In a formal apology issued on behalf of Canada’s parliament, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressed deep regret over a recent incident that caused significant embarrassment. Last week, the Canadian House of Commons applauded a Ukrainian veteran who had served in a Nazi military unit during World War II.
Trudeau, addressing the media in Ottawa, acknowledged the gravity of the situation, stating, “This was a mistake that has deeply embarrassed parliament and Canada. All of us who were in this House on Friday regret deeply having stood and clapped, even though we did so unaware of the context.”
Furthermore, Trudeau acknowledged the diplomatic harm caused to the Ukrainian delegation present that day, including Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. He remarked, “I also want to reiterate how deeply sorry Canada is for the situation this put President Zelensky and the Ukrainian delegation in. It is extremely troubling to think that this egregious error is being politicized by Russia and its supporters to provide false propaganda about what Ukraine is fighting for.”
The controversy arose when, following President Zelensky’s address, House of Commons speaker Anthony Rota praised veteran Yaroslav Hunka as a Ukrainian-Canadian war hero who “fought for Ukrainian independence against the Russian aggressors then, and continues to support the troops today.” Hunka, 98, received an extended standing ovation.
The 14th Waffen Grenadier Division
However, subsequent revelations disclosed that Hunka had served in a Nazi military unit known as the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS. The 14th Waffen Grenadier Division was deemed a criminal organization by the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg in 1946, as it had committed war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Jewish human rights organization B’nai Brith Canada condemned the Ukrainian volunteers who served in this unit as “ultra-nationalist ideologues” who “dreamed of an ethnically homogenous Ukrainian state and endorsed the idea of ethnic cleansing.”
In the wake of the controversy, Speaker Anthony Rota has resigned from his post. Additionally, Poland’s Minister of Education has announced steps toward the possible extradition of Yaroslav Hunka.
This incident serves as a stark reminder of the importance of context and awareness when honoring individuals, particularly veterans, and highlights the need for vigilance in ensuring that such mistakes are not repeated in the future.