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Canada’s blunder is a lesson in the importance of historical literacy

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has apologised after the government accidentally honoured a Nazi.

‘Deepest apologies.’

Those were the words of a Canadian parliamentary official following a major gaffe by the country’s political leaders.

At a House of Commons meeting last week – attended by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and visiting Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky – members of parliament were seen honouring an individual who served in a Nazi unit during World War II.

The incident, which sparked international outrage, has since been addressed as an embarrassing mistake on part of the Canadian government.

Speaker Anthony Rota had recognised Yaroslov Hunka, 98, as a ‘Ukrainian hero, a Canadian hero’, before thanking him for ‘all his service’. Two standing ovations followed.

The mistake was only discovered after the ceremony when citizens, historians, and dubious members of the media dug into Hunka’s background.

Rota has since stepped down as parliament speaker. Canada’s foreign minister, Mélanie Joly, called the situation ‘deeply unacceptable’ and an ‘embarrassment’ to the country.

‘I must step down as your speaker’ Rota said in parliament. ‘I reiterate my profound regret.’

Rota has said he didn’t know of Hunka’s Nazi ties and his invitation to the event was a sincere mistake.

Prime Minister Trudeau has also spoken out to express his ‘extreme upset’ at what occurred.

‘This is something that is deeply embarrassing to the parliament of Canada and by extension to all Canadians,’ he told reporters.

The incident was a catalyst for widespread debate about historical literacy, and the point at which our collective compliance becomes agency in and of itself.

Beyond the official steps taken to rectify the situation – including Poland’s big to extradite Yaroslav Hunka for his crimes against Polish people during WW2 – social media has erupted with questions around accountability.

Despite apologies from those involved, many are calling out the Canadian parliament’s lack of due diligence, which points to a larger issue of historical amnesia and complacency in the West.

Others are also calling out Trudeau’s decision to shift the narrative to one of anti-Russian sentiment, after he called out Russian propaganda and ‘disinformation’ during an apology video. While Trudeau didn’t explicitly blame Russia for the blunder, his deflection to the Russian war has outraged netizens.

‘They always blame Russia! Time to blame Justin for this mess!!’ one X user said.

‘I was wondering who he was going to blame. I am disappointed, I was expecting something more creative,’ said another.

Comedian Rob Sneider was one of the more high-profile commentators on the incident, sharing with followers that he had cancelled a trip to Canada as a result.

‘Trudeau’s tyranny against peaceful trucker protesters seems insignificant to this despicable and outrageous act of honouring of one of ADOLF HITLER’S NAZI SS Soldiers by the Canadian Parliament [sic].’

Despite the damaging consequences of such a blatant mistake, some have argued that the international outcry is somewhat overblown. After all, the intent wasn’t malicious.

But Trudeau’s party faced further scrutiny this week after house leader Karina Gould asked that Rota ‘be struck’ from the official records of parliament, including all recordings from the day Hunka was honoured.

It’s another case of those in power attempting to wipe the slate clean of past wrongdoing, the same historical ignorance that allowed Hunka to slip under the radar in the first place.

The controversy has highlighted an important lesson in historical literacy. We live in a time when social media makes the circulation of false information more prevalent than ever. As such, our attention to detail – especially when it comes to periods of historical significance – is crucial.

We must continue to learn from atrocities of the past while focusing on those of our present and future. If nothing else, Canada’s blunder is a poignant reminder of the need for comprehensive historical education.