'A shock and an embarrassment': Canada's governor general on Parliament's recognition of Nazi veteran
Canada's Gov. Gen. Mary Simon says Parliament's recognition of a man who fought for a Nazi unit during the Second World War was "a shock and an embarrassment," and she's considering personally reaching out to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
Simon, as the representative of Canada's head of state King Charles III, welcomed Zelenskyy and the First Lady of Ukraine Olena Zelenska last Friday for a visit at Rideau Hall before the Ukrainian delegation travelled to Parliament Hill.
While she was not present for Zelenskyy's address or Parliament's recognition of 98-year-old Ukrainian veteran Yaroslav Hunka, in an exclusive interview airing Sunday on CTV's Question Period with Vassy Kapelos, Simon said "it was very embarrassing."
Speaking with Kapelos in the same room where Simon hosted Zelenskyy, the Governor General said that while she has yet to make any overtures, she is considering reaching out to Zelenskyy about the ordeal.
"Perhaps, yes. We're talking about it right now," Simon said.
On Friday, following Zelenskyy's address to the House of Commons, then-Speaker Anthony Rota recognized and led the chamber in a standing ovation for Hunka.
Controversy exploded over the weekend upon the revelation that the man Rota called a Canadian and Ukrainian "hero," actually fought in the volunteer Waffen-SS Galicia Division.
Simon said that in the days since, she's been reading up on the protocols and processes around inviting guests to address Parliament, and while she "can't really imagine how it happened or why it happened," because she's never been in that position, she believes "it was a real shock to everybody."
"Unfortunately, what happened really affected how people felt about the event that was so positive," Simon said.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau offered "unreserved apologies" on Wednesday on Parliament's behalf, following Rota's Tuesday resignation.
"This was a mistake that has deeply embarrassed Parliament and Canada. 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," Trudeau said in his apology.
He called the incident a "horrendous violation" of the memory of the millions of people who died in the Holocaust, and a regretful boon to Russian President Vladimir Putin's propaganda about de-Nazifying Ukraine.
Peppered with questions from opposition party leaders over how direct Trudeau's stated outreach was to Zelenskyy in the aftermath of this international incident, the prime minister would not confirm whether he had, or planned to call the man he stood with in the same chamber and called his "friend" just five days prior.
"For days now, we have been apologizing to President Zelenskyy and the Ukrainian people through diplomatic channels," was Trudeau's response. His office later told CTV News that apologies were made to the Ukrainians at the "ministerial level."
Facing further questions about the sordid situation on Thursday and the impacts it may still have on Canada-Ukraine relations, Trudeau said the federal government has expressed "the extraordinary regret that all of Canada shares" and offered reassurances that "we continue to stand incredibly strong with Ukraine in its fight against Russia."
"Canada is one of the strongest allies for Ukraine and has been from the very beginning. Ukrainians full well know that," Trudeau said.
In a statement on Thursday, the Ukrainian Canadian Congress acknowledged that "recent events" have brought "difficult and painful pages in the shared history of the communities who made their home in Ukraine" to the forefront, causing "pain and anguish."
"The Ukrainian Canadian community is grateful to Canada and all Canadians for their unwavering support of Ukraine."
Echoing Trudeau's earlier sentiments, Simon said Canada will continue to support Ukraine "unequivocally."
"What I would say as a country, and that's what I'm responsible for, is that we continue to work with other countries to embody a rules-based world and a world that embodies democracy," Simon said.
With files from CTV News' Vassy Kapelos, Stephanie Ha, and Spencer Van Dyk
Tune in to CTV's Question Period with Vassy Kapelos on Sunday at 11 a.m. ET for more from the sit-down with Simon.