Prime Minister Justin Trudeau apologized on behalf of Canada’s Parliament after a veteran of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi forces was included in an event last week honoring Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
“This was a mistake that has deeply embarrassed Parliament and Canada. All of us in this House on Friday deeply regret that we stood up and applauded even though we did so without being aware of the context,” Trudeau said in a brief statement to journalists.
“It was a horrendous violation of the memory of the millions of people who died in the Holocaust,” he said, adding that the celebration of former soldier Yaroslav Hunka was “deeply painful” for the Jewish people, Poles, Roma and the LGBT community. . community and other racialized people in particular: some of the groups that were attacked by the Nazi regime in World War II.
Trudeau also said that “Canada deeply regrets” having involved Zelenskyy, who was photographed applauding Hunka, an image that has been exploited by Russian propagandists.
Canada sent an apology to Zelenskyy and the Ukrainian delegation through diplomatic channels, Trudeau added.
Liberal caucus sources told Breaking: that Trudeau told MPs on Wednesday that they should avoid speaking to the press about Hunka’s invitation and the subsequent fallout, and that the media frenzy would calm down if they kept their mouths shut.
Trudeau’s comments come after Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre said inviting Hunka to attend Zelenskyy’s historic speech to Parliament is the “biggest diplomatic embarrassment” in the country’s history.
Poilievre blames Trudeau for the mishap, despite outgoing president Anthony Rota’s claim that he was solely responsible for inviting Hunka.
Rota called the Ukrainian veteran a “Canadian hero” in the House of Commons and drew a standing ovation.
Hunka was part of the First Ukrainian Division, also known as the Galicia Waffen-SS Division or 14th Waffen SS Division, a volunteer unit that was part of Hitler’s forces.
Speaking to reporters before a Conservative caucus meeting in Parliament, Poilievre said Trudeau was responsible for making Zelenskyy’s visit to Canada a success, and Hunka’s inclusion in the event has tarnished Canada’s reputation in the world stage.
“Each person should have been vetted for their diplomatic and security sensitivities if the prime minister and his enormous apparatus were doing their job,” Poilievre said.
In question period, Poilievre again criticized Trudeau over the incident, saying it is not enough for the prime minister to apologize on behalf of Canada or Parliament. He said Trudeau should use this personally.
“This prime minister allowed a monumental, unprecedented and global shame to unfold in this chamber,” Poilievre said. “Will he personally take responsibility for this embarrassment and personally apologize on his behalf?”
Trudeau stopped short of personally apologizing, saying it is inappropriate for the Prime Minister’s Office to control who can enter the House of Commons.
He said it would be a “serious attack” on the rights and privileges of MPs for his office to screen all guests in the House of Commons galleries.
Trudeau said that as a long-time parliamentarian and former minister of democratic institutions, Poilievre should know how Parliament works: that the president is independent of the Prime Minister’s Office and is free to invite whoever he wants.
“To demonstrate so little knowledge of how Parliament works to carry out a partisan attack is truly shameful,” Trudeau said.
During one particularly testy exchange, Trudeau noted that some of Poilievre’s Conservative MPs dined earlier this year with Christine Anderson, a far-right German politician who has downplayed the Holocaust and pushed anti-Muslim ideology.
“To this day, the leader of the Official Opposition has made no apology: no acknowledgment, no apologies, no consequences for those three parliamentarians who engaged in dialogue with a far-right German politician,” Trudeau said.
“If the opposition leader wants the government to help him determine who his MPs meet with, we will be more than happy to give him better advice.”
As for who investigated Hunka, Rota’s spokesperson said the president’s guest list for the event was not shared with the Prime Minister’s Office.
Rota’s selections to be in the gallery were sent to the House of Commons protocol office and the confirmed list of attendees was then shared with corporate security, which is partly responsible for security on the parliamentary floor, including the House of Commons in the West Block.
Rota resigned from his position on Tuesday.
Still, Poilievre said Trudeau and his team should have monitored who was available.
“What has he done with that responsibility? He has been hiding in his cabin,” said the conservative leader.
Trudeau was in Parliament this week but, until Wednesday, had been noticeably absent during question period.
Unlike some of his ministers, including Government House Leader Karina Gould and Foreign Minister Melanie Joly, Trudeau did not explicitly say Rota should resign over the recognition of a former Nazi soldier.
The consequences of the 98-year-old’s appearance in Parliament are still being felt.
Poland’s Education Minister has said he wants Hunka extradited to face criminal sanctions for his role in the Galician division, a unit that committed atrocities against Poles in World War II. Przemysław Czarnek said that he “has taken steps” to bring Hunka to Poland.
The Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Center (FSWC), a Jewish rights group, said Rota’s action “compromised all 338 parliamentarians” and “delivered a propaganda victory to Russia.”
The FSWC is also calling on the Commons Procedures and Affairs Committee (PROC) to hold public hearings, investigate what happened and examine the “failures of the investigation process”.
B’nai Brith, another Jewish group, said the government must take action Deschenes CommissionThe 1980s report is being made public in its entirety so that the country can learn the true extent of Ukrainian Nazi activities in post-World War II Canada.
Reports suggest that up to 2,000 Ukrainian members of Hitler’s Waffen-SS were admitted to Canada after the war, after some british insistence. The commission said the number is probably lower than that.
But the Jewish groups have been critical for a long time of how these collaborators have been allowed to live in peace in Canada after voluntarily serving in Hitler’s forces.
Historians have documented how soldiers like Hunka were trained in SS facilities in Germany, sworn the oath to Hitler, and were educated in Nazi doctrine.
“We cannot move forward as a country from Friday’s humiliating debacle without the government committing to finally opening its wartime records,” said Michael Mostyn, executive director of B’nai Brith Canada.
When asked whether the Deschenes report should be made public, Justice Minister Arif Virani did not give a clear answer.
One part of the commission’s work was made public while the second, containing the names of suspected Nazis in Canada, was kept secret.
“I will always support ensuring that people who have committed war crimes or crimes against humanity or crimes like genocide are brought to justice,” Virani told reporters.