A prominent Canadian parliamentarian has issued an apology to Jewish communities worldwide, acknowledging a grave error during Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s recent visit to Canada. The controversy erupted after lawmakers from all political affiliations in the Canadian Parliament offered a standing ovation to a 98-year-old veteran with ties to a Nazi division during World War II.
Recognizing a Hero
Yaroslav Hunka, the veteran in question, rose from his seat and saluted from the public gallery when House Speaker Anthony Rota introduced him as a Canadian-Ukrainian war hero from his political district.
Rota’s words, “We have here in the chamber today a Ukrainian-Canadian veteran from the Second World War who fought for Ukrainian independence against the Russians and continues to support the troops today, even at his age of 98,” were followed by a lengthy round of applause and a wave by President Zelenskyy.
Fighting on the Side of the Nazis
Rota concluded by saying, “He’s a Ukrainian hero, a Canadian hero, and we thank him for all his service. Thank you.”
However, this gesture of honor swiftly led to demands for an apology from Canadian Jewish organizations.
They denounced the tribute as disturbing and “beyond outrageous” due to Hunka’s association with the First Ukrainian Division, also known as the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division or the SS-Volunteer Galicia Division, which served under the Nazis.
Heavily Evidenced Association
Hunka’s connection to the division was further revealed through blog posts he authored, describing his time in the unit on a Ukrainian-language website operated by an association of the unit’s veterans known as “Combatant News.”
In these blog posts, he wrote about volunteering to join the SS Galicia Division in 1943 in western Ukraine.
There were also numerous photos available of his time with the SS Division.
Hunka received applause for his role in fighting against the Soviet Red Army with the “first Ukrainian division,” despite the unit’s history as a Ukrainian Nazi collaborator group.
The division was renamed the “First Ukrainian Division” when Germany was on the point of losing the war in March 1945.
In a statement released late Sunday afternoon, Speaker Rota expressed his regret for the incident, stating that he had recently become aware of information that made him reconsider his decision to recognize Hunka.
“Appalling Error of Judgment”
Rota took full responsibility for the blunder and emphasized that no one, including fellow parliamentarians and the Ukraine delegation, was aware of his intention or remarks before he delivered them.
He explained that this initiative was solely his own and was brought to his attention because the individual in question hailed from his riding.
The Conservative opposition Leader, Pierre Poilievre, condemned the incident as an “appalling error of judgment” by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, suggesting that Trudeau’s office would have approved the invitation and recognition of Hunka.
Don’t Shift the Blame
Poilievre called on Trudeau to apologize and not deflect blame to others, as he claimed the Prime Minister often does.
In response, the prime minister’s office clarified that they had not received advance notice about the speaker’s recognition or invitation, emphasizing the speaker’s office’s independence from the prime minister’s.
The news of this incident quickly gained attention on Russian state-controlled media websites RT and Sputnik.
An Insult to Those “Who Fought Nazism in WWII”
The Russian embassy in Canada weighed in on social media, denouncing the tribute as an “insult to the memory of Canada’s sons and daughters who fought Nazism in WWII.”
This controversy unfolded on the same day Prime Minister Trudeau issued a statement marking the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur, further underscoring the significance and sensitivity of the issues surrounding Hunka’s applause.
Featured Image Credit: Shutterstock / FamVeld