The speaker of Canada’s House of Commons has apologized after celebrating a Ukrainian veteran who fought for a Nazi military unit in World War II.
Speaker Anthony Rota recognized 98-year-old Yaroslav Hunka in a speech given Friday during Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s visit to the Canadian parliament on Friday and lauded Hunka as a Ukrainian and Canadian veteran.
The speaker hailed Hunka as a war hero who served in the First Ukranian Division and “fought for Ukrainian independence against the Russian aggressors then, and continues to support the troops today.”
“I have subsequently become aware of more information which causes me to regret my decision to do so,” Rota said in a statement shared by his office Sunday. He added, “I particularly want to extend my deepest apologies to Jewish communities in Canada and around the world.”
Several human rights and Jewish organizations have condemned the recognition, saying Hunka served in a Nazi military unit known as the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS.
“Hunka, who immigrated to Canada after serving in the 14th Waffen SS – a Nazi unit whose members swore allegiance to Adolf Hitler during WWII – received a standing ovation from members of Parliament and senators in attendance,” Jewish human rights organization B’nai Brith Canada said in a statement.
B’nai Brith Canada’s CEO, Michael Mostyn, said in a statement that the parliment’s recognition of Hunka is “beyond outrageous.”
“We cannot allow the whitewashing of history. … Canadian soldiers fought and died to free the world from the evils of Nazi brutality,” Mostyn said.
The 14th Waffen Grenadier Division was part of the Nazi SS organization that was declared a criminal organization by the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg, which determined the Nazi group had committed war crimes and crimes against humanity.
B’nai Brith in its statement condemned the Ukrainian volunteers who served in the military unit as “ultra-nationalist ideologues” who “dreamed of an ethnically homogenous Ukrainian state and endorsed the idea of ethnic cleansing.”
The human rights organization says it expects an apology from parliament.
Rota said he takes full responsibly for the acknowledgment of Hunka, who he said is from his electoral district.
“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,” Rota said. “This initiative was entirely my own, the individual in question being from my riding and having been brought to my attention.”