Canada’s Speaker of the House of Commons, Anthony Rota, has announced his resignation following widespread criticism for inviting a Ukrainian WWII veteran with alleged ties to a Nazi unit to parliament and praising him. Rota’s decision came after initially resisting calls to step down and after discussions with party leaders in Ottawa.
In his resignation statement before parliament, Rota expressed his regret, saying, “I must step down as your Speaker.” The incident occurred during a visit by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, where 98-year-old Yaroslav Hunka received a standing ovation after Rota referred to him as a “hero.” Rota later admitted that he was unaware of Hunka’s Nazi connections and acknowledged his mistake in extending the invitation.
The incident drew global condemnation and prompted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to label it “extremely upsetting” and “deeply embarrassing” for Canada’s parliament and its citizens. During World War II, Yaroslav Hunka served in the 14th Waffen-SS Grenadier Division, a voluntary unit largely composed of ethnic Ukrainians under Nazi command. While the division has been accused of killing Polish and Jewish civilians, it has not been found guilty of war crimes by a tribunal.
Poland’s Education Minister Przemysław Czarnek announced efforts to extradite Hunka, although the latter and his family have not commented on the matter to date.
Members of Trudeau’s cabinet and cross-party voices had called for Rota’s resignation, with Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly describing the mistake as “completely unacceptable.” The House leader for Canada’s New Democratic Party, Peter Julian, welcomed Rota’s resignation, stating that while they accept his apology and believe he didn’t intend harm, there are consequences for his lapse in judgment.
Canadian Jewish organizations also supported Rota’s decision to step aside, but the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies questioned how the situation occurred in the first place. Michael Mostyn, CEO of the Jewish human rights group B’nai Brith Canada, emphasized that the issue extends beyond the speaker’s resignation, highlighting a lack of knowledge about Nazi perpetrators in Canada.
Opposition leader Pierre Poilievre of the Conservative Party addressed parliament, asserting that the responsibility to restore Canada’s international reputation fell on Trudeau. Poilievre called on Trudeau to apologize for the “massive and shameful failure” in handling the situation.
Rota’s resignation underscores the seriousness of the controversy and its impact on Canada’s reputation, as well as the need for diligence when extending invitations and acknowledging historical contexts.