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The Ukrainian man sitting in the gallery of Canada’s House of Commons was a “hero,” the speaker of the House said on Friday, drawing applause from lawmakers, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, who had just addressed the chamber during his first visit to Ottawa since Russia invaded his country.

But several Jewish groups responded with outrage, saying that the man, Yaroslav Hunka, 98, had served in a Nazi unit known as the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS, which fought alongside Germany during World War II and declared allegiance to Adolf Hitler.

On Sunday, Anthony Rota, the speaker of Canada’s House of Commons, issued a written apology, saying that he had “subsequently become aware of more information” and took “full responsibility for my actions.”

In remarks after Mr. Zelensky addressed Canada’s Parliament on Friday, Mr. Rota introduced Mr. Hunka as a resident of his district who had fought for Ukrainian independence from Russia and later immigrated to Canada.

“He is a Ukrainian hero, a Canadian hero,” Mr. Rota said, “and we thank him for all his service,” prompting applause from lawmakers and a fist pump from Mr. Zelensky.

No other Canadian lawmakers, nor members of Mr. Zelensky’s visiting Ukrainian delegation, knew about Mr. Rota’s remarks before he made them, he said on Sunday.

“I particularly want to extend my deepest apologies to Jewish communities in Canada and around the world,” Mr. Rota said. The apology was “the right thing to do,” Mr. Trudeau’s office said in a statement, adding that no advance notice had been given to the Canadian prime minister or to Mr. Zelensky about Mr. Hunka’s invitation.

Jewish groups in Canada called the episode on Friday painful and horrifying and demanded an explanation for why Mr. Hunka had been allowed into the gallery.

“It is beyond outrageous that Parliament has honored a former member of a Nazi unit in this way,” said Michael Mostyn, the chief executive of B’nai Brith Canada, a Jewish human rights group.

The 14th Waffen SS unit was made up of volunteers from the Galicia region, which stretched across parts of what is now southeastern Poland and western Ukraine. After the Soviet occupation of western Ukraine in 1939, the creation of the unit in 1943 attracted Ukrainians eager to fight for their independence, said Dominique Arel, the chair of Ukrainian studies at the University of Ottawa.

“Being trained by SS officers, you can imagine the kind of political indoctrination they got,” he said. Even if their aims were for independence, Mr. Arel said the unit “fought for and were trained by Nazis. There’s no question about it.”

Of the episode in Parliament, he said: “Obviously, the optics are disastrous.”

B’nai Brith Canada said that the division had been created by Ukrainian ultranationalist ideologues who “dreamed of an ethnically homogeneous Ukrainian state and endorsed the idea of ethnic cleansing.”

Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Canada-based group dedicated to education around the Holocaust and combating antisemitism, called the moment “incredibly disturbing” and said in a statement that the 14th Waffen SS “was responsible for the mass murder of innocent civilians with a level of brutality and malice that is unimaginable.”

The unit suffered heavy casualties during a 1944 Soviet offensive against German-occupied Ukraine and Poland, Mr. Arel said. Although some members of the unit were linked to a massacre of Polish citizens in 1944, evidence that they attacked civilians was ultimately “not very developed,” he said.

For decades, critics in Canada have accused the Canadian government of being too lenient in its pursuit of people accused of being Nazi war criminals or collaborators.

A national commission established in 1985 found that there were former members of the 14th Waffen SS division living in Canada, but said that serving in the unit did not constitute a war crime.

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia has accused, without offering evidence, Ukraine’s government and Mr. Zelensky, who is Jewish, of being “neo-Nazis.” On Monday, the Kremlin’s spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, criticized Canada, saying on the Telegram messaging app that “such sloppiness toward memory is outrageous.”

Mr. Zelensky, who visited Ottawa to thank Canada for its support in the war against Russia, has not commented on the episode.

Valeriya Safronova contributed reporting.



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