Commons Guests Not Screened for Reputation, MPs Told About Nazi Veteran’s Visit

Commons Guests Not Screened for Reputation, MPs Told About Nazi Veteran’s Visit
Yaroslav Hunka (R) waits for the arrival of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in the House of Commons in Ottawa on Sept. 22, 2023. (The Canadian Press/Patrick Doyle)
Noé Chartier

Senior administrators of the House of Commons say they had no foreknowledge that then-Speaker Anthony Rota had invited a Nazi war veteran to Parliament, nor do they screen guests for reputational risk.

“Guests to Parliament are not screened for reputational threats, which in any event would be difficult to achieve in the very short time available for the organization of such ceremonies,” Clerk of the House of Commons Eric Janse told the Commons Procedure and House Affairs Committee on Feb. 13.

Mr. Janse and other House officials spoke to the committee about the events of September 2023.

During the visit of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Sept. 22, Mr. Rota recognized Yaroslav Hunka in the gallery as someone who fought the Russians during World War II. It was revealed shortly after that Mr. Hunka had been a member of the Nazi’s Waffen-SS Galicia Division.

Mr. Rota subsequently resigned and accepted the full blame for inviting Mr. Hunka. Meanwhile, questions have swirled around what the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) knew about the guests invited to Mr. Zelenskyy’s address and whether it had screened the list of invitees.

Nancy Anctil, chief of Protocol and Events Management, told MPs the guest list had not been shared with the PMO.

“Over the last six years, we have not shared the list with the Prime Minister’s Office for addresses to Parliament,” she said.

Meanwhile, Mr. Rota told CTV News earlier this month that the PMO normally checks the guests with a “fine tooth comb.”

“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,” Mr. Rota said. “So who invited him? That’s up for grabs.”

Mr. Janse said that up until recently, the practice had been that parties would do “some kind of background check” before submitting guest names to his office.

He added that current Speaker Greg Fergus has suggested that checks for reputational risks could be conducted for future guests who are being recognized in the Commons gallery.

Sergeant-at-Arms Patrick McDonell told the committee that doing open-source verifications on every guest would be too time-consuming.

He said physical security and database checks are conducted to determine if there are risks to parliamentarians or the premises. “But the reputational check on 500 people would take weeks if ever we were mandated to do it,” he said.

Invitation by the Prime Minister

While Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took no responsibility for the controversy, it was revealed more recently that an invitation on his behalf was sent to Mr. Hunka to attend an event with Mr. Zelenskyy in Toronto on the evening of Sept. 22. A record of the invitation sent by the Office of the Protocol of Canada was obtained by Rebel News.

Government House Leader Steven MacKinnon also appeared before committee and was asked whether his government would apologize for sending that invitation.

“On behalf of Justin Trudeau’s government, will you apologize for what ought to be a significant embarrassment on the part of the government to have invited an SS soldier to this exclusive reception,” said Tory MP Michael Cooper.

Mr. MacKinnon replied that the prime minister had offered his apology “upon learning of the error that was made by the speaker.”

“We’ve acknowledged that this was a terribly embarrassing incident for Canada and I think that stands for itself.”

Mr. Cooper remarked that the prime minister had extended an invitation to Mr. Hunka, yet this only came to light from the media. “Why did the prime minister hide this fact from Canadians?”

Mr. MacKinnon said he didn’t “accept the premise of the question that [Mr. Trudeau] hid anything.”