The Speaker of Canada’s House of Commons, Anthony Rota, issued a public apology for recognizing a 98-year-old man, Yaroslav Hunka, during a parliamentary session. Rota’s initial praise for Hunka as a “Ukrainian Canadian war veteran from the Second World War who fought for Ukrainian independence against the Russians” and as “a Ukrainian hero and a Canadian hero” sparked controversy when it came to light that Hunka had served in the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the Nazi SS during World War II.
Lawmakers in the Canadian parliament had given Hunka a standing ovation, unaware of his controversial past, prompting the elderly veteran to smile and give a thumbs-up. The shocking revelation led to widespread condemnation, particularly from the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Jewish advocacy group. They called Rota’s warm introduction “shocking” and “incredibly disturbing” and demanded an apology to Holocaust survivors and veterans.
Hunka’s association with the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division, a notorious Nazi military unit responsible for war crimes and atrocities, including during the German occupation of Ukraine, remains a point of contention. SS leader Heinrich Himmler’s visit to the division in 1944, during which he made abhorrent remarks about Jewish people, further darkened its history.
Rota, a Liberal Member of Parliament, issued his apology, stating that he had “subsequently become aware of more information” that led him to “regret” recognizing Hunka. His initial remarks came after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s impassioned address to the Canadian House of Commons. Zelensky, who is Jewish and lost relatives in the Holocaust, raised his fist in acknowledgment when Hunka was honored in parliament.
Both Zelensky and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau participated in the standing ovations that followed. However, Trudeau’s office clarified that they had not been informed in advance about the invitation or recognition of Hunka, emphasizing that it was “the right thing to do” for Speaker Rota to issue an apology.
A Massive embarrassment for Justin Trudeau and Canada.
Canadian Parliament speaker Anthony Rota has had to apologise after he invited a Nazi War Criminal who participated in Jewish Holocaust. He fought with the Nazis during the Third Reich as part of the 14th Waffen, aka SS… pic.twitter.com/xJtU2SBKzN
— JIX5A (@JIX5A) September 25, 2023
In his statement, Rota took responsibility for the recognition, stating that the initiative was entirely his own and extending his “deepest apologies to Jewish communities in Canada and around the world.” Despite attempts to reach Hunka for comment, the veteran remained unavailable.
The incident occurred during President Zelensky’s visit to Ottawa, where he sought additional support from Western allies for Ukraine’s ongoing conflict with Russia. Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly described Ukrainian troops as neo-Nazis, intensifying the complex dynamics surrounding the recognition of Hunka, who had fought against the Red Army on the Eastern Front.