Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said he was left “deeply embarrassed” after a man with links to a Nazi unit was praised during a parliamentary speech by Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Yaroslav Hunka, a 98-year-old Ukrainian, received a standing ovation in the Canadian parliament after a speech by Zelensky.
The Speaker of Canada's House of Commons, Anthony Rota, praised Hunka as “a Ukrainian hero, a Canadian hero” and thanked him for his service.
Hunka waved from the gallery as he received a standing ovation.
Yaroslav Hunka, right, waits for the arrival of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in the House of Commons in Ottawa, Ontario. The speaker of Canada’s House of Commons apologized Sunday, Sept. 24, for recognizing Hunka, who fought for a Nazi military unit during World War II. Just after Zelenskyy delivered an address in the House of Commons on Friday, Canadian lawmakers gave the 98-year-old a standing ovation when Speaker Anthony Rota drew attention to him. (Patrick Doyle/The Canadian Press via AP)
It then emerged that he served in the 14th Waffen Grenadier unit of the SS.
Trudeau told reporters that he found the incident “extremely upsetting”.
On Tuesday evening, Rota resigned from his speaker position. He said he had made a mistake by inviting Hunka to parliament.
Rota, a member of the ruling Liberal party, added: "That public recognition has caused pain to individuals and communities, including the Jewish community in Canada and around the world. I accept full responsibility for my actions."
Rota also made a written apology to Canadian Jews, saying: “I have subsequently become aware of more information which causes me to regret my decision.
“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.
“I particularly want to extend my deepest apologies to Jewish communities in Canada and around the world.”
Jewish groups in Canada expressed their concern about the praise for Hunka. Dan Panneton, director of the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center in Toronto, told CBC News: “The unit was complicit in the Holocaust. They collaborated with the Nazis and they participated in the massacre of civilians.
“These are in many ways crimes that have not fully been answered for in historical memory and which, by honouring them in our house of legislature absolves the unit of its historical crimes.”
Trudeau’s office said neither he nor Zelensky were given advance notice of the invitation to Hunka, adding that the apology “was the right thing to do”.