Lawmaker apologizes after honoring WWII veteran who served in notorious Nazi unit
Canada’s House of Commons Speaker, Anthony Rota, issued an apology after it was revealed that a man he had celebrated during a Ukrainian delegation’s visit had served in a Nazi military unit during World War II. Rota had honored 98-year-old Yaroslav Hunka, of North Bay, Ontario, during Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s visit to Canada’s lower house of Parliament.
During Zelensky’s address to Parliament, Rota introduced Hunka as a war hero who fought for Ukrainian independence against the Russians and continues to support the troops today. Members of Parliament stood in ovation in honor of Hunka. However, on Sunday, Jewish groups condemned the honor, stating that Hunka had been a member of the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division, a notorious Waffen-SS unit comprised of ethnic Ukrainians.
The Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies criticized the decision to invite and honor Hunka, calling for an apology and an explanation of how he came to be invited to Canadian Parliament. The Waffen-SS unit, formed by Heinrich Himmler, was involved in mass shootings, anti-partisan warfare, and guarding Nazi concentration camps. The organization emphasized that given the rising antisemitism and Holocaust distortion, it was incredibly disturbing to see Canada’s Parliament applaud an individual associated with a criminal organization responsible for the murder of Jews and others.
In response to the incident, Rota apologized and accepted full responsibility for honoring Hunka. He expressed regret over his decision in recognizing Hunka and extended his deepest apologies to the Jewish communities in Canada and around the world. Rota clarified that none of his fellow parliamentarians or members of the Ukrainian delegation were involved in inviting and recognizing Hunka.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s spokesperson, Ann-Clara Vaillancourt, supported Rota’s apology, stating that it was the right thing to do. She emphasized that the Prime Minister’s Office and the Ukrainian delegation had not been given advance notice about the invitation or the recognition. The spokesperson clarified that the seating for guests during Zelensky’s address was determined solely by the Speaker and his office.
The incident has sparked controversy and raised questions about the vetting process for invitations to Canadian Parliament. It also highlights the importance of historical awareness and sensitivity when honoring individuals with a complex past.