Canada House speaker apologizes for recognition of veteran who fought for Nazis

FILE PHOTO: Liberal Member of Parliament Anthony Rota speaks after being re-elected as Speaker of the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada November 22, 2021. REUTERS/Blair Gable/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The speaker of Canada's House of Commons on Sunday apologized for praising an individual at a parliamentary meeting who served in a Nazi unit during World War Two.

Two days earlier, Speaker Anthony Rota had recognized 98-year old Yaroslav Hunka as a "Ukrainian hero" before the Canadian Parliament. Hunka served in World War II as a member of the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS, according to the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Jewish human rights group that demanded an apology.

Rota in a statement took responsibility for what was characterized as an oversight, calling the initiative "entirely my own."

"I have subsequently become aware of more information which causes me to regret my decision," he said, adding his "deepest apologies" to Jewish communities.

The recognition came following a visit by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who thanked Canada for its assistance in his country's war against Russia.

Following Zelenskiy's remarks, Rota acknowledged Hunka, who was seated in the gallery, praising him for fighting for Ukrainian independence against the Russians. Hunka received two standing ovations from those gathered.

"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," the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center said in a statement while demanding an apology earlier Sunday.

"An explanation must be provided as to how this individual entered the hallowed halls of Canadian Parliament and received recognition from the Speaker of the House and a standing ovation," the group added.

Russia's RIA state news agency cited Russia's ambassador to Canada, Oleg Stepanov, as saying that the embassy will sent a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and a note to the Canadian foreign ministry on Monday.

"We will, of course, demand clarification from the Canadian government," RIA cited Stepanov as saying.

Russia launched a full-scale invasion on Ukraine in February 2022, saying the goal of the "special military operation" was to de-nazify and demilitarize its neighbour.

Kyiv and its Western allies, say the aggression, which has since seen thousands killed and millions displaced, has been an unprovoked land grab. Washington has said that Moscow's false justification for the war has been nothing but the Kremlin's attempt to "manipulate international public opinion."

Rota added in his statement that no one, including fellow parliamentarians or the Ukrainian delegation, was aware of his plans or remarks beforehand.

Hunka could not be reached for comment.

(Reporting by Pete Schroeder; Additional reporting by Lidia Kelly in Melbourne; Editing by Mark Porter and Michael Perry)

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