Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau formally apologized on behalf of Canada’s parliament Wednesday, referring to the “deeply embarrassing” incident last week that saw the chamber applaud a Ukrainian veteran who fought for a Nazi military unit during World War II.
“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,” said Trudeau in a media briefing in Ottawa Wednesday.
Trudeau also recognized diplomatic damage done to the visiting Ukrainian delegation in attendance that day, which included Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
“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,” he said.
On Friday, following an address by Zelensky, House of Commons speaker Anthony Rota lauded 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.
But in the days since, human rights and Jewish organizations have said that Hunka served in a Nazi military unit known as the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS.
The 14th Waffen Grenadier Division was part of the Nazi SS organization declared a criminal organization by the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg in 1946, which determined the Nazi group had committed war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Jewish human rights organization B’nai Brith Canada in a statement condemned the Ukrainian volunteers who served in the unit as “ultra-nationalist ideologues” who “dreamed of an ethnically homogenous Ukrainian state and endorsed the idea of ethnic cleansing.”
Rota has resigned his post amid the fallout, and Poland’s Minister of Education has published a letter saying that he is taking steps towards Hunka’s possible extradition.