Canadian parliament apologises after accidentally honouring WWII Nazi

The 89-year-old man, who was wrongly introduced as a Ukrainian war hero, actually fought for the Nazis during the second world war.

Canada’s parliament has apologised after accidentally introducing a former Nazi as a Ukrainian war hero, leading to him getting a standing ovation from the countries leaders.

The mix-up came just after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who was on a state visit, delivered an address in the House of Commons on Friday.

Canadian lawmakers cheered and Zelenskyy raised his fist, as Yaroslav Hunka saluted from the gallery during two standing ovations, when Speaker Anthony Rota drew attention to him.

Mr Rota had called him a “Ukrainian hero and a Canadian hero, and we thank him for all his service.”

He had introduced Hunka as a war hero who fought for the First Ukrainian Division – but this was actually a Nazi military unit during World War II.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recognize Yaroslav Hunka. / Credit: AP

“In my remarks following the address of the President of Ukraine, I recognized an individual in the gallery. I have subsequently become aware of more information which causes me to regret my decision to do so,” Mr Rota said in a statement.

He added that his fellow Parliament members and the Ukraine delegation were not aware of his plan to recognise Hunka. Mr Rota noted Hunka is from the district he represents.

“I particularly want to extend my deepest apologies to Jewish communities in Canada and around the world. I accept full responsibility for my action,” he said.

Hunka could not be immediately reached for comment.

Zelenskyy was in Ottawa to bolster support from Western allies for Ukraine’s war against the Russian invasion.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has painted his enemies in Ukraine as “neo-Nazis,” even though Zelenskyy is Jewish and lost relatives in the Holocaust.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office said in a statement that the speaker had apologised and accepted full responsibility for issuing the invitation to Hunka and for the recognition in parliament.

“This was the right thing to do,” the statement said. “No advance notice was provided to the Prime Minister’s Office, nor the Ukrainian delegation, about the invitation or the recognition.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recognize Yaroslav Hunka. / Credit: AP

The First Ukrainian Division was also 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 “was responsible for the mass murder of innocent civilians with a level of brutality and malice that is unimaginable”, according to a statement by The Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre for Holocaust Studies.

“An apology is owed to every Holocaust survivor and veteran of the Second World War who fought the Nazis, and an explanation must be provided as to how this individual entered the hallowed halls of Canadian Parliament and received recognition from the Speaker of the House and a standing ovation,” the statement said.

B’nai Brith Canada’s CEO, Michael Mostyn, said it was outrageous that Parliament honored a former member of a Nazi unit.

He said Ukrainian “ultra-nationalist ideologues” who volunteered for the Galicia Division “dreamed of an ethnically homogenous Ukrainian state and endorsed the idea of ethnic cleansing.”

“We understand an apology is forthcoming. We expect a meaningful apology,” Mr Mostyn said before Rota issued his statement.

“Parliament owes an apology to all Canadians for this outrage, and a detailed explanation as to how this could possibly have taken place at the center of Canadian democracy.”

Members of Parliament from all parties rose to applaud Hunka. A spokesperson for the Conservatives said the party was not aware of his history at the time.

“We find the reports of this individual’s history very troubling,” said Sebastian Skamski, adding that Trudeau’s Liberal party would have to explain why he was invited.

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