Parliament failed to screen former Nazi for reputational risk: report

Commons staff dodged responsibility Tuesday for failing to properly screen Yaroslav Hunka during his visit to Parliament last September. They only screened whether he posed a physical threat to MPs. The former Waffen SS member received two standing ovations.

Parliament failed to screen former Nazi for reputational risk: report
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A House of Commons committee heard Tuesday that Parliament failed to properly screen former Ukrainian Nazi Yaroslav Hunka, 98, during his visit last September.

According to witness testimony, the office of then-Speaker Anthony Rota forwarded Hunka’s name to the office of protocol without a background check. Senior parliamentary staff told the procedure and House affairs committee they only screened him on whether he posed a physical threat to MPs.

On September 22, 2023, all House parties, Senate groups and foreign dignitaries applauded Hunka in the Commons for fighting the Russians during the Second World War.

Rota recognized his supposed service in the 'First Division' of the Ukrainian National Army before immigrating to Canada. "He's a Ukrainian hero — a Canadian hero — and we thank him for all his service," claimed Rota at the time.

But in the days that followed, Canadians learned the Ukrainian immigrant fought for a voluntary Nazi paramilitary unit, forcing Rota to issue an apology and later resign from his post. Hunka, a member of the 14 Waffen SS Grenadier Division, had been interned in 1945 as an enemy prisoner of war, and his group was later designated as a criminal organization by the Nuremberg Tribunal.

"My generation was united by two great forces, faith in God and love for Ukraine," he told the Ukrainian-language Combatant News in 2011.

House Speaker Greg Fergus suggested screening members of the public for reputational threats, moving forward, reported The Globe and Mail.

But Commons staff dodged responsibility Tuesday for the national embarrassment, citing more should have been done — had there been sufficient time. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s delegation informed Parliament of his visit with less than two weeks’ notice.

Commons Clerk Eric Janse testified parliamentary staff do not perform reputational checks on visitors to the gallery, calling it a painstaking process. He also said VIPs are typically checked for criminal convictions, not associations with criminal organizations, reported Blacklock’s Reporter

“All invitees, all guests, their names are filtered through the security office,” testified Janse. “Even if someone has a bad past, the past is the past. He has been a Canadian citizen for 50 years. Perhaps that is why he didn’t show up on any watchlist.”

Sergeant-at-Arms Patrick McDonell, who oversees security on the Hill, acknowledged his staff should have performed an “open source” check on Hunka to unearth past controversy. 

“You are saying you typically don’t do these open-source vetting processes?” asked Liberal MP Mark Gerretsen. “Never,” replied McDonell.

“Do you think they would have discovered this had they done that?” asked Gerretsen. “Yes,” replied the Sergeant-at-Arms.

“If you have 500 guests you’d have to do background checks on 500 guests,” continued McDonell. “A reputational check on 500 people would take weeks,” he added.

But Conservative MPs questioned whether Trudeau had been aware of Hunka’s invite to Parliament, given the former Nazi attended a reception for President Zelensky in Toronto the same day.

As first reported by Rebel News, the Office of Protocol at the Department of Foreign Affairs invited Hunka to the 'special event' attended by Zelensky. Government House Leader Steven MacKinnon claimed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau "had no knowledge" of the invite.

“There is no central authority that examines the political leanings of our citizens here,” he testified before the committee. “No but a Google search should have raised a red flag,” replied Bloc Québécois MP Marie-Hélène Gaudreau.

“I don’t understand how it could have happened,” said MP Gaudreau. “Well, we don’t have the thought police here yet in our society,” replied MacKinnon.

In addition, Conservative MP Michael Cooper sought clarification on a text exchange between the parliamentary protocol coordinator and the prime minister’s outreach adviser about a Conservative invitee on September 20. He suggested the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) may have had advance notice of the invitee list, including the former Ukrainian national Hunka.

The House affairs committee last November 21 agreed to still-unscheduled hearings into the incident "given the hurt and international embarrassment created." Among the witnesses to testify included representatives of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, who organized the Toronto event, and the PMO.

MacKinnon reiterated Tuesday the prime minister had previously apologized for the misstep, adding “we have acknowledged that this was a terribly embarrassing incident for Canada.”

"Obviously it’s extremely upsetting that this happened, and the Speaker [of the House] has acknowledged his mistake," Trudeau told reporters September 25 while on hiatus from the Commons.

“The past history of this gentleman was unknown to us all,” claimed MacKinnon.

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