Prime Minister Justin Trudeau apologized on behalf of Parliament Wednesday for the “terrible mistake” of honouring a member of a Nazi unit in the Second World War during an official visit to the House of Commons from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
The apology marked the first time Mr. Trudeau addressed the matter on the floor of the House since it happened Friday, garnering critical headlines around the globe, providing material for Russian propaganda and triggering the resignation of the Speaker.
“Mr. Speaker, 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 Zelensky and the Ukrainian delegation for the position they were put in,” Mr. Trudeau said.
“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.”
The Conservatives, NDP and Bloc Québécois had pushed for an apology for the incident, which led to Anthony Rota’s resignation as Speaker for having invited 98-year-old Yaroslav Hunka to the Commons and urged those present to honour him.
Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center, an organization focused on education about the Holocaust, said on X, the social media platform formerly referred to as Twitter, that it appreciated Mr. Trudeau’s apology. It also said the Prime Minister recognized the harm caused to the Jewish community, including Holocaust survivors, and other communities victimized by the Nazi regime. It was important to see Mr. Trudeau recognize the damage done to Ukraine and Mr. Zelensky, the centre added.
“While Friday’s debacle will remain a stain on Canadian history, it’s critical for steps to be taken to ensure such a shameful occurrence never happens again in the hallowed halls of Canada’s Parliament.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau apologized on behalf of Parliament Wednesday after a member of a Nazi unit was honoured during a visit from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Opposition leader Pierre Poilievre challenged Trudeau on what background checks were made on people present for Zelensky’s speech.
The Globe and Mail
Mr. Trudeau delivered a separate statement before speaking in the Commons and called it “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.”
Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre pushed back on the nature of Mr. Trudeau’s apology and said it was the Prime Minister’s personal responsibility to invite Mr. Zelensky to the floor of the House of Commons and to make sure the visit was a diplomatic success.
Mr. Poilievre also said the government has the security, intelligence and diplomatic agencies that could have and should have vetted all individuals present and recognized in the Commons gallery.
“This Prime Minister allowed for a monumental, unprecedented and global shame to unfold in this chamber,” Mr. Poilievre said. “Will he take personal responsibility for this shame and personally apologize on behalf of himself?”
Mr. Trudeau said Mr. Poilievre’s suggestion that visitors should be vetted by the government of the day is an attack on the rights and privileges of parliamentarians. He said however, if the leader of the opposition, the Speaker or anyone wants intelligence agencies to vet guests that they would be happy to do that.
Internal calls for Mr. Rota to resign were widespread, one Liberal MP told The Globe Wednesday. The MP said given the scale of the mistake, Mr. Rota had no other choice but to step down and some Liberals were surprised to see Mr. Rota still in his Speaker’s seat on Monday morning. The Globe is not naming the MP because they were not authorized to disclose internal party deliberations.
Government House Leader Karina Gould, a descendant of Holocaust survivors, told reporters Wednesday as she arrived for Liberal caucus that Mr. Rota took ownership for his actions which constituted a “big mistake” that was “really hurtful.”
Mr. Rota announced Tuesday that he would be stepping down. He also said he took full responsibility for inviting Mr. Hunka, one of his constituents, to the gallery of the Commons on Friday.
During Mr. Zelensky’s visit, Mr. Rota, who represents the federal riding of Nipissing-Timiskaming as a Liberal, called Mr. Hunka a hero and prompted MPs from across the political spectrum to stand up and applaud him.
Amélie Crosson, a spokesperson for the Speaker’s office, confirmed that Mr. Hunka’s son, Martin Hunka, contacted Mr. Rota’s constituency office and asked whether it would be possible for his father to attend Mr. Zelensky’s address.
Bloc Leader Yves-François Blanchet said Wednesday that it was better late than never that Mr. Trudeau offered an apology on the floor of the Commons.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said that “finally” the Prime Minister has said something about the matter in the Commons but asked what Mr. Trudeau has done in the way of action to “clean up this mess.” Mr. Trudeau was not present in Question Period on Monday and Tuesday.
In response to Mr. Singh, Mr. Trudeau said Canada will continue to stand firmly with Ukraine and it will stand against Russian propaganda and aggression.
An election will be held on Tuesday to name a new Speaker of the Commons, whose roles include helping to maintain decorum.
Two candidates have already put their names forward: Liberal MP Greg Fergus and Conservative MP Chris D’Entremont.
Mr. D’Entremont, who has been deputy Speaker, made it clear Tuesday he was interested in the job. There needs to be more respect among MPs in the House and more decorum, he said, adding, “We’re in a very partisan time.” It will be difficult for anyone to bring the emotions in the House down, he added.
Given the circumstances of Mr. Rota’s departure, Mr. D’Entremont said there needs to be a look at the process of vetting guests in the gallery of the Commons.
“Ultimately, there has to be a better process in this,” he said.
Mr. Fergus, who is currently parliamentary secretary to the president of Treasury Board and parliamentary secretary to the health minister, would be the first Black Speaker should he be elected.
The MP for Quebec riding of Hull-Aylmer said he would “stand along with some of the other great candidates in Parliament.”
Bloc MP Louis Plamondon will serve as the interim Speaker. He is the first Bloc member to serve in this capacity.
With a report from Marieke Walsh