“He’s a Ukrainian hero, a Canadian hero, and we thank him for all his service,” Rota said as members stood in ovation.
But on Sunday, Jewish groups condemned the honor, saying that Hunka had been a member of a Waffen-SS unit — the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division — which was comprised of ethnic Ukrainians. Heinrich Himmler, a leading member of the Nazi Party in Germany, formed the Waffen-SS, which was involved with mass shootings, anti-partisan warfare and supplying guards for Nazi concentration camps.
“The fact that a veteran who served in a Nazi military unit was invited to and given a standing ovation in Parliament is shocking,” stated the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies. “At a time of rising antisemitism and Holocaust distortion, it is incredibly disturbing to see Canada’s Parliament rise to applaud an individual who was a member of a unit in the Waffen-SS, a Nazi military branch responsible for the murder of Jews and others and that was declared a criminal organization during the Nuremberg Trials.”
The Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center called for an apology and an explanation as to how Hunka came to be invited to the Canadian Parliament.
Rota apologized Sunday over the incident and said he accepts “full responsibility.” The House of Commons speaker’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment seeking more information about the incident.
“In my remarks following the address of the President of Ukraine, I recognized an individual in the gallery. I have subsequently become aware of more information which causes me to regret my decision to do so,” Rota said in a statement. “I particularly want to extend my deepest apologies to Jewish communities in Canada and around the world. I accept full responsibility for my actions.”
Rota added that none of his fellow parliamentarians or members of the Ukrainian delegation were involved in inviting and recognizing Hunka.
Ann-Clara Vaillancourt, a spokeswoman for Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, issued a statement Sunday calling Rota’s apology “the right thing to do.”
“No advance notice was provided to the Prime Minister’s Office, nor the Ukrainian delegation, about the invitation or the recognition,” the statement reads. “The Speaker had his own allotment of guest seating at Friday’s address, which were determined by the Speaker and his office alone.”