Canadian lawmakers are demanding that a parliamentary official resign after he invited a Ukrainian war veteran who fought in a Nazi unit to be a featured guest during President’s Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s speech last week.
The episode is deeply embarrassing to Prime Minster Justin Trudeau’s government, though his staff say the government had no knowledge about the invitation ahead of time, and neither did the Ukrainian delegation.
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The guest, Yaroslav Hunka, was invited to the House of Commons by its presiding officer, Speaker Anthony Rota, who introduced the 98-year-old after Zelenskyy’s speech on Friday. Rota, a Liberal lawmaker, described him as a Ukrainian-Canadian Second World War veteran “who fought for Ukrainian independence against the Russians.”
The entire chamber gave Hunka a standing ovation, including Trudeau and the Ukrainian president, who raised his fist.
Over the weekend, Jewish organizations in Canada demanded an apology for Hunka’s invitation, pointing to his history serving with the 1st Galician division, a unit of the German military’s Waffen SS.
Rota has apologized but so far refused to resign over the incident, despite two of five political parties calling on him to do so. In a prepared statement on Monday morning, Rota told lawmakers his intention had been to “show that the conflict between Russia and Ukraine is not a new one.”
“I have subsequently become aware of more information which causes me to regret my decision to recognize this individual,” Rota said, adding that Hunka lives in his electoral district. “I am deeply sorry that I have offended many with my gesture and remarks.”
He said it was his decision alone to invite Hunka, and nobody else was “privy to my intention or my remarks prior to their delivery.”
Rota’s role as speaker of the House of Commons is elected by lawmakers from all parties in the chamber, and it is unclear whether he can stay on.
Peter Julian, who serves as House leader for the New Democratic Party, said Rota had made an “unforgivable error which puts the entire house in disrepute.”
“Regrettably, I must respectfully ask that you step aside,” he said.
The Bloc Quebecois has also urged Rota to quit.
But Trudeau’s Liberal Party has so far not asked for Rota’s resig-nation, instead seeking to have Hunka’s recognition in the cham-ber stricken from the official record.
Trudeau sidestepped questions about the incident on Monday. He acknowledged that people of Jewish faith were set to celebrate Yom Kippur and his country will continue to stand up for Ukraine against Russia’s illegal invasion.
The story was swiftly picked up by Russian state-controlled media RT and Sputnik. Russian President Vladimir Putin has sought to justify his invasion of Ukraine as aiming to “de-Nazify the country,” even though Zelenskyy himself is Jewish.
Russia’s embassy in Canada said in a statement on X that the standing ovation for Hunka was “yet another insult by the Trudeau government” to the “memory of Canada’s sons and daughters who fought Nazism in WWII.”
Poland’s ambassador to Canada, Witold Dzielski, has called for an apology over the incident.
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