In a major embarrassment for the Canadian government, Canada’s House of Commons speaker honoured a man who fought for a Nazi military unit in World War II on Friday.
The incident took place right after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy delivered a speech in the Canadian Parliament.
Speaker Anthony Rota had introduced 98-year-old Yaroslav Hunka as a “war hero” in the House of Commons who fought for the First Ukrainian Division. He thanked Hunka for “all his service”.
The lawmakers present in parliament that day cheered for Hunka as he saluted from the gallery. Speaker Rota had to issue an apology after it later came to light that Hunka had served as a member of the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS, per a report in the Associated Press.
“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”, read a statement from the Speaker.
“I particularly want to extend my deepest apologies to Jewish communities in Canada and around the world. I accept full responsibility for my action”, it added.
He asserted that the other parliament members and the Ukraine delegation were not aware of his plans. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office has distanced itself from what transpired at the House of Commons, stating that his office was not made aware of the invitation to Hunka.
“No advance notice was provided to the prime minister’s office, nor the Ukrainian delegation, about the invitation or the recognition,” read the statement issued by the PMO.
For those unaware, the SS 14th Waffen Division, also known as the Waffen-SS Galicia Division, was under the command of the Nazis.
In a statement, the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center said that the voluntary unit was responsible for the murder of Jews and others during World War II.
“At a time of rising antisemitism and Holocaust distortion, it is incredibly disturbing to see Canada’s Parliament rise to applaud an individual who was a member of a unit in the Waffen-SS, a Nazi military branch responsible for the murder of Jews and others”, it said while demanding an apology from the members of the Canadian parliament.
“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”, it added.
The Simon Wiesenthal Centre is an international centre for Holocaust remembrance, fighting antisemitism, and the defence of human rights worldwide. It is named after Simon Wiesenthal, a Holocaust survivor who dedicated his life to bringing perpetrators to justice.
The Canadian government has come under heavy criticism, with social media users accusing it of disrespecting the Canadians who lost their lives in the war.
“Why does this surprise you. Trudeau is part of the one world order. One could say many Germans got away with their crimes and stayed influential. Selling their technology to the highest bidder”, wrote one Twitter user.
“I wonder if Canada’s parliament realizes they just gave a standing ovation to a Waffen-SS volunteer named Yaroslav Hunka?! FYI, Waffen-SS was a combat branch of Nazis. That dropped my jaws. What’s wrong with everyone at that parliament building in Canada?”, wrote another Twitter user.
The Ukrainian President arrived in Canada on Friday for the first time since the Russian invasion. His visit was intended to gather international aid and the West’s support against Russia.
He had addressed the Canadian Parliament virtually after the war began in February last year. Canada has given more than $8.9 billion to support Ukraine in its war against Russia.
It has been more than a year since the invasion, but the war does not seem to be coming to an end anytime soon. Thousands of Russian and Ukrainian troops have lost their lives since the Russian invasion of Ukraine.