Justin Trudeau blames Nazi debacle on Speaker: PM claims his fellow Liberal MP is ‘solely responsible for the invitation and recognition’ of ex-SS soldier – and offers ‘unreserved apology’ but refuses to take questions
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau apologized Wednesday for Parliament’s recognition of a man who fought alongside the Nazis in World War II, saying former Speaker Anthony Rota was “solely responsible” for the incident.
Yaroslav Hunka, 98, was invited to parliament and hailed as a Ukrainian and Canadian hero by Trudeau and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
It later emerged that Hunka had been involved with the Nazi division during World War II, prompting Speaker Anthony Rota to resign and Trudeau to apologize.
“This is a mistake that has deeply embarrassed Parliament and Canada,” Trudeau said in a televised speech on Wednesday before his apology in the House of Commons.
“It was a terrible violation of the memory of the millions of people who died in the Holocaust and it was deeply, deeply painful for the Jewish people,” Trudeau said.
The Prime Minister did not answer questions from reporters after the ‘unconditional apology’.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (pictured far right) apologized Wednesday for Parliament’s recognition of a man who fought alongside the Nazis in World War II
Yaroslav Hunka awaits the arrival of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in the House of Commons in Ottawa on Friday. Right: Hunka in his SS unit during the war
“All of us who were in the House of Representatives on Friday regret that we stood and clapped, even if we did so without being aware of the context,” Trudeau said before entering the House of Commons.
“It was a terrible violation of the memory of the millions of people who died in the Holocaust, and it was deeply, deeply painful for the Jewish people.”
Trudeau repeated the apology in parliament.
“It also hurt Polish people, Roma people, LGBTQI+ people, disabled people, racialized people and the many millions who were targeted by the Nazi genocide,” the prime minister said.
Just after Zelenskyy delivered a speech in the House of Commons on Friday, Canadian MPs gave Hunka a standing ovation as Speaker Rota drew attention to him.
Rota introduced Hunka as a war hero who fought for the First Ukrainian Division.
Observers began reporting this weekend that the First Ukrainian Division was also known as the Waffen-SS Galicia Division, or the SS 14th Waffen Division, a volunteer unit commanded by the Nazis.
“It is extremely disturbing to think that this egregious error is being politicized by Russia and its supporters to deliver false propaganda about what Ukraine is fighting for,” Trudeau said.
In Moscow, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said earlier this week that the standing ovation for Hunka was “scandalous” and called it the result of a “sloppy attitude” towards the memory of the Nazi regime.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has portrayed his enemies in Ukraine as “neo-Nazis,” even though Zelensky is Jewish and lost family members in the Holocaust.
Rota apologized on Sunday, saying he “later became aware of more information” that made him “regret” his acknowledgment of Hunka
Members of Parliament from all parties stood to applaud Hunka. A Conservative Party spokesperson said the party was not aware of his history at the time
The Ukrainian politician’s visit came as part of the two countries’ ongoing alliance against Russia, and after he secured a multimillion-dollar aid package from the US last year.
The Speaker of Canada’s House of Commons has apologized for recognizing a man who allegedly fought for the Nazi SS during the Second World War. Anthony Rota had praised 98-year-old Yaroslav Hunka (above) as “a Ukrainian-Canadian World War II veteran who fought for Ukrainian independence against the Russians” and “a Ukrainian hero and a Canadian hero.”
Speaker of the House of Representatives Anthony Rota resigned on Tuesday after a meeting with House of Commons party leaders. The main opposition parties finally called on him to resign.
Karina Gould, leader of the House of Representatives government, said Rota had invited and recognized Hunka without informing the government or the delegation from Ukraine, and that his lack of due diligence had broken the trust of lawmakers .
In an earlier apology on Sunday, Rota said he alone was responsible for inviting and recognizing Hunka, who is from the district Rota represents. The speaker’s office said it was Hunka’s son who contacted Rota’s local office to see if it was possible for him to attend Zelenskyy’s speech.
The Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies has called the incident “a stain on our nation’s venerable legislature with profound consequences both in Canada and worldwide.”
The Jewish advocacy group Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center called Rota’s warm introduction “shocking” and “incredibly disturbing” and said an apology is needed for Holocaust survivors and veterans.
In 1944, Hunka’s unit – the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division – was visited by SS leader Heinrich Himmler, who labeled the Jewish people a “filth” and said his men would be “eager” to “liquidate the Poles.”
The division’s involvement in war crimes and atrocities – especially during the German occupation of Ukraine – remains a controversial issue.
The speaker’s address had come later Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky gave an impassioned speech to Canada’s House of Commons.