Canadian speaker resigns after his standing ovation in parliament for Nazi veteran caused a global furore Western media say Ukrainian president’s visit tainted
Canadian House Speaker Anthony Rota stepped down on Tuesday after a Nazi veteran was his invited guest at a speech by Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky. The invitation has faced widespread condemnation.
Rota apologized on Monday for the presence of 98-year-old Yaroslav Hunka at Zelensky’s address to Canadian lawmakers on Friday, but refused to resign. Although lawmakers from all parties – including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau – cheered and applauded Hunka at the event, calls for Rota’s resignation grew over the weekend as the incident drew worldwide attention, particularly from the governments of Russia and Poland.
Rota eventually announced his resignation on Tuesday afternoon, stating that he would leave his position at the end of Wednesday’s session.
“The work of this house is above any of us. Therefore, I must step down as your speaker,” Rota said. “I reiterate my profound regret for my error.”
Politicians from the opposition New Democrats and Bloc Quebecois parties issued the loudest demands for Rota’s resignation, with New Democrats leader Peter Julian describing the invitation as “an unforgivable error which puts the entire House in disrepute.”
An image posted on Friday on the Facebook page of 98-year-old Hunka’s granddaughter, Theresa, showed the World War II Waffen-SS veteran sitting in a wheelchair in a room behind a corridor decorated with Canadian and Ukrainian flags.
“Dedo [grandfather] is waiting in the reception hall for Trudeau and [Vladimir] Zelensky,” Theresa wrote in the caption, suggesting that Hunka was expecting the arrival of the Canadian prime minister and the Ukrainian president.
It is unclear if the picture depicted the moment before the Nazi veteran was welcomed at the parliament session attended by Trudeau and Zelensky, or if he was due to meet them personally. Many X (formerly Twitter) users suggested that the latter was true.
Theresa Hunka promptly made her Facebook account private after the photo was widely shared on other social media platforms.
Trudeau, who leads the Liberal Party, of which Rota is a member, did not call for the speaker’s resignation, but described the ceremony as “deeply embarrassing for the House and for Canada.”
He did not mention any personal meeting with the SS veteran, but instead called for a “push back against Russian propaganda.”
During the event, Rota hailed Hunka as “a Ukrainian hero, a Canadian hero… who fought for Ukrainian independence against the Russians.” Rota did not mention that Hunka fought in Hitler’s elite Waffen SS, but the nonagenarian was identified by the Associated Press as a member of the First Ukrainian Division, a volunteer unit created by the Nazis in 1943.
Also known as the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS, the unit is known to have committed atrocities against Jews and Poles during its campaign on the Eastern Front.
“There should be no confusion that this unit was responsible for the mass murder of innocent civilians with a level of brutality and malice that is unimaginable,” the Toronto-based Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center (FSWC) said in a statement on Sunday.
According to Western media the episode played into the narrative promoted by Russian President Vladimir Putin that he sent his army into Ukraine last year to “demilitarise and denazify” the country, a charge Kiev and Western allies say is baseless.
The furor helped tarnish the visit by Zelensky, who thanked Canada for the billion of dollars in aid and weapons it has provided since Russia invaded in February 2022.