The Speaker of the Canadian House of Commons stepped down on Tuesday following swift and intense criticism for commemorating a man who served in a Nazi unit during World War II.
Anthony Rota revealed a sudden, yet not surprising, statement to the House of Commons, expressing “deep remorse” and declaring his resignation as speaker effective the end of Wednesday.
The statement caused distress to individuals and communities, particularly the Jewish community in Canada and globally, as well as survivors of Nazi crimes in Poland and other countries.
Canadian politicians stood and applauded Yaroslav Hunka, aged 98, after Rota acknowledged him as a “hero” in response to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s groundbreaking speech in Parliament on Friday. This was one of the most memorable moments from Zelenskyy’s visit.
However, the narrative took an unexpected shift and gained widespread attention over the weekend when it was revealed that Hunka was a member of the First Ukrainian Division, which was also referred to as the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS during Nazi rule.
“The actions that occurred were a disgrace to Canada and cannot be tolerated,” stated Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly on Tuesday, prior to her Cabinet meeting.
On Monday, several opposing political parties started to demand Rota’s resignation. NDP House Leader Peter Julian accused Rota of violating lawmakers’ trust, calling it a “sacred” obligation.
However, the problem reached its peak on Tuesday when representatives from both parties met with Rota. Despite much of the discussion revolving around him, Rota remained in the speaker’s chair and led the House of Commons session on Monday after issuing an apology.
Karina Gould, the Liberal House Leader, stated that Rota extended an invitation to and acknowledged Hunka without informing the government, Ukrainian delegation, or any other parliamentarian of his intentions.
On Monday, Rota expressed regret after learning about Hunka’s involvement with the Nazis. However, his statements have been concise and he has not addressed any questions from the press.
“I sincerely apologize for my actions and words that have caused offense to many,” he stated during the session at Parliament.
Justin Trudeau, Canada’s Prime Minister, described the situation as “profoundly shameful,” but has not issued an apology despite demands from opposing political parties.
Pierre Poilievre, the leader of the Conservative Party, stated on social media that Trudeau and Rota have disgraced Canada. However, Rota’s resignation does not absolve Trudeau from his failure to properly screen and prevent the honoring of a Nazi through his extensive diplomatic and intelligence resources.
During his daily briefing in Washington, State Department spokesperson Matt Miller was questioned about the strange occurrence. He responded by stating that the Canadian government had claimed to be unaware of the individual’s history and had expressed remorse for it, which he deemed to be the appropriate course of action.
Several of Rota’s coworkers in Ottawa spoke up to support his reputation.
“I was chosen as a representative alongside Anthony in the year 2004,” stated Mark Holland, the Minister of Health. “He is an incredibly kind individual.”
Terry Beech, Minister of Citizens’ Services, referred to it as a “regrettable error” and stated that “no one has been more critical of Anthony Rota than Anthony Rota himself.”
The Liberal party attempted to remove the remarks and recordings of Hunka’s acknowledgement from the official record of the House of Commons on Monday, but the other parties objected to this action.
Conservative MP Marty Morantz stated that the event was a painful reminder for Holocaust survivors, emphasizing the importance of never forgetting. He believes that erasing the speaker’s words from the official record would serve only one purpose: to erase the memory of what occurred and whitewash the truth.