Canada apologizes for honor awarded to ex-Nazi soldier in 1987

FILE PHOTO: Britain's King Charles' reception at Buckingham Palace in London

By Ismail Shakil and Steve Scherer

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada's Governor General Mary Simon has apologized for a top Canadian honor awarded in 1987 to a former Nazi soldier who moved to Canada after World War Two and went on to become the Chancellor of the University of Alberta.

The governor general at the time awarded the Order of Canada, a top civilian honor that recognizes outstanding achievement and service to the nation, to Peter Savaryn, who was praised for promoting multiculturalism in Canada.

But Savaryn had a past serving in one of Adolf Hitler's Waffen SS units.

"It is with deep regret that we acknowledge that Mr. Peter Savaryn was appointed to the Order of Canada in 1987, and we express our sincere apology to Canadians for any distress or pain his appointment may have caused," said a statement from Simon's office, shared with Reuters on Wednesday.

Simon's apology was first reported on Tuesday by Jewish publication Forward, which raised concerns over Savaryn's background in the wake of a scandal over Yaroslav Hunka, a former Nazi soldier who was praised in Canada's parliament. Savaryn and Hunka had fought in the same Waffen SS unit.

That incident led to the resignation of the House Speaker, who said he had made a mistake.

Savaryn's appointment to the Order was terminated after his death in 2017, per protocol.

"Historical appointments to the Order of Canada reflect a specific moment in time and would have been based on limited information sources available at that time," the statement from Simon's office said.

The Hunka incident has led to calls for Ottawa to release the Deschenes Commission report from the 1980s that probed the alleged presence of war criminals in Canada.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Wednesday that top public servants were looking carefully into the issue, including digging into the archives.

Governor General Simon is Canada's official representative of head of state King Charles.

(Reporting by Ismail Shakil and Steve Scherer in Ottawa, Editing by Rosalba O'Brien)