The speaker of Canada’s Parliament [above, left] has issued an apology after heaping praise on a former Waffen SS soldier, leading to the individual being feted with applause in the chamber by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last week.
Speaker Anthony Rota introduced 98-year-old Yaroslav Hunka during a special session at Parliament Hill on Friday attended by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, describing “Ukrainian hero, Canadian hero” Hunka as one who had “fought [for] Ukrainian independence against the Russians” in the Second World War. Having done so, the chamber came to its feet — including Zelensky and Trudeau — and gave sustained applause with whooping cheers, twice.
Yet Hunka was quickly identified as a former member of the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS (1st Galician), a notorious paramilitary formation which the Polish ambassador to Canada said on Sunday was “responsible for murdering thousands of Poles & Jews”.
Zelensky being seen applauding an SS volunteer is awkward for his nation’s cause, given the energy devoted by Russian propagandists to portray the Kyiv government as being the descendants of Second World War-era Ukrainian fascists. Russia tells its own people the purpose of what they euphemistically call their ‘special military operation’ is the ‘Denazification’ of Ukraine.
Despite using his prominent platform as speaker of the house to bring attention to Hunka, who he also said was a resident of his own electoral district, Rota has now pleaded ignorance as to who Hunka actually was. Calling the oversight “entirely my own”, Rota said he had “subsequently become aware of more information which causes me to regret my decision”.
These are photos of SS Galicia Division veteran who was given standing ovation by Canadian parliament, prime-minister of Canada and president of Ukraine. He published these photos of himself in this division during training in Germany. He is standing in the middle in 1st photo,… pic.twitter.com/YkfKZbJ1i7
— Ivan Katchanovski (@I_Katchanovski) September 24, 2023
Rota said calling attention to Hunka was entirely his own decision and “no one, including fellow parliamentarians and the Ukraine delegation” was aware of what he was going to do in advance. “I accept full responsibility for my actions”, he said, and Trudeau’s office has denied foresight.
The remarkable failure of due diligence came as even a casual knowledge of the European theatre of the Second World War would have flagged a member of the “First Ukainian Division” as being worthy of a second look before being celebrated.
Despite speaker Rota moving to take full responsibility, the leader of the Canadian Conservative opposition party Pierre Polievre alleged liberal Prime Minister Trudeau himself was more involved than initially revealed. Polievre wrote that: “Trudeau personally met with and honoured a veteran of the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS (a Nazi division)” and was involved in the process to have Rota recognised on the floor.
Polievre claimed: “This is an appalling error in judgement on the part of Justin Trudeau, whose personal protocol office is responsible for arranging and vetting all guests and programming for state visits of this kind… Mr. Trudeau must personally apologize and avoid passing the blame to others as he always does.”
The Waffen-SS was a paramilitary fighting force of the NSDAP, which was led by the ideologically most devoted Nazis in the Second World War. As well as units manned by party-loyal ethnic Germans, it also created volunteer corps, divisions, brigades, and legions recruited from foreign nations and collaborationists. Some of these groups became notorious for being among the most brutal Nazi units and many were executed after the war.
The Canadian Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center said of the brewing controversy over the Nazi volunteer being honored in parliament that this act ignored “the horrific fact that Hunka served in the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS, a Nazi military unit whose crimes against humanity during the Holocaust are well-documented”.
Their statement said: “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.”
Rota responded to their call for an apology in his own statement Monday, saying: “I particularly want to extend my deepest apologies to Jewish communities in Canada and around the world.”