The speaker of Canada’s House of Commons, Anthony Rota, has announced his resignation on Tuesday, following a public outcry over his decision to honor a former Nazi soldier in Parliament. Rota had invited 98-year-old Yaroslav Hunka, a veteran of the Waffen-SS “Galicia” Division, to attend a special session of Parliament on Friday, where Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy delivered a speech. Rota introduced Hunka as a “Canadian hero” who fought for Ukrainian independence against the Russians, and received two standing ovations from the lawmakers. Zelenskiy also acknowledged Hunka with a raised fist.
However, over the weekend, it was revealed that Hunka had been a member of a volunteer unit that was under the command of the Nazis during World War II. The unit was responsible for the mass murder of innocent civilians with a level of brutality and malice that is unimaginable, according to the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies. Other prominent Jewish groups joined in the condemnation of Hunka’s invitation and called for Rota’s resignation.
Rota later apologized for his action and said he had become aware of more information that caused him to regret his decision. He said he particularly wanted to extend his deepest apologies to Jewish communities in Canada and around the world. He accepted full responsibility for his action and stepped down as speaker on Tuesday, saying that the House is above any of us.
The prime minister’s office said there was no advance notice that Hunka would attend Friday’s session of Parliament because he was a guest of the speaker and the list of attendees is not shared. The foreign minister, Melanie Joly, called the situation “deeply unacceptable” and an “embarrassment”. The government house leader said Rota should do the “honourable thing” and step down. The Conservative leader, Pierre Poilievre, also criticized Justin Trudeau for the fiasco, saying the prime minister had “brought shame on Canada” after the government’s failure to vet and prevent honoring a Nazi.
The speaker of Canada’s parliament is a non-partisan role that is elected by all lawmakers and oversees the function of parliament. Rota’s resignation has triggered a new election for the speaker position, which will take place on Wednesday.