The Canadian government should investigate the people it plans to honour.
Days after praising Yaroslav Hunka, a Ukrainian war veteran who fought for a Nazi military unit in World War Two, Speaker of the Canadian House of Commons Anthony Rota resigned. Rota’s recognition elicited a standing ovation from Members of Parliament in Hunka’s honour.
Hunka joined the parliamentary gallery for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s historic address, during which he praised Canada for its recent support of Ukraine and urged its continued allyship against Russian attacks. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau introduced Zelenskyy by equating the defence of Ukraine to the defence of democratic values, asserting the importance of both.
The presence of an alleged Nazi in the gallery during this interaction sullies an important gesture towards solidarity and fairness in global politics.
In Canada, Rota’s error in inviting Hunka supplanted coverage of Zelenskyy’s speech, which described to Canadians the current living conditions of those living in war-torn Ukraine. Zelenskyy’s address to the House of Commons wasn’t only valuable in its potential to mobilize listeners on behalf of Ukraine, but to advertise the atrocities of war—a potentially invaluable lesson amidst rising geopolitical tension.
Having to detract from Zelenskyy’s message with a reminder of long-lasting antisemitism doesn’t positively render the attainability of global unity.
Before speaking at the House of Commons, Zelenskyy appeared before United States officials as well as the United Nations General Assembly and Security Council. These appearances placed additional emphasis on his presence in Canada.
Rota’s failure to investigate the man he would honour in Parliament undermined Canada’s devotion to Ukraine and its awareness of global history on the world stage. Canadian government officials should be aware that many Ukrainian veterans from Hunka’s era would have fought on the side of Nazi Germany since it invaded the Soviet Union early in WWII.
The evident lack of research into Hunka’s history encourages the interpretation of the Canadian government as lazy, and as lacking concern for who enters its Parliament.
Rota’s resignation demonstrates accountability but isn’t a satisfactory response on its own.
Trudeau described the incident as deeply embarrassing. This reaction refers only to Rota’s impact on the Canadian government, not on those hurt by the celebration of Hunka.
Inviting an alleged former Nazi into parliament implies federal acceptance of antisemitism and other forms of discrimination. Canada has a responsibility to support its marginalized groups.
There’s currently a monument in an Oakville cemetery memorializing and honouring Hunka’s WWII unit.
This mistake was easily avoidable.
Failing to vet an individual invited to parliament misconstrues Canada as incapable of participating in global politics. For the dignity of our nation, and all the groups residing within it, Canadian government officials must be mindful of the ideologies they not only celebrate but condone.
—Journal Editorial Board
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