Canada’s House of Commons Speaker Resigns After Honoring Man Who Fought for Nazis

Rota issued a statement on Sunday apologizing for honoring Hunka, saying that he had since came across “more information which causes me to regret my decision” and that no one in the parliament that day knew about his plans to honor Hunka.
September 27, 2023
Anthony Rota (Photo by Dati Bendo)

The Speaker of Canada’s House of Commons, Anthony Rota, announced on Tuesday that he would be resigning after he honored a man who fought for the Nazis during a Friday session of parliament.

The Associated Press (AP) and Politico reported that after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s speech to the Canadian parliament that day, Rota shouted out Yaroslav Hunka, 98, as a “hero” who fought for the First Ukrainian Division, prompting a standing ovation from lawmakers. However, various media outlets have since reported that the First Ukrainian Division was also known as the 14th Waffen SS-Grenadier Division, a Nazi volunteer unit during World War II.

Rota issued a statement on Sunday apologizing for honoring Hunka, saying that he had since came across “more information which causes me to regret my decision” and that no one in the parliament that day knew about his plans to honor Hunka. On Tuesday, Rota said, according to the AP: “I must step down as your speaker. I reiterate my profound regret for my error in recognizing an individual in the House during the joint address to Parliament of President Zelenskyy. That public recognition has caused pain to individuals and communities, including to the Jewish community in Canada and around the world in addition to Nazi survivors in Poland among other nations. I accept full responsibility for my actions.” Rota will officially step down on Wednesday, although he will remain as a lawmaker.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who is in the same political party as Rota (Liberal Party), told reporters on Monday that Rota’s decision to honor Hunka was “extremely upsetting” and “deeply embarrassing.” However, the BBC noted that Trudeau did not call on Rota to resign, though Reuters reported that Trudeau urged Rota “to ponder his future.” Trudeau does not appear to have publicly commented on Rota’s resignation as of publication time.

Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Center (FSWC) President Michael Levitt said in a statement that Rota made “the correct decision” to resign because “of the hurt this incident has caused to Canada’s Jewish community, Holocaust survivors, veterans and other victims of the Nazi regime. It’s also paramount that Parliament investigates this incident and shares the results with all Canadians.” “If there’s to be any silver lining, it must be the reaffirmation of the critical importance of Holocaust education and remembrance, particularly as the number of Holocaust survivors dwindles and antisemitism escalates in Canada and around the world,” Levitt added. “We hope all Canadians see this as an example of how important it is to learn from history, including the darkest chapters.”

Prior to Rota’s resignation, myriad Jewish groups had argued that Rota’s apology was not enough. “While we appreciate the apologies of the Canadian government, this should have never happened in the first place,” Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt posted on X, formerly known as Twitter. “It’s an affront to Canadians & the wider Jewish community. We echo our friends in Canada – there must be a thorough explanation of how this appalling incident was allowed to happen, and ensure that steps are taken so that it never happens again.”

The American Jewish Committee also posted on X, “While we appreciate @HoCSpeaker Rota’s apology for recognizing a Ukrainian Nazi Waffen-SS veteran on the floor of Canada’s House of Commons, we are left dumbfounded as to how such a massive oversight occurred. This incident is embarrassing for Canada and deeply offensive to Jews around the world. Honoring such a Nazi collaborator only serves Russian propaganda in the midst of its aggressive war on Ukraine.”

Stop Antisemitism noted on X that the SS division that Hunka served in “burned 1,000 Polish villagers ALIVE.” “This man is a MONSTER!” Stop Antisemitism added.

Yad Vashem said in a statement on Tuesday that the decision to honor Hunka was “deplorable” and was the “result of ignorance and lack of information about the facts of the Holocaust and an absence of sensitivity to the many Holocaust survivors who sought refuge in Canada post Holocaust, not to mention the many members of the Canadian armed forces who lost their lives fighting the Nazis. While Yaroslav Hunka fought during WWII, he did so as a member of the Waffen SS as part of the German war effort. Regardless of the political goals invoked by the Ukrainian ultra-nationalists to justify their approach, these people actively collaborated with the Nazis. Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem, advocates the adoption of a zero-tolerance policy to war criminals associated with the massacre of civilians, Jews and non-Jews.” The Holocaust museum urged “the Canadian government to partner with Yad Vashem’s global educational efforts in bringing Holocaust remembrance and education to all relevant audiences worldwide, including in Canada.”

Human rights attorney Irwin Cotler, who founded and chairs the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights, asked in a thread on X, “How did Yaroslav Hunka enter Canada to begin with? How is it that he was never held accountable? Indeed, if there had been accountability in real time, this shameful act would not have occurred. It must serve as a reminder not only of the imperatives of Holocaust remembrance and education, not only of the obligation to counter increasing Holocaust denial and distortion, but of the imperative to bring war criminals to justice … including those in the present Russian leadership responsible for the planning and execution of the Russian crime of aggression in Ukraine.”

B’nai Brith Canada urged the Canadian government to “finally open all Holocaust-related records to the public. Although Canada’s World War II policy towards Jewish immigration was, ‘none is too many,’ our Government welcomed thousands of Nazis after the war.” “Canadians deserve to know the full extent to which Nazi war criminals were permitted to settle in this country after the war,” the Jewish group said in a Tuesday statement. “The Deschênes Commission Final Report – the only official investigation into this subject – remains largely redacted, impairing transparency and accountability.”

The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) thanked the parliament in a post on X for unanimously passing a motion “condemning the invitation and withdrawing the tribute given to” Hunka on Friday.

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