Justin Trudeau offers 'unreserved apologies' on behalf of Parliament for honouring Nazi

‘On behalf of all of us in this House, I would like to present unreserved apologies for what took place on Friday’

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OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau offered “unreserved apologies” Wednesday on behalf of all MPs for honouring the veteran of a Nazi unit in the House of Commons during a visit by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

“On behalf of all of us in this House, I would like to present unreserved apologies for what took place on Friday, and to President Zelenskyy and the Ukrainian delegation for the position they were put in,” he said in a statement made in the House of Commons.

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“For all of us who were present, to have unknowingly recognized this individual was a terrible mistake and a violation of the memory of those who suffered grievously at the hands of the Nazi regime,” he added.

The apology comes a day after Speaker Anthony Rota resigned for having invited 98-year old Yaroslav Hunka to the House and calling for MPs to applaud him as a hero. It later emerged that Hunka had served with a Nazi volunteer unit in Ukraine. Rota said he took responsibility for the debacle, which has become an international embarrassment for the Canadian government and has helped to fuel Russian propaganda against Ukraine.

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Conservative benches erupted in boos and heckles when Trudeau issued the apology on all of their behalf instead of personally apologizing for what happened. Others turned Trudeau’s apology into ridicule, blaming him for taking so long to do so.

“Better late than never,” said Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet. “It didn’t take us five whole days to realize that an apology was necessary.”

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Trudeau had not been in the House this week until Wednesday, even as the opposition demanded he take responsibility for his government’s role in the episode.

“The prime minister is now responsible for the biggest single diplomatic embarrassment in Canadian history,” Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre said before a caucus meeting Wednesday. “And what has he done with that responsibility? He’s been hiding.”

“For three days, he’s hid… instead of coming to the House of Commons and taking responsibility. There’s always someone else to blame when it comes to Justin Trudeau.”

Rota, who is officially resigning as Speaker at the end of day Wednesday, was nowhere to be found in the House.

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (C), shake hands with House of Commons Speaker Anthony Rota during a ceremony on Parliament Hill on September 22, 2023.

Poilievre said all the people invited to the House of Commons in proximity to Zelenskyy that day should have been vetted for their “diplomatic and security sensitivities” by the appropriate officials, and claimed the responsibility for the vetting misstep ultimately lies with Trudeau.

In a brief statement before he entered the House Wednesday, Trudeau reiterated that Rota was “solely responsible for the invitation and recognition” of Hunka last Friday, and has “wholly accepted that responsibility and stepped down.”

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He said he nevertheless recognized that this mistake had “deeply embarrassed Parliament and Canada.”

“All of us who were in the 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, and was deeply, deeply painful for Jewish people,” he said.

“It also hurt Polish people, Roma people, 2SLGTBQI+ people, disabled people, racialized people, and the many millions who were targeted by the Nazi genocide.”

Trudeau also addressed the Russian disinformation on the Canadian tribute, saying 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.”

Russia has portrayed its invasion of Ukraine as a war against Ukrainian Nazis.

Liberal ministers and MPs speaking Wednesday said they hold Rota responsible for the debacle.

“The Speaker has taken responsibility, he has done the honourable thing and has resigned,” said Minister of International Development Ahmed Hussen.

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Liberal MP Ryan Turnbull said this situation is “not really ours to own.”

“The Speaker acted independently, we know that, and I think there’s been accountability now that we’ve seen the Speaker unfortunately resign as a result of this mistake,” said Turnbull.

But Liberal MP Anthony Housefather said that Rota’s apology need not be the end of the matter.

“Certainly, I think we have to take responsibility for the fact that there was a Nazi in the chamber. So I think the Speaker has properly taken responsibility and stepped down, but that doesn’t mean there’s no responsibility elsewhere as well,” he said.

Housefather insisted that the vetting procedures need to be reexamined to make sure something like this never happens again.

“It is a huge embarrassment for Canada, it is totally unacceptable that… somebody with that kind of past was recognized in the chamber,” he said.

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