In a major embarrassment for Canada, the Justin Trudeau-led government has attracted heavy criticism for recently honouring a 98-year-old Ukrainian war veteran who is believed to have fought in the Second World War on behalf of a Nazi military unit, at the House of Commons.
After Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressed the Parliament in Ottawa on Friday, Canadian lawmakers gave a standing ovation to Yaroslav Hunka, who fought on the behalf of the First Ukrainian Division, also known as the Waffen-SS Galicia Division, a voluntary unit under the command of Nazi Germany.
House Speaker Anthony Rota introduced Hunka as a 'war hero' for both Canadians and Ukrainians and proceeded to thank him for "all his service". Canadian lawmakers, including Trudeau, cheered for him while raised his fist in acknowledgement.
It is important to note that the Nazi regime under Adolf Hitler in Germany massacred millions of Jewish people and people from other communities, until their defeat by allied forces.
'Appalling error' by Trudeau: Canadian opposition leader
Canadian opposition leader Pierre Poilievre took to social media platform X, saying that the event was an "appalling error in judgement" on part of the Canadian Prime Minister to honour a Nazi veteran and demanded an apology from his side.
"No parliamentarians (other than Justin Trudeau) had the opportunity to vet this individual’s past before he was introduced and honoured on the floor of the House of Commons. Without warning or context, it was impossible for any parliamentarian in the room (other than Mr. Trudeau) to know of this dark past," said Poilievre.
The Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center (FSWC) in a statement expressed that it was "deeply disturbed" over the recognition of the Ukrainian veteran who fought for Nazis and said that it was outraged that Hunka received a standing ovation from Canadian parliamentarians.
"The fact that a veteran who served in a Nazi military unit was invited to and given a standing ovation in Parliament is shocking. 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 and that was declared a criminal organization during the Nuremberg Trials. There should be no confusion that this unit was responsible for the mass murder of innocent civilians with a level of brutality and malice that is unimaginable," said the FSWC.
The organisation further said that an apology is owed by the Canadian government to every Holocaust survivor and veteran of World War II as well as an explanation as to how the man was allowed to enter the Canadian Parliament.
Canadian House Speaker apologises after the event
Meanwhile, Rota, who introduced the veteran in the Parliament, apologised, particularly to Jewish communities, in a statement where he took full responsibility for the initiative.
"I wish to make clear that no one, including fellow parliamentarians and the Ukraine delegation, was aware of my intention or of my remarks before I delivered them. This initiative was entirely my own, the individual in question being from my riding and having been brought to my attention," Rota said.
"I particularly want to extend my deepest apologies to Jewish communities in Canada and around the world. I accept full responsibility for my actions," he further said in the statement.
Trudeau's office said Rota's apology was "the right thing to do" and that no "advance notice was provided to the Prime Minister's Office, nor the Ukrainian delegation" about the invitation or recognition granted to Hunka.
A spokesperson for Canada's Conservative party said that it was not aware of the veteran's history at the time. “We find the reports of this individual's history very troubling,” said Sebastian Skamski, adding that Trudeau's party would have to explain why he was invited.
On Friday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressed the Canadian Parliament to bolster support for its war against Moscow, saying that Russia's aggression must end with Ukraine's victory. Zelenskyy is Jewish himself and has lost relatives in the Holocaust.
(with input from agencies)