extremists.

Centuria also has ties to the Azov movement. In 2018, the U.S. Congress banned the use of U.S. funds to provide arms, training and other assistance to the Azov Battalion because of its links to the far right and Neo Nazis.


Posted March 27, 2022