Numerous Jewish advocacy groups have expressed strong condemnation towards members of the Canadian Parliament following a contentious standing ovation given to a man with a controversial wartime past during Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s visit to Ottawa on Friday.
The individual at the center of this controversy is 98-year-old Yaroslav Hunka, a former member of the First Ukrainian Division, who was recognized in the House of Commons by Speaker Anthony Rota. Rota, an Ontario MP, proudly introduced Hunka as a hero, not only to Ukraine but to Canada as well. The warmth of the reception was palpable, with MPs jubilantly cheering and even Zelenskyy acknowledging the moment with a raised fist as Hunka saluted from the gallery.
“I am very proud to say that he is from North Bay and from my riding of Nipissing–Timiskaming,” Rota said. “He is a Ukrainian hero, a Canadian hero, and we thank him for all his service.”
However, the First Ukrainian Division, also known as the Waffen-SS Galicia Division or the SS 14th Waffen Division, served voluntarily under Nazi command during World War II. This troubling historical fact came to the forefront, leading to a sharp backlash.
A tweet of the clip of the moment Rota acknowledged Hunka has also been community factchecked on X (fka Twitter), highlighting that Hunka’s division “committed various massacres against Jews, Poles, Czechs, Slovaks, and Soviet Partisans during their operation and collaboration with the SS and the Nazis.”
The Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies swiftly issued a statement decrying the division’s involvement in the mass murder of innocent civilians with unimaginable brutality and malice.
“An apology is owed to every Holocaust survivor and veteran of the Second World War who fought the Nazis, and an explanation must be provided as to how this individual entered the hallowed halls of Canadian Parliament and received recognition from the Speaker of the House and a standing ovation,” the statement said.
Rota, in response to the mounting controversy, released a statement expressing regret for recognizing an individual without full awareness of their history, but the statement did not specify the nature of this history or name Hunka. He apologized, particularly to Jewish communities, leaving some details unclear.
“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,” he wrote.
Michael Mostyn, CEO of B’nai Brith Canada, called the incident outrageous and demanded a meaningful apology from Parliament, insisting that Canadians deserved an explanation for such an incident in the heart of their democracy.
The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, representing Jewish federations across Canada, expressed deep concern, emphasizing their support for Ukraine in its struggle against Russian aggression while cautioning against whitewashing crimes committed by Ukrainians during the Holocaust.
Despite the controversy, MPs from all parties rose to applaud Hunka, with the federal Conservatives stating they were unaware of his history at the time. Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre laid blame on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, noting that the lack of information prevented other parliamentarians from knowing about Hunka’s dark past. A spokesperson for the Prime Minister’s Office reiterated that Rota alone invited Hunka.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh issued a statement expressing similar concerns, apologizing for the harm caused to the Jewish community and emphasizing the need to stand against rising antisemitism.
This incident is not the first time that monuments honoring the First Ukrainian Division have sparked controversy. Vandalization of such monuments in Edmonton in 2021 and Oakville in 2020 prompted calls for their removal. The decision to admit Ukrainian immigrants who had served in the SS Waffen Division after the war had long been contentious, with the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg declaring the SS a criminal organization.
Nevertheless, over 8,000 former members of the Waffen-SS Galicia Division were allowed to move to the United Kingdom in 1947 and later to Canada in 1950, subject to special security screening. In 1985, then-Prime Minister Brian Mulroney initiated a royal commission to examine whether Canada had inadvertently harbored war criminals, with the Deschenes Commission ultimately finding that mere membership in the division did not constitute a war crime.
Ezra Levant of Publisher News dug deep on otherwise unrelated circumstances that the current government has been tied to Nazis.
Three months ago, Trudeau made a trip to Ukraine where he met with Andriy Melnyk, who had previously been dismissed by Zelenskyy due to his Holocaust denial and controversial remarks regarding Jewish casualties, particularly involving Israel and Poland.
In a separate incident last year, Chrystia Freeland came under scrutiny when she was photographed displaying a scarf associated with a far-right Ukrainian Nationalist movement, which had connections to Neo-Nazi elements, during a commemoration event for Stefan Bandera, a figure associated with Nazi crimes. Although Freeland removed these posts from her social media, the photo had already been saved by others.
Levant cited fellow journalist David Pugliese, who penned articles discussing Trudeau and Freeland’s involvement with Ukrainian groups with alleged Nazi ties. Additionally, an article in the Globe and Mail shed light on Freeland’s grandfather, who had been involved in Nazi propaganda. Freeland had attempted to keep this family history concealed for years, later attributing its disclosure to Russian propaganda.
It is worth noting that Trudeau and Freeland have a tendency to label peaceful domestic political critics as “Nazis,” “far-right,” or “racist,” despite these critics’ differing viewpoints. However, the accusations of Nazi affiliations seem to be more closely linked to Trudeau and Freeland themselves, as evidenced by their associations and controversies.
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