Message to Canada’s Parliamentarians: Time to hit the history books, probably. Credit: David J. Climenhaga Credit: David J. Climenhaga

If the embarrassing events in Canada’s House of Commons last Friday after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s address to MPs and Senators illustrate anything, it ought to be the value of teaching history – and remembering your history lessons. 

Key takeaways from everyone’s modern history education should include the facts World War II started in 1939 and ended in 1945; that notwithstanding whatever has happened since then, during that time Canada’s principal enemies were Germany and Japan; that Canada was absolutely justified in fighting the repugnant and genocidal Nazi regime in Germany; and that our principal allies in World War II included Britain, the Soviet Union, and, after December 1941, the United States.

If you don’t know those basic facts, no matter how old or young you are, you are not fit to hold public office.

Moreover, if you don’t know that much, no matter what you do for a living, you should probably be required to take a mandatory remedial history course. 

So it is appalling and more than a little shocking that, judging from their conduct at the moment former House Speak Anthony Rota introduced Yaroslav Hunka as a “98-year-old Ukrainian Canadian who fought for Ukrainian independence against the Russians during the Second World War,” a majority of the members of the Canadian House of Commons and Senate did not know those basic facts. 

Either that or, much worse, some MPs and Senators have reached the conclusion Canada fought on the wrong side in World War II and others didn’t have the intestinal fortitude to challenge them, even tacitly. 

Since last Friday, there has been a great deal of effort made by the participants in this disgraceful episode to blame someone else for the fact Parliamentarians leapt to their feet and cheered the moment Rota so introduced Hunka.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet blame the former Speaker, who has since resigned in disgrace; the Conservative Opposition and their many supporters in media blame the PM and his cabinet.

But the plain fact is that the moment the offending words exited Rota’s mouth, it should have been obvious to anyone with even a deficient education that if Hunka was occupied fighting one of Canada’s principal allies during the Second World War, he was fighting for Canada’s principal enemy in that conflict. 

In other words, his unit was at war with Canada. 

And yet – notwithstanding the well-known horrific behaviour of Nazi Germany in that conflict – we are supposed to believe that not one of them thought it might be prudent to remain in their seat and refuse to applaud a man who was self-evidently fighting in the Nazi cause? 

And there’s no way to get around it, waging war on Canada and its allies is exactly what Hunka and other members of the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS (1st Galician) – to the veterans of which, notoriously and controversially, there is a large memorial in Edmonton – were doing. 

This is so idiotic it is almost breathtaking.

What the hell is wrong with our Parliamentarians?

It obviously calls for serious remedial attention. 

And that is why, notwithstanding the enthusiasm with which the Conservatives and their cheerleaders in media have been attacking the PM and his cabinet about this episode, the questions that need to be asked are unlikely to be pursued with much vigour. 

After all, when you start to think seriously about what happened, it is hard not to conclude that everyone involved looks like an idiot.

And that, of course, includes Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre and his caucus. 

So while Poilievre, for once, has been asking the right question – how the hell did this happen? – it’s unlikely he’ll keep asking it for long.

When it sinks in with the Poilievre cheer team at the National Post that Conservative caucus members were apparently all on their feet applauding the Nazi veteran too, and that despite the blame game there’s really no excuse for such stupidity, it’s reasonable to assume they’ll all be pleased to let the matter fade away as quickly as possible. 

Surely, though, some of those Parliamentarians (Conservatives, New Democrats, Bloc and Liberals alike) must have understood what was happening and yet didn’t have the courage to do the right thing and go, even silently, against the Orwellian groupthink that clearly now dominates the Canadian government 

Interestingly, as a result of the outrage Rota’s moment of stupidity provoked, there now seems to be an elite consensus – or, at least, a Parliamentary consensus – that the unit for which Hunka fought must be acknowledged as in fact a Nazi division.

This has the potential to have some interesting results. 

Already, the University of Alberta has announced it is paying back a $30,000 endowment made in the names of Hunka and his wife to the university’s Canadian Institute for Ukrainian Studies, a story broken Wednesday by independent reporter Jeremy Appel in his Substack column. 

“After careful consideration of the complexities, experiences, and circumstances of those impacted by the situation, we have made the decision to close the endowment and return the funds to the donor,” U of A Provost and Academic Vice-President Verna Yiu said in a statement. “The university recognizes and regrets the unintended harm caused.”

Moreover, someone is now sure to ask who in the federal cabinet was co-ordinating President Zelenskyy’s visit for the government. After all, Poilievre is quite right that it strains credulity that no one in the government was aware in advance of Rota’s invitation to Hunka – notwithstanding the technical independence of the Speaker’s office. 

So just who knew what, and when, is a legitimate question that ought to be pursued. 

One also wonders what the impact, if any, of this elite consensus about the true nature of Hunka’s former military unit might be on the upcoming legal proceedings in Edmonton stemming from vandalism to the memorial to that SS unit’s members.

David J. Climenhaga

David J. Climenhaga

David Climenhaga is a journalist and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. He left journalism after the strike...