Ottawa: On behalf of Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has apologised for honoring a Ukrainian man in Parliament who fought for a Nazi unit during the Second World War.
In a statement on Wednesday, Trudeau said: “This is a mistake that deeply embarrassed parliament and Canada,” the BBC reported.
“All of us who were in this House on Friday regret deeply having stood and clapped even though we did so unaware of the context… It was a horrendous violation of the memory of the millions of people who died in the Holocaust.”
He said what happened was “deeply, deeply painful” to Jewish people and the many millions who were targeted by the Nazi genocide.
Trudeau also apologised directly to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who was visiting Canada and present in Parliament at the time of the incident on September 22, saying: “Canada is deeply sorry.”
Zelensky was among those pictured applauding the 98-year-old Yaroslav Hunka, who had served in the 14th Waffen-SS Grenadier Division, a voluntary unit made up mostly of ethnic Ukrainians under Nazi command.
The Division members have been accused of killing Polish and Jewish civilians, although the unit has not been found guilty of any war crimes by a tribunal.
In the Canadian Parliament, Hunka got a standing ovation and was praised as a Ukrainian and Canadian “hero”.
Trudeau’s apology comes a day after Parliament Speaker Anthony Rota, who has assumed responsibility for inviting the veteran, resigned, saying he was not aware of Hunka’s Nazi ties.
“The Speaker was solely responsible for the invitation and recognition of this man, and has wholly accepted that responsibility and stepped down,” the BBC quoted the Prime Minister as saying in his statement on Wednesday.
The incident has drawn widespread condemnation.
Pierre Poilievre, leader of Canada’s opposition Conservative Party, called the incident the “biggest single diplomatic embarrassment” in Canada’s history.
Canadian Jewish organisation Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies has said “questions remain as to how this debacle occurred”.
The debacle has also played into Russia’s accusations that Ukraine is run by neo-Nazis, even though Zelensky is himself Jewish.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov expressed outrage about the Canadian honour and said: “Many Western countries, including Canada, have raised a young generation that does not know who fought whom or what happened during the Second World War.”