House of Commons Speaker Anthony Rota has resigned amid international controversy over his recognition of a Ukrainian war veteran who fought in a Nazi unit.
Rota announced his resignation in the House of Commons Tuesday afternoon. His resignation takes effect at the end of the sitting day Wednesday, he added.
Senior Liberals, the NDP, the Bloc Québécois and Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre all urged Rota to resign after he brought 98-year-old Ukrainian Canadian Yaroslav Hunka to Parliament Hill for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s visit to Ottawa on Sept. 22.
“I must step down as your Speaker. I reiterate my profound regret for my error in recognizing an individual in the House,” Rota said.
“That public recognition has caused pain to individuals and communities, including the Jewish community in Canada and around the world, in addition to survivors of Nazi atrocities in Poland, among other nations. I accept full responsibility for my actions.”
Hunka fought for Nazi Germany as a member of the First Ukrainian Division, also known as the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS, during the Second World War.
The “hero,” as Rota described him last Friday, received two separate standing ovations in the House of Commons.
Rota apologized twice — first on Sunday when Hunka’s background emerged, and again on Monday. He said he had no knowledge of his history, and expressed regret for his decision.
Despite calls for an apology by prominent Jewish organizations, opposition MPs said it wasn’t enough and demanded his resignation from the role.
NDP MP Peter Julian, who was the first MP to call for Rota’s resignation Monday, told reporters Tuesday that Rota’s resignation was the right move.
“It’s not a happy day for us. It’s a sad day of course, but the reality is he made the right decision,” he said.
“The Parliament has been tarnished and so many people have been hurt by what happened last Friday…. There was absolutely no alternative to Speaker Rota stepping down.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has called the incident “deeply embarrassing.” Government House leader Karina Gould said the government had “no knowledge” of Hunka’s visit to the House of Commons.
Gould said during question period Tuesday afternoon that she accepted Rota’s resignation and was “glad that he did” step down.
Conservatives have taken aim at the Prime Minister’s Office, saying Hunka shouldn’t have been in the House in the first place.
The First Ukrainian Division, also known as the Waffen-SS Galicia, was a voluntary unit that was under the command of the Nazi SS.
The Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies said the division “was responsible for the mass murder of innocent civilians with a level of brutality and malice that is unimaginable.” The group also called for Rota’s resignation on Tuesday.
B’nai Brith Canada said in a statement Sunday that the division, which was formed in 1943, contained “Ukrainian ultra-nationalist ideologues” who “dreamed of an ethnically homogenous Ukrainian state and endorsed the idea of ethnic cleansing.”
Witold Dzielski, Poland’s ambassador to Canada, demanded an apology in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter, on Sunday. He said Poland is the “best ally” Ukraine has, but that it “will never agree on whitewashing such villains.”
Meanwhile, the episode plays into the narrative promoted by Russian President Vladimir Putin that he sent his army into Ukraine last year to “demilitarize and denazify” the country, a European democracy whose Jewish president lost family members in the Holocaust.
Western nations have refuted this, saying Putin’s invasion is an imperialistic-style land grab.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Monday Hunka’s recognition showed a careless disregard for historical truth, and that the memory of Nazi crimes must be preserved.
“Such sloppiness of memory is outrageous,” Peskov told reporters.
“Many Western countries, including Canada, have raised a young generation that does not know who fought whom or what happened during the Second World War. And they know nothing about the threat of fascism.”
— with files from The Canadian Press