Canadian cabinet minister claims Russian disinformation campaign

by Ken Hanly

Mar 9, 2017


At a recent news conference Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland announced that Canada would extend its training mission to the Ukraine.

The announcement was no surprise as Canada has long been a supporter of the U.S.-led NATO campaign supporting the Ukraine in reaction to the annexation of the Crimea and Russian support for the rebel enclaves in eastern Ukraine. Freeland herself is a major critic of Russia. Canada has imposed sanctions on Russia. As retaliation, Russia placed a travel ban on some Canadians including Freeland. Nevertheless, Trudeau made her Foreign Affairs Minister. Russia suggested that they might remove the travel ban if Canada removed the sanctions but that idea was rejected. At the news conference, Freeland faced questions about her Ukrainian grandfather Michael Chomiak and his ties to the Nazis.

Some of the articles making the allegations appeared on pro-Russian websites. Freeland suggested that the articles on her grandfather were part of a disinformation campaign on the part of the Russians. She told reporters: “American officials have publicly said, and even Angela Merkel has publicly said, that there were efforts on the Russian side to destabilize Western democracies, and I think it shouldn’t come as a surprise if these same efforts were used against Canada.”

According to the Globe and Mail: “An official in Ms. Freeland’s office denied that the minister’s grandfather was a Nazi collaborator. Ms. Freeland has written that her maternal grandparents fled Ukraine in 1939, describing them as ‘political exiles with a responsibility to keep alive the idea of an independent Ukraine.’” Paul Grod, president of the Canadian Ukrainian Congress said: “It is the continued Russian modus operandi that they have. Fake news, disinformation and targeting different individuals. It is just so outlandish when you hear some of these allegations – whether they are directed at minister Freeland or others.”

chomiakWhat is outlandish is that the minister manages to avoid the fact that her grandfather Michael Chomiak was actually a Nazi collaborator and although she has known this for some time has never come to grips with the facts or condemned his actions. Kirill Kalinin, a spokesperson for the Russian embassy in Ottawa noted that Freeland did not directly respond to allegations about Chomiak: “The question was asked but the answer about her grandfather never followed. She avoided giving a direct answer as to what her grandfather was doing in Cracow during WWII. While we cannot deny or confirm particular news stories, it’s our principled position that Nazism and Nazi collaborators, their hateful ideology, that took tens of millions lives, must be unanimously condemned.”

 There is no need to read Russian propaganda sites to find information on Chomiak. The Ukraine Archival Records held by the the Province of Alberta has an entire file on Chomiak. Information includes his own details on editing the newspaper Krakiviski Visti in Cracow Poland and later in Vienna when he had to move with his Nazi colleagues as the Russians were advancing into Poland. The Krakiviski Visti was seized by the Nazis from its Jewish owner and operated as a propaganda outlet.

The Los Angeles Holocaust Museum said about the Krakiviski Visti and another similar newspaper: “The editorial boards carried out a policy of soliciting Ukrainian support for the German causes. It was typical, within these publications, to not to give any accounts of the German genocidal policy, and largely, the editions resorted to silencing the mass killing of Jews in Galicia. Ukrainian newspapers presented the Jewish Question in light of the official Nazi propaganda, corollary to the Jewish world conspiracy.”

Freeland has known for over two decades that her maternal grandfather Chomiak had been chief editor of a Nazi newspaper in occupied Poland. The Globe and Mail claims: “Ms. Freeland, who has paid tribute to her maternal grandparents in articles and books, helped edit a scholarly article in the Journal of Ukrainian Studies in 1996 that revealed her grandfather, Michael Chomiak, was a Nazi propagandist for Krakivski Visti (Krakow News).”

The article by Freeland’s uncle John-Paul Himka, a professor emeritus at the University of Alberta, noted the newspaper was set up in 1940 by a German intelligence officer who confiscated the offices and presses from a Jewish publisher later murdered at a concentration camp. Himka gave credit to Freeland for “pointing out problems and clarifications.” He notes that some passages in the paper suggested approval of Nazi actions. He also noted that a daughter of Chomiak had claimed that he had also helped out the resistance but that he could never verify this.Professor Himka said: “Yeah he was the editor of a legal newspaper in Nazi-occupied Poland. He never signed anything in the paper. He never made policy or that kind of thing. It wouldn’t be his call [The newspaper] also performed a function for Ukrainian culture and kept Ukrainian intelligentsia alive during the war by paying them for articles, not just anti-Semitic articles but articles about Ukrainian culture. It was a bit of a mixed bag.”

Freeland goes much further and tries to classify Russian accounts of Chomiak’s work as meant to destabilize democracy in the west. When Freeland’s office was asked to refute the allegations the response was: “People should be questioning where this information comes from, and the motivations behind it.” The truth does not matter, that is why it is OK to call the reports fake news even though the basic facts seem correct as confirmed by numerous other sources.

Peter Kent, Conservative foreign affairs critic said that the Russians were digging up details from the past to smear Freeland: “It is unacceptable. It seems they are trying smear a minister with historical detail that has probably been misrepresented. It is unfair and it is typical of what we have seen in other countries and it has nothing to do with her ability to represent Canada.” Freeland has written that her maternal grandparents as political exiles with a responsibility to keep alive the idea of an Independent Ukraine.

Of course Freeland cannot be held responsible for the actions of her grandfather but she can be held accountable for misrepresenting facts about him and praising him while not acknowledging his support for the Nazis. She even suggests that the whole idea that Chomiak was a Nazi collaborator was a Russian fabrication.

On Black Ribbon Day a day of remembrance for the victims of Stalinism and Nazism, Freeland tweeted her admiration for her grandparents as detailed in this blog. On a day to remember victims of Nazism our Foreign Minister chooses to praise her grandfather who was a Nazi collaborator.

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