Canada’s House of Commons speaker resigns over standing ovation for Nazi

Canada’s Speaker of the House of Commons has resigned over his chamber invitation to a man who fought for the Nazis in the Second World War.

Anthony Rota announced he was stepping down from the position on Tuesday after meeting with leaders of all political parties following days of controversy.

The blunder took place during Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s address to Canada’s Parliament on Friday.

After Mr Zelensky’s speech to Parliament, Mr Rota introduced 98-year-old Yaroslav Hunka, a man he described as “a Ukrainian Canadian war veteran… who fought for Ukrainian independence against the Russians.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mr Zelensky then led a standing ovation for Hunka, who was sat in the parliamentary gallery, which Mr Trudeau has since called “deeply embarrassing.”

Mr Trudeau’s office later said that it was given no notice of the presence of Hunka, a Ukrainian veteran who fought in a volunteer unit under Nazi command.

After Mr Zelensky’s speech, it emerged that Hunka had been part of the First Ukrainian Division, also known as the Waffen-SS Galicia Division or the SS 14th Waffen Division.

Mr Rota apologised to MPs on Monday and said he had not been aware of his constituent’s involvement with the Waffen-SS Galicia Division.

Yaroslav Hunka, right, waits for the arrival of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in the House of Commons in Ottawa, Onatario on 22 September (AP)
Yaroslav Hunka, right, waits for the arrival of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in the House of Commons in Ottawa, Onatario on 22 September (AP)

“This House is above any of us, Therefore, I must step down as your Speaker,” Mr Rota said on Tuesday. “I reiterate my profound regret for my error in recognising an individual in the House.”

Polish officials have said they want Hunka to be extradited to face trial for his role with the unit, which committed atrocities against Poles during the war.

Jewish community groups had called for an apology, with the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center demanding Mr Rota’s resignation.

“Speaker Rota’s decision… has left a stain on our country’s venerable legislature with profound implications both in Canada and globally,” said the organisation in a statement on Tuesday.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recognize Yaroslav Hunka, who was in attendance in the House of Commons in Ottawa, Ontario, on 22 September (AP)
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recognize Yaroslav Hunka, who was in attendance in the House of Commons in Ottawa, Ontario, on 22 September (AP)

“This incident has compromised all 338 members of Parliament and has also handed a propaganda victory to Russia, distracting from what was a momentously significant display of unity between Canada and Ukraine. It has also caused great pain to Canada’s Jewish community, Holocaust survivors, veterans and other victims of the Nazi regime.”

Mr Rota, who represents the Northern Ontario riding of Nipissing-Timiskaming, was first elected as Speaker in 2019.