Speaker of Canada's House of Commons Antonio Ruta has apologized after inviting and honoring a Ukrainian veteran who fought with the Nazis during World War II during a visit by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, an honor that sparked a storm of controversy and condemnation in the Canadian and Russian political circles and on social media platforms.
"I offer my sincere apologies to Jewish communities across Canada and around the world," Ruta said in a statement, adding, "I am solely responsible for this initiative and take full responsibility for it."
Ruta honored Friday President Yaroslav Honka, the 98-year-old Ukrainian immigrant, presenting him as "a Ukrainian-Canadian World War II veteran who fought for Ukraine's independence against the Russians and is considered a Ukrainian hero and a Canadian hero."
The Association for the Defense of the Jewish Community of Canada said Sunday that the remarks "ignore Honka's service in the Waffen-Grenadier Division 14 of the SS, a Nazi military unit whose crimes against humanity during the Holocaust were extensively documented."
"The invitation and warmth of a veteran who served in a Nazi military unit and his warm welcome in parliament is shocking," the association said.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's office denied involvement in the matter, asserted his independence from the speaker of the council, and said in a statement posted on Twitter that neither he nor the Ukrainian delegation had been notified in advance of the invitation.
Carina Gould, leader of the Liberal government in the House of Commons, said: "The Speaker of the House has made it clear that he was responsible for inviting this person to the House. The government played no role. Little did she know he would be there. The Prime Minister has not met him. I am very upset by what happened. I urge MPs to avoid politicizing this incident."
Canadian opposition leader Pierre Poelever attacked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, saying: "Mr. Trudeau must personally apologise and avoid blaming others as he always does."
"This is an appalling error of judgment on the part of Justin Trudeau, whose personal protocol office is responsible for arranging and verifying all guests, and scheduling state visits of this kind," Boelliver wrote. It was impossible for any parliamentarian in the chamber (other than Mr. Trudeau) to know this person's dark past."
Canadian journalist and human rights defender Dmitry Lascaris wrote: "If you fought against the Russians in World War II, no one in the Canadian parliament would care about the fact that you fought alongside the Nazis."
For his part, the Russian ambassador to Canada, Oleg Stepanov, said that his country's embassy will send a note to the Canadian Foreign Ministry demanding clarification.
Stepanov added that the Waffen-Grenadier SS is considered a criminal organization under the decisions of the Nuremberg Tribunal, which is an integral part of international law, and by honoring a member of this criminal group, the Canadian government and members of parliament violated not only moral norms, but also legal.
Russia's permanent representative in Vienna, Mikhail Ulyanov, referred to Private Honka: "He did not fight against the Russians. SS fought against Belarusians, Serbs, Poles, French and others."
The Waffen-SS is a Nazi-German military formation, established in World War II, composed of mostly Ukrainian ethnic volunteers from the Galicia region.