The speaker of Canada's House of Commons, Anthony Rota, issued a public apology, claiming he was unaware of the full extent of Hunka's wartime affiliations when he made the acknowledgment.
In late September 2023, a video went viral allegedly showing Canadian Parliament giving a standing ovation to an ex-Nazi soldier. "You may've seen@JustinTrudeau & Volodymyr Zelinskyy [sic] celebrate in the Canadian Parliament Yaroslav Hunka, 98, an ex-Waffen SS fighter," one X user wrote. "The Left has devoted eight years labeling Trump a Nazi. Yet they grant a standing ovation to a genuine Nazi," another comment on the topic read. Another captioned claimed that "he was hailed as a hero for fighting against the Russians."
You may've seen @JustinTrudeau & Volodymyr Zelinskyy celebrate in the Canadian Parliament Yaroslav Hunka, 98, an ex-Waffen SS fighter.
It appears neither knew of Mr Hunka's past & the Canadian Speaker @AnthonyRota, his constituent invited him without checking.
— David Atherton (@DaveAtherton20) September 25, 2023
The incident in question took place shortly after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressed Canada's Parliament on Sept. 22, 2023. The House of Commons gave a standing ovation to 98-year-old Yaroslav Hunka. "He's a Ukrainian hero, a Canadian hero, and we thank him for all his service," Anthony Rota, speaker of Canada's House of Commons lower chamber, said while honoring Hunka as members gave a standing ovation.
In fact, Hunka served in 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS, a volunteer unit that operated during World War II under the command of the Nazis. On Sept. 24, 2023, Jewish advocacy groups, including the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center and B'nai Brith Canada, expressed their deep concern over the incident.
FSWC is appalled that Canada's Parliament gave a standing ovation to a Ukrainian veteran who served in a Nazi military unit during the Second World War implicated in the mass murder of Jews and others.
An apology and explanation is owed.https://t.co/ZkzIkOCvBe
— Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center (@CanadianFSWC) September 24, 2023
The organizations highlighted that the First Ukrainian Division was responsible for heinous war crimes, including the mass murder of innocent civilians:
Adolf Hitler was the leader of Nazi Germany, Canada and the free world's nemesis, and military opponent during WWII. The Ukrainian ultra-nationalist ideologues who volunteered to create the SS-Galician division in 1943 dreamed of an ethnically homogenous Ukrainian state and endorsed the idea of ethnic cleansing.
The 14th Waffen SS carried out numerous atrocities against civilians in the Ukraine and fought alongside regular Nazi German armed forces in the battle of Brody. The SS was declared a criminal organization by the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg. Members of this unit swore fealty to the Fuhrer and the perverted racial ideology of the Nazis.
Following the widespread criticism, Rota issued a public apology, as various reputable media sources such as Reuters, The Guardian, BBC and The Associated Press reported. In his statement, Rota said he regretted his decision to recognize Hunka and he was unaware of the full extent of Hunka's wartime affiliations when he made the acknowledgment. He emphasized that the initiative to recognize Hunka was entirely his own, and that neither his fellow Parliament members nor the Ukrainian delegation were aware of his plans. Rota extended his "deepest apologies" to Jewish communities both in Canada and globally.
(House of Commons of Canada)
Moreover, Ann-Clara Vaillancourt, a spokeswoman for Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, issued a statement that read:
Statement from the Office of the Prime Minister pic.twitter.com/5as0CCRut9
— Ann-Clara Vaillancourt (@annclarav) September 24, 2023
Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, claiming that the goal was to demilitarize and "denazify" the country. Russian President Vladimir Putin has even described Ukraine as a neo-Nazi state. Therefore, such incidents can be easily exploited by Russian propaganda. Reuters reported that "Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the episode showed a careless disregard for historical truth, and that the memory of Nazi crimes must be preserved."
"Such sloppiness of memory is outrageous," Peskov told reporters. "Many Western countries, including Canada, have raised a young generation that does not know who fought whom or what happened during the Second World War. And they know nothing about the threat of fascism."
Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, we have fact-checked numerous claims on the topic. You can read them here.