Canada’s House speaker is facing a growing chorus of opposition lawmakers demanding his resignation after a Nazi fighter was honored during Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s visit to Parliament last week, as Prime Minister Justice Trudeau is also being torched by conservatives over the ‘massive diplomatic embarrassment and shame.’
In Ottawa, opposition leader Pierre Poilievre blamed Trudeau and the Liberal government for creating a ‘massive diplomatic embarrassment and shame’ for not properly vetting Yaroslav Hunka, a man who fought for a Nazi military unit during World War II.
‘The prime minister is responsible,’ the Conservative leader said. ‘Will he take responsibility for his latest embarrassment?’
Just after Zelenskyy – who is Jewish and lost relatives in the Holocaust – delivered an address in the House of Commons Friday, Canadian lawmakers gave the 98-year-old Hunka a standing ovation when Speaker Anthony Rota drew attention to him. Rota introduced Hunka as a war hero who fought for the 1st Ukrainian Division.
The 1st Ukrainian Division was also known as the Waffen-SS Galicia Division, or the SS 14th Waffen Division, a voluntary unit that was under the command of the Nazis.
Rota, who issued a written apology Sunday and repeated it in the House on Monday, did not immediately resign.
In his apology, Rota said he alone was responsible for inviting and recognizing Hunka.
‘I am deeply sorry that I have offended many with my gesture and remarks,″ he said.
‘No one – not even anyone among you, fellow parliamentarians, or from the Ukrainian delegation – was privy to my intention or my remarks prior to their delivery.’
Issuing a statement Sunday, the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies was the first to publicly clarify the Waffen-SS Galicia Division ‘was responsible for the mass murder of innocent civilians with a level of brutality and malice that is unimaginable.’
Addressing the incident on camera to a reporter, Trudeau acknowledged it was ’embarrassing,’ but also separately warned against Russian propaganda and ‘disinformation.’
‘Obviously it’s extremely upsetting that this happened. The speaker has acknowledged his mistake and has apologized, but this is something that is deeply embarrassing to the parliament of Canada and by extension all Canadians,’ Trudeau said. ‘I think particularly of Jewish MPs and all members of the Jewish community across the country who are celebrating… commemorating Yom Kippur today. I think that it’s going to be really important that all of us push back against Russian propaganda, Russian disinformation and continue our steadfast and unequivocal support for Ukraine as we did last week with announcing further measures to stand with Ukraine in Russia’s illegal war against it.’
Peter Julian, the New Democratic Party House leader, and Bloc Quebecois leader Yves-Francois Blanchet both said Rota should step down.
‘For the good of the institution of the House of Commons… I don’t believe you can continue in this role,’ Julian said. ‘Regrettably I must respectfully ask that you step aside.’
In a statement written in French, Blanchet said Rota had lost the confidence of the House.
House government leader Karina Gould said the incident ‘hurt all of us in Parliament.’
‘It’s been deeply embarrassing for Canada, and I think it was deeply embarrassing for the president of Ukraine,’ said Gould, who is a descendent of Holocaust survivors.
Gould said it was Rota’s decision to invite Hunka.
‘Neither the government of Canada nor the delegation of the Ukraine had any knowledge of this,’ she said.
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 memory of the Nazis must be preserved. He said Canada is among the Western countries that have raised a young generation who don’t understand the threat of fascism. ‘Such a sloppy attitude toward this memory is, of course, outrageous,’ Peskov said during his daily conference call with reporters.
Russian leader Vladimir Putin has painted his enemies in Ukraine as ‘neo-Nazis,’ despite Zelenskyy’s background.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.