Former speaker of Canada's lower house, Anthony Rota.BLAIR GABLE (REUTERS)
Anthony Rota has resigned on Tuesday as president of the lower house of Canada for having caused one of the biggest scandals in the country's parliamentary life. Rota announced Tuesday afternoon that he is leaving office after multiple pressures. The reason was the presence of a former member of a Nazi unit – and a standing ovation for this very person – at the parliamentary ceremony in honor of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
MP for the Liberal Party of Canada, Anthony Rota has been presiding over the House of Commons since 2019. On Friday, before President Zelenzki and Justin Trudeau, Canada's prime minister, delivered their speeches on the legislative floor, Rota said: "Today we have in this Chamber a Ukrainian-Canadian World War II war veteran who fought for Ukraine's independence against the Russians, and who continues to support troops today even at 98 years of age. His name is Yaroslav Hunka," adding that he was "a Ukrainian hero and a Canadian hero." Visibly moved, Hunka received a standing ovation from the audience.
On Sunday, Jewish organizations in Canada, such as B'nai Brith Canada and the Friends of the Simon-Wiesental Centre, expressed their dismay at this invitation, since Hunka had been part in World War II of the 14th Waffen-SS Grenadier Division, a unit of Ukrainian volunteers involved in the massacre of Jews and other minorities. Anthony Rota responded the same day, saying he was unaware of various elements of Hunka's past and offering his apologies, particularly to "Jewish communities across Canada and around the world." As Rota had pointed out at Friday's event, Yaroslav Hunka lives in the constituency he represents as an MP (Nipissing-Timiskaming, in the province of Ontario).
Rota claimed in his message on Sunday that he was solely responsible for the incident, stressing that the other parliamentarians, the prime minister's office and Zelenskiy's delegation were unaware of the invitation and intention to cheer Hunka. A day later, Rota reiterated his apology in the legislative chamber. "I can't express how much I regret what happened," he said. Minutes later, the Bloc Québécois and the New Democratic Party called for Rota's resignation for an "unforgivable mistake that discredits the entire House."
On Monday, Prime Minister Trudeau called the incident "deeply shameful" for Parliament and all Canadians, but without calling for Rota's resignation. Pierre Poilievre, leader of Canada's Conservative Party, said Trudeau should take responsibility and apologize personally. The embassies of Russia and Poland in Ottawa commented on social networks what happened in the legislative precinct.
On Tuesday morning, it was the turn of the conservative deputies to demand the departure of Rota. Likewise, important figures of the liberal government - such as the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mélanie Joly and the government leader in the lower house, Karina Gould, - pointed out that the resignation was the only alternative. Anthony Rota's fate was cast. A few hours later, he declared at the start of the parliamentary session on Tuesday: "I rise to report with great regret my resignation as Speaker of the House of Commons."
Canada sheltered many victims of World War II; also to several collaborators of the Nazi forces. The case of Yaroslav Hunka is not the first to provoke reactions. In September 2021, Helmut Oberlander, a former member of an extermination unit of the Third Reich, died at his home in Waterloo, Ontario. Since 1995 he had been fighting a legal battle to prevent his deportation. On Tuesday, Poland's education minister said it had taken steps to request Yaroslav Hunka's extradition.
The impact of this incident on the image of the Trudeau government has not been minor. Volodymyr Zelensky's second visit to Canada – the second since the Russian invasion began – has been marred by reactions to Hunka's presence. Likewise, the scandal has taken place in days in which the press of half the world describes the tensions between Ottawa and New Delhi for the alleged involvement of the Indian intelligence services in the murder of a Sikh leader in Vancouver, a crime that occurred last June.
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