Trudeau apologizes on behalf of Parliament for presence, recognition of Nazi unit veteran

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau apologized Wednesday on behalf of Canada’s Parliament after it applauded a man who fought alongside the Nazis in the Second World War after last week’s address by Ukraine’s president.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau apologizes for the events surrounding Ukraine President Volodomyr Zelenskyy’s visit at a media availability in Ottawa on Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

He made the brief statement before entering the House of Commons, where he extended “unreserved apologies” for what unfolded during President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s visit. 

“This was a mistake that has deeply embarrassed Parliament and Canada,” Trudeau told reporters, declining to take any questions.

“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.” 

The prime minister reiterated that Speaker Anthony Rota, who is stepping down over the issue, was solely responsible for inviting and recognizing 98-year-old Ukrainian veteran Yaroslav Hunka, who hails from his riding.

Twice last Friday, members of Parliament and other guests in the House stood and applauded Hunka, who Rota lauded as both a Ukrainian and a Canadian “hero.” 

“I also want to reiterate how deeply sorry Canada is for the situation this put President Zelenskyy and the Ukrainian delegation in,” Trudeau said. 

“It is extremely troubling to think that this egregious error is being politicized by Russia and its supporters to provide false propaganda about what Ukraine is fighting for.” 

He repeated a similarly worded apology in the chamber. 

Ahead of those remarks, Trudeau had faced heavy pressure from Opposition Conservatives and the federal NDP to deliver an apology. 

Earlier in the day, Tory Leader Pierre Poilievre charged that if Trudeau wants power, “he has to take responsibility” and apologize to “Jews, Poles, Ukrainians and all Canadians.”

Poilievre went on to say that Trudeau should call Zelenskyy directly, a suggestion the prime minister did not address on Wednesday. 

In the House of Commons, the Conservatives rejected the apology Trudeau delivered on behalf of Parliament.

They said he needed to take personal responsibility for the incident, given the harm it has caused to those affected by Nazi war crimes, the country’s reputation and the Ukrainian cause. 

“It was his personal responsibility to make sure (Zelenskyy’s visit) was a diplomatic success,” Poilievre told MPs on Wednesday. 

He suggested that government should have vetted the guests not only for security purposes but for diplomatic ones. 

Poilievre added that Hunka’s presence created a “monumental, unprecedented and global shame” on Parliament. 

Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has also been calling on Trudeau to apologize and present a plan for how the government intends to fix the damage done to the country’s reputation. 

The Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre said Wednesday that it had not been apologized to or received any outreach from the Liberal government since the incident happened. 

Before Trudeau apologized, many Liberal MPs heading into their weekly caucus meeting on Wednesday said they felt Rota’s apology and resignation stood for itself. 

But Ottawa representative David McGuinty said caucus should at least discuss a potential government apology. 

“If we make this any more … partisan, it’s just not good for our country and it’s not good for countries that are watching this country.” 

Health Minister Mark Holland suggested apologizing should be an individual choice made by each parliamentarian, pointing to his own decision to do so. 

“I stood and applauded. I stood in my place and applauded and for that I am deeply sorry, personally.” 

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