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Jewish groups demands apology after MPs honoured man who fought for Nazis

Jewish groups condemn MPs

Several Jewish advocacy organizations condemned members of Parliament on Sunday for giving a standing ovation to a man who fought for a Nazi unit during the Second World War.

During Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's visit to Ottawa on Friday, MPs honoured 98-year-old Yaroslav Hunka in the House of Commons.

Hunka was invited by Speaker Anthony Rota, who introduced him as a war hero who fought for the First Ukrainian Division.

"I am very proud to say that he is from North Bay and from my riding of Nipissing—Timiskaming," the Ontario MP said as an introduction.

"He is a Ukrainian hero, a Canadian hero, and we thank him for all his service."

MPs cheered and Zelenskyy raised his fist in acknowledgement as Hunka saluted from the gallery during two separate standing ovations.

The First 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.

The Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies issued a statement Sunday saying the division "was responsible for the mass murder of innocent civilians with a level of brutality and malice that is unimaginable."

"An apology is owed to every Holocaust survivor and veteran of the Second World War who fought the Nazis, and 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 statement said.

B'nai Brith Canada CEO Michael Mostyn said it is beyond outrageous that Parliament honoured a former member of a Nazi unit, saying Ukrainian "ultra-nationalist ideologues" who volunteered for the Galicia Division "dreamed of an ethnically homogenous Ukrainian state and endorsed the idea of ethnic cleansing."

"We understand an apology is forthcoming. We expect a meaningful apology. Parliament owes an apology to all Canadians for this outrage, and a detailed explanation as to how this could possibly have taken place at the centre of Canadian democracy," Mostyn said.

The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, which represents Jewish federations across the country, said it is deeply troubled by the incident.

"Canada's Jewish community stands firmly with Ukraine in its war against Russian aggression. But we can't stay silent when crimes committed by Ukrainians during the Holocaust are whitewashed," the group said in a statement published Sunday on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Members of Parliament from all parties rose to applaud Hunka. A spokesperson for the Conservative party said the party was not aware of his history at the time.

"We find the reports of this individual’s history very troubling," said Sebastian Skamski, adding that the Liberals would have to explain why he was invited.

A spokesperson for the Prime Minister's Office directed The Canadian Press to the office of the Speaker for comment.

Rota's office did not immediately respond to questions.

Monuments to honour the First Ukrainian Division have caused controversy in recent years.

In 2021, a statue of Ukrainian military leader Roman Shukhevych and a monument to the fighters of the Waffen-SS Galicia Division in Edmonton were vandalized by someone who spray painted them with the words "Actual Nazi."

The Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center said at the time that it had been advocating for their removal for decades.

In 2020, a monument to the Waffen-SS Galicia Division in Oakville, Ont., was vandalized in a similar way.

The decision to admit Ukrainian immigrants who had served in the SS Waffen Division in the post-war period was contentious, with Jewish groups arguing they should be barred from the country.

The International Military Tribunal in Nuremburg declared the SS to be a criminal organization, including the SS Waffen in that declaration.

The Waffen-SS Galicia Division surrendered to the British army in 1945, and just over 8,000 men were moved to the United Kingdom in 1947.

In 1950, the federal cabinet decided to allow Ukrainians living in the U.K. to come to Canada "notwithstanding their service in the German army provided they are otherwise admissible. These Ukrainians should be subject to special security screening, but should not be rejected on the grounds of their service in the German army."

In 1985, then-prime minister Brian Mulroney called for a royal commission to examine whether Canada had become a haven for war criminals.

The Deschenes Commission found there were about 600 former members of the Waffen-SS Galicia Division living in Canada at the time. But Justice Jules Deschênes said membership in the division did not itself constitute a war crime.



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