"The fact that a veteran who served in a Nazi military unit was invited to and given a standing ovation in Parliament is shocking," said the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies.
A top Canadian lawmaker apologized on Sunday for honoring Yaroslav Hunka, a 98-year-old Ukrainian man who fought for a notorious Nazi military unit during World War II.
Anthony Rota, speaker of Canada's House of Commons and a member of the Liberal Party, hailed Hunka during a ceremony late last week as "a Ukrainian hero" and "a Canadian hero" who fought for "Ukrainian independence against the Russians" and "continues to support the troops today."
Canadian lawmakers in attendance gave Hunka a standing ovation, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy—who had just delivered a speech to the House of Commons—"raised a fist during the applause," NBC Newsreported.
Rota's description of Hunka—who fought in the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the Nazi SS—sparked outrage, with the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies saying in a statement that "the fact that a veteran who served in a Nazi military unit was invited to and given a standing ovation in Parliament is shocking."
The group continued:
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. There should be no confusion that this unit 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.
In response to the backlash, Rota issued a statement saying he has "become aware of more information" that leads him to "regret" the decision to recognize Hunka.
"I wish to make clear that no one, including fellow parliamentarians and the Ukraine delegation, was aware of my intention or of my remarks before I delivered them," said Rota. "This initiative was entirely my own, the individual in question being from my riding and having been brought to my attention. I particularly want to extend my deepest apologies to Jewish communities in Canada and around the world. I accept full responsibility for my actions."
Jagmeet Singh, the leader of Canada's New Democratic Party (NDP), said he shares "the concerns about the individual honored with a standing ovation in the House of Commons on Friday."
"He was not a guest of the NDP and we were not aware of his background or association with the Nazi regime in World War II," Singh added. "The event has caused harm to the Jewish community and for that, I am sorry. New Democrats will be raising our concerns about how this was allowed to happen with the government directly. We must all stand together against the rising tide of antisemitism."