Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who has been facing backlash, apologised for recognising a man who fought alongside the Nazis during last week’s address by Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
The development came on Wednesday when Trudeau said the speaker of the House of Commons, who resigned on Tuesday, was “solely responsible” for the invitation and recognition of the man but said it was a mistake that has deeply embarrassed the Canadian Parliament and Canada.
"All of us who were in the House on Friday regret deeply having stood and clapped, even though we did so unaware of the context," Trudeau said before he entered the House of Commons. “It was a horrendous violation of the memory of the millions of people who died in the Holocaust, and was deeply, deeply painful for Jewish people.”
Canadian Parliament called Hunka-- a war hero
Just after Zelenskyy delivered an address in the House of Commons on Friday, Canadian lawmakers gave 98-year-old Yaroslav Hunka a standing ovation when Speaker Anthony Rota drew attention to him. Rota introduced Hunka as a war hero who fought for the First Ukrainian Division.
Observers over the weekend began to publicise the fact that the First Ukrainian Division also was known as the Waffen-SS Galicia Division, or the SS 14th Waffen Division, a voluntary unit that was under the command of the Nazis.
“It is extremely troubling to think that this egregious error is being politicised by Russia, and its supporters, to provide 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 “outrageous,” and he called it the result of a “sloppy attitude” toward remembering the Nazi regime. Russian President Vladimir Putin has painted his enemies in Ukraine as “neo-Nazis,” although Zelenskyy is Jewish and lost relatives in the Holocaust.
Canadian Speaker resigned amid row
Speaker of the House Anthony Rota stepped down on Tuesday after meeting with the House of Commons’ party leaders, and after all of the main opposition parties called on him to resign.
House government leader Karina Gould said that Rota invited and recognised 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 that 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 could attend Zelenskyy’s speech.
The Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies has called the incident “a stain on our country’s venerable legislature with profound implications both in Canada and globally.”
(With inputs from agency)