After Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s recent visit to Canada, Speaker of the House Anthony Rota issued an apology for honoring a 98-year-old veteran who was identified as a former Nazi soldier. The incident has sparked controversy and drawn criticism from Jewish advocacy groups, raising questions about oversight and judgment in the Canadian Parliament.
After President Zelenskyy’s speech in the Canadian legislature, Speaker Rota acknowledged the presence of Yaroslav Hunka, describing him as a World War II veteran and “a Ukrainian hero, a Canadian hero.”
This recognition led to two standing ovations from lawmakers, with President Zelenskyy also joining in the applause.
Jewish advocacy groups, including B’nai Brith Canada and the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center, quickly identified Hunka as a former officer of the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division.
The Division in Question
The 14th Waffen Grenadier Division was a Nazi military unit that committed atrocities against civilians in Ukraine and fought alongside regular Nazi German forces.
This revelation ignited outrage and condemnation, as the unit’s actions in WWII were deeply troubling.
In response to the mounting controversy, Speaker Rota said, “It was my intention to show that the conflict between Russia and Ukraine is nothing new and that Ukrainians have unfortunately been subjected to foreign aggression for far too long now.”
Speaker Rota concluded his apology by saying. “I subsequently became aware of more information, which causes me to regret my decision to recognize this individual. I wish to apologize…and I’m deeply sorry that I’ve offended many with my gesture and my remarks.”
Rota explained that Hunka was a constituent from his electoral district who expressed an interest in attending Zelenskyy’s speech.
He also said Trudeau’s office and the delegation from Ukraine were completely unaware that he intended to honor Hunka during the event.
President Zelenskyy’s Gratitude
During his address to the Canadian Parliament, President Zelenskyy expressed his gratitude for Canada’s support in Ukraine’s fight against Russian forces.
He emphasized the severity of the situation, referring to it as “genocide” due to the actions of Russian occupiers in Ukraine.
Despite Zelenskyy’s gratitude towards Canada, the incident quickly spread across Russian-controlled media with the Russian embassy of Canada posting on social media, “insult to the memory of Canada’s sons and daughters who fought Nazism in WWII.”
The incident has created a great deal of controversy surrounding Canada’s parliament, with some lawmakers calling for Speaker Rota’s resignation.
Karina Gould, a Jewish Liberal government cabinet minister, said: “This has been deeply embarrassing for Canada’s parliament, for Canada and for the president of Ukraine, who came here in friendship, because we are a strong ally, and who came here because he trusted Canadians.”
Conservative Party’s Response
The Conservative Party, which has the second-most seats in the legislature, said it would review Speaker Rota’s apology to determine the next steps.
Peter Julian, an NDP lawmaker, said “A sacred trust has been broken. It is for that reason, and for the good of the institution of the House of Commons, that sadly I do not believe you can continue in this role.”
Passing the Blame
Conservative opposition Leader Pierre Poilievre said it was an “appalling error of judgment” by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau because his office had to approve inviting and honoring Hunka. He then demanded Trudeau apologize and stop himself from “passing the blame to others as he always does.”
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