Canada’s Speaker Anthony Rota resigns after Nazi in parliament row

Speaker of the House of Commons Anthony Rota during Question Period on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada September 25, 2023.Reuters

The Speaker of Canada’s House of Commons has resigned after unwittingly praising a Ukrainian man who fought for a Nazi unit and inviting him to parliament.

After first resisting calls to step down, Anthony Rota quit on Tuesday after meeting party leaders in Ottawa.

“I must step down as your Speaker,” he said in parliament. “I reiterate my profound regret.”

The incident last Friday drew global condemnation.

Yaroslav Hunka, 98, got a standing ovation after Mr Rota called him a “hero” during a Friday visit by Ukraine’s president.

Mr Rota has said he did not know of Mr Hunka’s Nazi ties and made a mistake in inviting him to attend the event.

Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Monday it was “extremely upsetting that this happened”.

“This is something that is deeply embarrassing to the parliament of Canada and by extension to all Canadians,” he told reporters.

During World War Two, Mr Hunka served in the 14th Waffen-SS Grenadier Division, a voluntary unit made up mostly of ethnic Ukrainians under Nazi command. Division members are accused of killing Polish and Jewish civilians, although the unit has not been found guilty of any war crimes by a tribunal.

Earlier on Tuesday, Poland’s Education Minister Przemysław Czarnek said he had “taken steps” towards extraditing Mr Hunka.

Members of Mr Trudeau’s cabinet had joined cross-party calls for Mr Rota to step down.

Hours before the Speaker announced his resignation, Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly called the mistake “completely unacceptable”.

“I think the Speaker should listen to members of the house and step down,” she said. “I don’t think there’s any alternative.”

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Mr Rota’s resignation has not slowed criticism from Canada’s opposition leader, the Conservative Party’s Pierre Poilievre.

Addressing parliament, Mr Poilievre said the responsibility fell to Prime Minister Trudeau “to reverse the massive damage down to our international reputation”.

“Will he rise in this place and apologise for this massive and shameful failure?” he said.

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