How did SS Veteran End Up in Canadian Parliament?

A huge scandal in Canadian politics and a painful blow to Ukraine's reputation — these are the terms used by the media to describe how the Canadian parliament and the Ukrainian delegation headed by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy gave a standing ovation to Yaroslav Hunka, a veteran of the Waffen-SS division ‘Galicia’. But how come he was invited to the parliament? Who ‘framed’ Canada and Ukraine? Who gave such a ‘gift’ to Russian propaganda? The Speaker of Parliament, Anthony Rota, took political responsibility for this and resigned. However, it is hard to believe that Mr. Rota knew the SS veteran personally and dreamed of bringing him into the limelight for the whole country to watch. There was someone who came to him with this ‘brilliant’ idea. Let's find out who.

"Meet Martin Hunka and Peter Hunka, the sons of Yaroslav Hunka. These two brothers are just regular guys, much like their father," this is what a SEO article that appeared on the Celeb Critics website on the second or third day after the Parliament scandal says about the Hunka family. “Martin is the older of the two, known for his easygoing nature and love for sports. He’s the type who can strike up a conversation with anyone and make them feel at ease. [...] Growing up in a close-knit family, Martin and Peter share their father’s values of hard work and kindness. They often get together with their dad for family gatherings and enjoy continuing the traditions passed down through the generations. [...] They are just ordinary people making their way through life and embracing the simple joys of family, friendship, and community."

The older son — Martin — can be seen in photos from the Parliament of Canada; it was him who accompanied his father at the celebrations in honor of the Ukrainian delegation and got into the spotlight, sitting in the places reserved for special guests. Tall, thin, with a well-groomed gray beard, wearing a vyshyvanka under his jacket — this man from the multiple photos and videos is Martin Hunka.

Martin, as well as the rest of the Hunka family, lives in the relatively small (51,000 residents) town of North Bay, located on the north shore of Lake Nipissing, which is 345 kilometers north of Toronto. North Bay was founded on an important railroad line connecting Toronto and mining sites in the north. The mining industry is still active in the town today, and Martin Hunka committed himself to it. For many years he worked diligently at the headquarters of Redpath Mining Corporation, one of the leading underground mining companies in the world and the largest in North Bay.

IMG_20231001_001655.jpgMartin Hunka was interviewed by Redpath's corporate newspaper on the eve of his retirement in 2021

Martin dedicated 32 years of his life to the Redpath Mining. Over the years, he traveled the world with the Canadian company that mines resources in more than 14 countries, including such countries as South Africa, Botswana, Mongolia, Australia, Papua New Guinea, and Kyrgyzstan.

One of the issues of the corporate journal features a story about Martin's visit to Jakarta, photos of him with Redpath's Indonesian employees, and a funny story about Canadian guests being treated to exotic Kopi Luwak coffee. In Indonesia, Redpath is a contractor at the Grasberg mine in West Papua, the site of one of the world's largest gold and copper deposits. Papuan political activists regularly protest foreign exploitation of resource-rich territories. A 2017 report by Indonesia's Supreme Audit Agency concluded that mining companies' operations in Papua's highlands caused $13.25 billion in environmental damage.

But Martin Hunka’s main activities took place in his hometown, North Bay, where Redpath is a major employer. In 2004, for example, he was featured in the local newspaper BayToday, commenting on the opening of the town's newest center for repairing and upgrading mining equipment — underground trucks, hoists, excavators, and the like.

IMG_20231001_144132.jpgMartin Hunka during a visit to Jakarta, Indonesia (photo from The Redpath Scoop corporate newspaper)

Over the years at the Redpath, the son of a Ukrainian immigrant rose to the positions of Chief Financial Officer and Chief Financial Adviser in the Americas division. These are prestigious and high-paying positions at the top management level. Given Redpath's weight in a small country town, one could argue that Martin was part of its elite business community.

In addition to his work in the mining industry, Martin has served as a chairman of the Board of Directors at the North Bay Regional Health Center since 2015. More precisely, he held this position until the scandal in Parliament. A few days after the media hype cooled down, information about him disappeared from the center's corporate page at The Org. At some point, the page with information about Martin started to return an error code, and the list of directors was reduced to one. Social media posts about him also disappeared from the Facebook page of this organization: Google indexes them, but they do not open. Meanwhile, all references to Martin, including donations and annual reports, were removed from the foundation's website.

