I apologize to Jewish communities worldwide on behalf of a prominent Canadian politician for an error made during the visit of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. This mistake resulted in lawmakers honoring a veteran who has been accused of being a member of a Nazi division during WWII.
Canadian Jewish groups called for an apology on Sunday after it was disclosed that members of Parliament from different parties gave a 98-year-old veteran a standing ovation on Friday, following a speech by Zelenskyy at Canada’s House of Commons.
When Yaroslav Hunka was acknowledged by House Speaker Anthony Rota, he stood up and seemed to give a salute from the section for spectators. Rota introduced Hunka as a war hero from his political district, who is both Canadian and Ukrainian.
Today in the chamber, a 98-year-old Ukrainian-Canadian veteran of the Second World War was recognized by Rota on Friday. This brave individual fought for Ukrainian independence against the Russians and continues to show support for troops, earning him a round of applause and a wave from Zelenskyy. He is a hero to both Ukraine and Canada, and we are grateful for his dedicated service. Thank you.
Jewish organizations, namely the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center and B’nai Brith Canada, strongly denounced the act of honoring him as alarming and completely unacceptable due to his involvement with the First Ukrainian Division, also referred to as the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division, which was under the control of the Nazis.
The website The Forward, which focuses on Jewish news, stated that Hunka authored blog articles discussing his experience in the unit on a Ukrainian website managed by a group of the unit’s former members known as “Combatant News.”
On Sunday evening, Rota released a statement expressing his regret for recognizing Hunka and taking full responsibility for the mistake. He explained that he had come across new information that led him to change his decision.
“I want to clarify that I did not inform anyone, including my fellow parliamentarians and the Ukraine delegation, of my intention or my statements before delivering them,” he explained. “This decision was solely my own, as the person in question is from my constituency and was brought to my attention.”
Pierre Poilievre, the Leader of the Conservative opposition, deemed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s decision to invite and honor Hunka as a “shocking lack of judgment.” Poilievre demanded that Trudeau apologize and take responsibility instead of deflecting it onto others, as he often does.
The prime minister’s office released a statement stating that they were not informed beforehand about the recognition or invitation from the speaker’s office, which operates separately from the prime minister.
The narrative was swiftly adopted by Russian government-run news outlets RT and Sputnik.
The Russian embassy in Canada shared on social media that it was disrespectful to the bravery of the Canadian soldiers who fought against Nazism during WWII.
During a press conference on Friday, reporters inquired about the decrease in support for Ukraine from Congress and other sources. Zelenskyy expressed that he is seeking assistance from Canada to strengthen a unified stance, as Ottawa has a strong rapport with various nations.
The startling announcement came on the day when the prime minister issued a declaration in observance of the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur.