UPDATE September 27, 2023: The speaker, Anthony Rota of Canada’s House of Commons lower chamber on Tuesday said he would quit, a few days after he publicly praised a former Nazi soldier in Parliament in an incident that Russia said helped justify its war on Ukraine; more here.
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The speaker of Canada’s House of Commons apologized Sunday for recognizing a man who fought in a Nazi military unit during World War II.
Just after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky delivered an address in the House of Commons on Friday, Canadian lawmakers gave 98-year-old Yaroslav Hunka a standing ovation when Speaker Anthony Rota drew attention to him. Rota introduced Hunka as a Canadian and Ukrainian war hero who fought for the First Ukrainian Division.
Jewish advocacy group fighting antisemitism – StopAntisemitism – shared the video of the incident to Twitter.
The First Ukrainian Division was a voluntary unit commanded by the Nazis that was also known as the Waffen-SS Galicia Division or the SS 14th Waffen Division. It was responsible for “mass murder” and “crimes against humanity during the Holocaust,” according to Canada’s Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center.
“In my remarks following the address of the President of Ukraine, I recognized an individual in the gallery. I have subsequently become aware of more information which causes me to regret my decision to do so,” Rota said in a statement.
He added that his fellow Parliament members and the Ukraine delegation were not aware of his plan to recognize Hunka. Rota noted Hunka, a Ukrainian immigrant, is from his district.
“I particularly want to extend my deepest apologies to Jewish communities in Canada and around the world. I accept full responsibility for my action,” Rota said.
Hunka could not be immediately reached for comment.
Canadian lawmakers cheered and Zelensky raised his fist in acknowledgement as Hunka saluted from the gallery during two separate standing ovations. Rota called him a “Ukrainian hero and a Canadian hero, and we thank him for all his service.”
Zelensky was in Ottawa to bolster support from Western allies for Ukraine’s war against the Russian invasion.
Vladimir Putin has painted his enemies in Ukraine as “neo-Nazis,” even though Zelensky is Jewish and lost relatives in the Holocaust.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office said in a statement that Rota had apologized and accepted full responsibility for issuing the invitation to Hunka and for the recognition in Parliament.
“This was the right thing to do,” Trudeau’s statement said. “No advance notice was provided to the Prime Minister’s Office, nor the Ukrainian delegation, about the invitation or the recognition.”
That did not stop the leader of the opposition, Pierre Poilievre, from slamming an “error in judgment.”
Trudeau’s “personal protocol office is responsible for arranging and vetting all guests and programming for state visits of this kind,” the Conservative leader posted on X, calling on the prime minister to “personally apologize.”
B’nai Brith Canada’s CEO, Michael Mostyn, said it was outrageous that Parliament honored a former member of a Nazi unit, saying Ukrainian “ultra-nationalist ideologues” who volunteered for the Galicia Division “dreamed of an ethnically homogenous Ukrainian state and endorsed the idea of ethnic cleansing.”
“We understand an apology is forthcoming. We expect a meaningful apology. Parliament owes an apology to all Canadians for this outrage, and a detailed explanation as to how this could possibly have taken place at the center of Canadian democracy,” Mostyn said before Rota issued his statement.
Members of Parliament from all parties rose to applaud Hunka. A spokesperson for the opposition Conservative party said the party was not aware of his history at the time.