Martin and Peter, just like their father, were active in the Ukrainian community and out of it, as philanthropists. In 2019, they established a fund in their parents' name — the Yaroslav and Margaret Hunka Ukrainian Research Endowment Fund. As part of the fund's activities, they donated 30,000 Canadian dollars (about $22,000) to support research at the University of Alberta "that will contribute to a better understanding of the lives and activities of two leaders of the underground Ukrainian Catholic Church of the twentieth century, Metropolitan Andriy Sheptytskyi and Cardinal Joseph Slipoh." However, after the scandal in Parliament, the university decided to return the donation in full.

IMG_20231001_145206.jpgMartin Hunka's profile as Chairman of the NBRHC Board of Directors on The Org website, was removed after the scandal.

IMG_20231001_144940.jpgA motivational post about Martin Hunka on the NBRHC Facebook page, also deleted.

After the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Hunka family, like the rest of the Ukrainian community in Canada, joined the protests. It was at this time that Martin and his father first hit the pages of the local press with a mention of Yaroslav Hunka's military background. The BayToday newspaper described the collective prayer for peace in Ukraine in North Bay's central square, in March 2022 as follows:

"Draped in a Ukrainian flag, Martin Hunka stood beside his 97-year-old father Yaro Hunka who fought the Russians as a young man. [...]

- For my dad here who is 97 this month, it has been a very difficult week, said Martin. — He is reliving the war that he fought, as history keeps repeating itself, when the Russians invaded Ukraine. So unfortunately for Ukrainians, it’s ‘Here we go again, the Russians are invading.’ [...]

Yaro Hunka says the difference this time is the support the country is getting from countries around the world.

- I grew up in Ukraine. When Ukraine was by itself fighting for independence, there was no support. In the last war, I joined the Ukrainian underground to fight Russia, so I was fighting the same people they’re fighting now. Nothing has changed there. The same enemy. First (Joseph) Stalin was there and now this idiot, — Yaro said with a tinge of anger in his voice when referencing Russian President Vladimir Putin. — But Ukraine is not by itself like it was before. The whole world knows about Ukraine and the whole world supports Ukraine and that is very important.”

564321.jpgYaroslav Hunka during his service in the Waffen-SS ‘Galicia’ Division

Quoting the rally participants, the journalists of the local newspaper relied on the integrity of their interlocutors and did not fact-check the words of Yaroslav and Martin, choosing not to delve into the nuances of the course of the Second World War on Ukrainian soil. So, following the account of the heroes of the article, Hunka's service in the Waffen-SS division ‘Galicia’ turned into participation in the ‘Ukrainian resistance’, while the Soviet troops, Canada’s allies in the anti-Hitler coalition, almost a quarter of which were Ukrainians became ‘Russians’, and their response to the German aggression turned into the ‘invasion of Ukraine’.

On September 22, 2023, these same words were repeated almost verbatim from the rostrum of Parliament by Speaker Anthony Rota in his scandalous speech, introducing his guest Jaroslav Hunka to the country:

"We have here in the chamber today a Ukrainian Canadian war veteran from the Second World War who fought for Ukrainian independence against the Russians and continues to support the troops today even at his age of 98. His name is Yaroslav Hunka. I'm very proud to say that he is from North Bay and from my constituency of Nipissing-Timiskaming. He is a Ukrainian hero, a Canadian hero, and we thank him for all of his service."

bp.jpegSwearing-in of the volunteers of the Waffen-SS Division ‘Galicia’ at the Gaideliger training ground where they had been trained beforehand

Those words cost the Speaker his career and Canada and Ukraine an insane amount of reputational damage. But how did Hunka get into the House of Representatives’ box for honored guests that day?

The Globe and Mail, a Canadian publication, contacted Anthony Rota's office for clarification regarding the SS veteran's invitation to Parliament and received a response. Amelie Crosson, a spokesperson for the Speaker's office, confirmed that Mr. Hunka's son, Martin Hunka, contacted Mr. Rota's constituency office and asked if his father could attend Mr. Zelenskyy's speech.

