What to Know:
The Speaker of Canada’s House of Commons, Anthony Rota, has apologized after praising a 98 year old Canadian-Ukrainian veteran who served with a Nazi SS unit during World War II as Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky visited Parliament.
On Friday, amid a visit by Zelensky to bolster Canadian support for the Ukrainian war effort at Parliament, Rota praised 98 year old Yaroslav Hunka as a “a Ukrainian-Canadian veteran from the Second World War who fought for Ukrainian independence against the Russians,” further calling him a “a Ukrainian hero, a Canadian hero, and we thank him for all his service.” This was followed by a standing ovation by the entire Parliament, as well as from Zelensky.
Canadian Parliament and Zelensky give a standing ovation to Yaroslav Hunka, who fought for the 14th division of the Waffen SS pic.twitter.com/7WrD3vchZ8
— The Post Millennial (@TPostMillennial) September 24, 2023
It was soon reported that Hunka served under the First Ukrainian Division, also known as the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the Nazi SS, which took part in anti-partisan operations in Poland and Slovakia, as well as frontline combat against the Soviets on the Eastern Front. While the unit itself was not specifically found guilty of committing war crimes by military tribunals after the war, the unit has been accused of having involvement in the massacre of Polish civilians.
The praising of Hunka was quickly condemned by several Jewish organizations, as well as Russia.
The Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies issued a statement on Sunday condemning Hunka, stating that his unit was “was responsible for the mass murder of innocent civilians with a level of brutality and malice that is unimaginable.”
The Center went on to add that “An apology is owed to every Holocaust survivor and veteran of the Second World War who fought the Nazis, and an explanation must be provided as to how this individual entered the hallowed halls of Canadian Parliament and received recognition from the Speaker of the House and a standing ovation.”
We are deeply troubled & disturbed that a Ukrainian veteran of the infamous 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the Nazi SS – which actively participated in the genocide of Jews – was celebrated with a standing ovation in the Canadian Parliament.
#Canada's Jewish community stands…
— CIJA (@CIJAinfo) September 24, 2023
The The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) issued a statement on X saying that “We are deeply troubled & disturbed that a Ukrainian veteran of the infamous 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the Nazi SS – which actively participated in the genocide of Jews – was celebrated with a standing ovation in the Canadian Parliament.”
“Canada‘s Jewish community stands firmly with Ukraine in its war against Russian aggression. But we can’t stay silent when crimes committed by Ukrainians during the Holocaust are whitewashed,” CIJA added.
Russia also condemned Hunka, with Russian ambassador to Ottowa Oleg Stepanov telling TASS that “The Embassy is sending a note to the Canadian Foreign Ministry and the Prime Minister’s office demanding clarification. The SS is recognized as a criminal organization by the decisions of the Nuremberg Tribunal, which are an integral part of international law.”
??Canadian Parliament gives standing ovation to the Nazi SS butcher. Yet another Trudeau's regime insult to the memory of Canada’s sons and daughters who fought Nazism in WWII. pic.twitter.com/qrHdYiYMij
— Russia in Canada (@RussianEmbassyC) September 24, 2023
Likewise, The Russian embassy in Canada tweeted “Canadian Parliament gives standing ovation to the Nazi SS butcher. Yet another Trudeau’s regime insult to the memory of Canada’s sons and daughters who fought Nazism in WWII.”
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov also released a statement, saying that “”Such sloppiness of memory is outrageous… Many Western countries, including Canada, have raised a young generation that does not know who fought whom or what happened during the Second World War. And they know nothing about the threat of fascism.”
Rota has since issued an apology, stating that “On September 22, in the House of Commons, I recognized an individual in the gallery. I regret my decision to do so, and accept full responsibility for my actions.”
On September 22, in the House of Commons, I recognized an individual in the gallery. I regret my decision to do so, and accept full responsibility for my actions. Read my statement here: https://t.co/Hd9chtHFNJ
— Speaker of the HoC (@HoCSpeaker) September 24, 2023
He went on to add that “in my remarks following the address of the president of Ukraine, I recognised an individual in the gallery.”
“I have subsequently become aware of more information which causes me to regret my decision to do so… This initiative was entirely my own, the individual in question being from my riding [district] and having been brought to my attention.”
“I particularly want to extend my deepest apologies to Jewish communities in Canada and around the world. I accept full responsibility for my actions,” Rota added.
The Prime Minster’s Office released a statement saying that Hunka’s invitation was made by the Speaker’s office alone, adding that “No advance notice was provided to the Prime Minister’s Office, nor the Ukrainian delegation, about the invitation or the recognition.” The office also noted that Rota’s apology “was the right thing to do.”
Speaking for the first time since a Ukrainian Nazi Veteran was appalled during the Zelensky speech, Justin Trudeau says “this is deeply embarrassing to the Parliament of Canada and by extension to all Canadians,” adding it is “extremely upsetting that this happened” #cdnpoli pic.twitter.com/6YfkGw74D5
— Mackenzie Gray (@Gray_Mackenzie) September 25, 2023
He later said that the incident was “deeply embarrassing to the Parliament of Canada and by extension to all Canadians,” adding it is “extremely upsetting that this happened.”
He went on to add that “I think particularly of Jewish MP’s and all members of the Jewish community across the country who are celebrating, commemorating Yom Kippur today. I think it’s going to be really important that all of us push back against Russian propaganda, Russian disinformation, and continue our steadfast and unequivocal support in Ukraine, as we did last week with announcing further measures to stand with Ukraine in Russia’s illegal war against Ukraine.”
Canadian Conservative Party Leader Pierre Poilievre has demanded that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau apologize as well, saying that “This is an appalling error in judgement on the part of Justin Trudeau, whose personal protocol office is responsible for arranging and vetting all guests and programming for state visits of this kind.”
“Mr. Trudeau must personally apologize and avoid passing the blame to others as he always does,” he added.
So far, there has been no comment from Zelensky’s office or any Ukrainian officials.