The speaker of Canada’s House of Representatives is facing a growing chorus of opposition MPs demanding his resignation after honoring a Nazi fighter during Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s visit to parliament last week, as Justice Prime Minister Trudeau is also under fire from conservatives for ” great diplomatic embarrassment and shame.”
In Ottawa, Opposition Leader Pierre Poilievre accused Trudeau and the Liberal government of creating a “major diplomatic embarrassment and embarrassment” by failing to properly vet Yaroslav Hunka, a man who fought for a Nazi military unit during World War II War.
“The prime minister is responsible,” the Conservative leader said. “Will he take responsibility for his latest embarrassment?”
Shortly after Zelensky – who is Jewish and lost relatives in the Holocaust – delivered a speech in the House of Commons on Friday, Canadian lawmakers applauded the 98-year-old Hunka when President Anthony Rota called his attention to it. Rota presented Hunka as a war hero who fought for the 1st Ukrainian Division.
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The 1st Ukrainian Division was also known as the Waffen-SS Galicia Division, or SS 14th Waffen Division, a volunteer unit under Nazi command.
Rota, who issued a written apology on Sunday and repeated it in Parliament on Monday, did not resign immediately.
In his apology, Rota said that he alone was responsible for inviting and recognizing Hunka.
“I deeply regret that I offended many with my gestures and remarks,” he said.
“No one – not even anyone among you, fellow MPs, or from the Ukrainian delegation – knew my intention or my remarks before they were delivered.”
In a statement on Sunday, the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies was the first to publicly clarify that the Waffen-SS Galicia Division “was responsible for the mass murder of innocent civilians with a level of brutality and viciousness that is unimaginable.”
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Speaking on camera to a reporter, Trudeau acknowledged it was “shameful” but also warned separately about Russian propaganda and “disinformation.”
“Obviously it’s extremely embarrassing that this happened. The speaker has acknowledged his mistake and apologized, but this is something that is deeply embarrassing for the parliament of Canada and by extension all Canadians,” Trudeau said. “My thoughts are especially with Jewish MPs and all members of the Jewish community across the country who are celebrating… Yom Kippur today. I think it will be very important for all of us to push back against Russian propaganda, Russian disinformation, and continue our steadfast and unequivocal support for Ukraine, as we did last week by announcing further steps to stand by Ukraine in Russia’s illegal war against her”.
Peter Julian, the House leader of the New Democratic Party, and Bloc Quebecois leader Yves-Francois Blanchet both said Rota should resign.
“For the good of the institution of the House of Commons … I do not believe you can continue in this role,” Julian said. “Unfortunately I must respectfully ask you to step aside.”
In a statement written in French, Blanche said Rota had lost the confidence of Parliament.
Leader of the House of Representatives Carina Gould said the incident “hurt all of us in parliament”.
“It was deeply embarrassing for Canada and I think it was deeply embarrassing for the president of Ukraine,” said Gould, who is a descendant of Holocaust survivors.
Gould said it was Rota’s decision to invite Hunka.
“Neither the Canadian government nor the Ukrainian delegation knew of such a thing,” he said.
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In Moscow, a Kremlin spokesman said it was “outrageous” that Hunka received a standing ovation during a visit to Ottawa.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the memory of the Nazis must be preserved. He said Canada is among Western countries that have raised a new generation that does not understand the threat of fascism. “Such a sloppy attitude towards this memory is, of course, outrageous,” Peskov said during his daily conference call with reporters.
Russian leader Vladimir Putin has labeled his enemies in Ukraine “neo-Nazis”, despite Zelensky’s record.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.