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Nazi veteran Hunka was invited to Zelenskyy reception: PMO

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's office has confirmed, months after acrimony first arose over his House of Commons recognition, that Yaroslav Hunka — a veteran who fought for a Nazi unit during the Second World War — was also invited to a Toronto reception for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

The event was part of Zelenskyy's official visit itinerary, and occurred in the evening after his address to Parliament, where Hunka was recognized by then-House of Commons Speaker Anthony Rota and applauded by those present.

The Prime Minister's Office (PMO) told CTV News Monday that of the more than 1,000 people invited to the Toronto event with the president, hundreds were asked to attend on the recommendation of community groups.

"The individual in question's name was submitted by the Ukrainian Canadian Congress. The individual did not attend," said PMO spokesperson Mohammad Hussain in an emailed statement.

CTV News has reached out to the Ukrainian Canadian Congress for comment.

PMO's confirmation comes amid reporting that the invitation to the event at the Fort York Armoury was sent to Hunka from the Office of Protocol of Canada. Specifically, according to The Globe and Mail, with the subject line "Invitation from the Prime Minister of Canada – September 22, 2023." CTV News has not independently verified the wording of the invitation. 

"The prime minister had no knowledge of this individual before the independent recognition by the former Speaker of the House of Commons," Hussain said.

The PMO did not respond to why Trudeau did not previously acknowledge this invitation, apparently separate from the Speaker's office invite to the House speech.

"Knowing what is known now - the individual shouldn’t have been invited," Hussain said.

Questions around what process was followed by the government in regards to clearing who could attend Zelenskyy's address, have been swirling since the controversy first erupted upon learning the feted 98-year-old had been a member of the Waffen-SS Galicia Division. 

Trudeau apologized for the "mistake" and its impacts on Parliament, the Ukrainian president and Canadians, though he said at the time that Rota was "solely responsible."

While opposition parties said Trudeau's office shared the responsibility for what's turned Zelenskyy's historic visit to Parliament into an international incident, ultimately Rota took full responsibility for Hunka's presence in the gallery, and resigned.

In a recent interview with CTV News Northern Ontario, Rota hinted that there may be more to the story.

While Rota has said neither the Prime Minister's Office nor the Ukrainian delegation were aware of his plans to recognize Hunka, he pointed to the protocols in place for vetting invitations to high-profile events.

"The invitation came in, someone came in and requested that they be there, then that goes to protocol, protocol takes it and what they will do is then they issue the invitation," Rota said.

"Prior to that, normally it goes to the Prime Minister's Office and they go through it with a fine-tooth comb … So who invited him? That's up for grabs … Doesn't matter, it's happened, it's over and an error was made." 

In a statement, a spokesperson for Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre said, "Yet again, Justin Trudeau has been caught lying.

"Instead of admitting that he and his office personally invited a Nazi to an official Prime Ministerial reception with the Ukrainian President, he has lied for months to the Canadian people and has blamed everyone but himself," Sebastian Skamski said.

"It is appalling and bewildering, although entirely unsurprising, that Justin Trudeau would embarrass our country and undermine our relationship with an ally, only to lie about it and refuse to apologize for the embarrassment and hurt he has caused."

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