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Trudeau apologizes for presence, recognition of Nazi unit veteran in Parliament

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has issued an apology on behalf of Canada's Parliament after it recognized a man who fought alongside the Nazis in the Second World War during last week's address by Ukraine's president.

He made the brief statement Wednesday afternoon before entering the House of Commons, where he said he planned to offer Parliament's "unreserved apologies" for what unfolded during President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's visit. He did not take questions.

"This was a mistake that has deeply embarrassed Parliament and Canada," Trudeau said.

"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 asking parliamentarians and visiting dignitaries to recognize 98-year-old Ukrainian veteran Yaroslav Hunka, who hails from his riding.

"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."

Trudeau's apology came as he faced pressure from the Opposition Conservatives and the federal NDP to deliver one.

"If we wants the power, he has to take the responsibility and come to the floor of the House of Commons today and apologize to Jews, Poles, Ukrainians and all Canadians," Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre said earlier Wednesday .

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

Poilievre charged that Trudeau's government bears responsibility for the incident, saying both government and security officials should have vetted those invited to Friday's event for both security and diplomatic purposes.

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

The incident has sparked international controversy, leading comedian Rob Schneider to cancel his upcoming trip to Canada, saying on social media that what happened is "beyond the pale."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 27, 2023.

Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press