Rota agreed to the proposal. Indeed, why refuse such a respectable and upstanding representative of the local community as Martin?

It is worth noting that North Bay is also the hometown of Anthony Rota, a member of the Liberal Party and until recently Speaker of Parliament. Rota began his political career at the municipal level, working as a counselor in local government, where he chaired the town's planning and economic development committee from 1994 to 1997. In 2004, Rota was first elected as a member of the House of Representatives for the constituency of Nipissing-Timiskaming, which includes the City of North Bay.

Independent Canadian journalist Rejean Venne discovered that in the early years of Rota's career in federal politics, Redpath Corporation made a significant contribution to his campaign. In 2005, when Martin Hunka was Redpath's vice president of finance, the company helped Rota. And in 2021, as Venne writes, Rota facilitated federal funding for the construction of the Redpath Youth Center in North Bay.

On top of that, Martin Hunka chaired the board of directors of the North Bay Regional Health Center. In the same article, Venne cites evidence that the Speaker visited the Center on several occasions and provided comprehensive assistance to the medical foundation, where Martin was on the board of directors.

Given all of the above, we can assume that two members of the town elite — Martin Hunka and Anthony Rota — were personally acquainted and had certain business ties.

d87f4233-6b99-4759-872d-81f96d958cfe_1786x216.webpExcerpt from a document on Rota's campaign financing by the Redapth Corporation (illustration from Rejean Venne's website)

MP-Rota-meets-with-Dr.-Taylor-Lougheed-2-Feb-2023-scaled.jpgSpeaker Anthony Rota during his visit to the North Bay Regional Health Center, March 2023.

Most likely, Anthony Rota really did not know in which unit Yaroslav Hunka fought against the ‘Russians’ during the Second World War — although simple logic and elementary knowledge of history could have saved him and the entire Canadian politics from embarrassment... However, there is a person who could not have been unaware of the past of the Galicia veteran and could not have failed to realize the possible reputational risks for Ukraine if this past were to surface. This person is Martin Hunka.

Martin arranged for his father's visit to Parliament, lobbied for his presence in the guest of honor box, and accompanied him at the assembly hall. Knowing the truth about his father's past, he, along with all the Canadians and Ukrainians present, gave his father a standing ovation thanking him for his service.

It is still unknown whether the honoring of the Galicia veteran was a planned and pre-arranged action between Rota and Hunka-son, or whether it was an unfortunate improvisation of the speaker. At least, a friend of Martin's wife, recounting the words of the latter, claims that Hunka's family did not know anything about the planned honoring and were shocked by the consequences of the event. On the other hand, what else could they say in this situation?

IMG_20231001_210203.jpgJaroslav Hunka receives applause in the Canadian Parliament. His son Martin is standing near him.

It is worth noting that Martin was not the only person present in Parliament who knew the real state of affairs. Just like him, the members of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress — including Canada’s Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland — applauded the SS veteran while certainly being aware of what was going on. Freeland’s role in this story is still unclear.

We do not know whether this was a deliberate attempt to revise the history of the World War II by the nationalist part of the diaspora or just a ‘family’ revenge, but it definitely testifies to a long-standing problem of the old diaspora — the cover-up of Ukrainian radical nationalists' collaboration with the Nazis and their participation in the crimes. Instead of critically examining their grandfathers' past, the contemporary diaspora is engaged in glorifying it, justifying it, glossing over the unpleasant pages, and harassing those who oppose this state of affairs. Instead of disassociating themselves from the experience, they normalize it. This unwillingness to honestly face the past has played into the hands of those forces that are now trying to discredit the Ukrainian resistance. But it is worth remembering that the overwhelming majority of Ukrainian women and men fighting on the frontlines today are descendants of those who fought against the Nazi occupation of Ukraine, and therefore against Yaroslav Hunka and his brothers in arms. Just as it is worth remembering that for the world the value of the victory of the anti-Hitler coalition is considered axiomatic. And any attempts to question this axiom at the international level will have severe political consequences for those who initiate or support such a revision.