Canadian Parliament Faces Backlash for Honoring Ex-Nazi Member

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A wave of condemnation rolled over members of the Canadian Parliament following their standing ovation for a man who was once a part of a Nazi unit during the Second World War. This occurred during Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s visit to Ottawa, as lawmakers paid tribute to 98-year-old Yaroslav Hunka, a veteran of the First Ukrainian Division, known also as the SS 14th Waffen Division.

Speaker Anthony Rota introduced Hunka, a resident of his riding in North Bay. Offering his praise, Rota hailed the 98-year-old veteran as a “Ukrainian hero, a Canadian hero.” A wave of applause erupted amongst the MPs, with President Zelenskyy raising his fist in acknowledgment as Hunka saluted from the gallery.

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Yet, their acknowledgment of Hunka, whose division was linked to the Nazis, sparked ripples of discontent in the Jewish community. The Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies labeled the division as an entity responsible for the reprehensible mass murder of countless innocent civilians. This led them to demand an apology and an explanation regarding Hunka’s given accolades.

Rota responded to the criticism in a statement, regretting his earlier decision to honor Hunka. Offering sincere apologies to the Jewish community in Canada and around the world, he expressed his remorse over the unforeseen incidents, without mentioning Hunka by name or referring to any new information that had emerged.

The CEO of B’nai Brith Canada, Michael Mostyn, expressed his outrage, labeling it as unthinkable that a former member of a Nazi unit could be honored in Parliament. Joining him in reproach was the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, which stated its deep concern about the incident.

In the fallout, Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre laid the blame on Prime Minister Trudeau, while a spokesperson for the Prime Minister’s Office declared Rota acted on his own ledger. NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh also raised concens about the ode to an individual associated with the Nazi regime. Singh apologized to the Jewish community and emphasized the need to tackle rising antisemitism.

Dealing with the legacy of war isn’t straightforward. For decades, the debate over how to approach incidents like this has been ongoing. The controversy surrounding the Ukrainian Division stretches back to how we view immigrants who served in the SS Waffen Division and their role in Canadian society.

From statues and monuments facing vandalism to a royal commission examining whether Canada had unintentionally played host to war criminals, these incidents reflect a deep-rooted tug of war between history, memory, and national identity. Despite these complex and delicate issues, it’s crucial that we continue to seek the truth and strive for understanding.

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