The Speaker of Canada’s House of Commons, Anthony Rota, resigned from his position on Tuesday, days after praising a Ukrainian veteran who fought for a Nazi military unit during World War II.
On Friday, following a joint speech to parliament by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Rota praised 98-year-old Yaroslav Hunka as a Ukrainian-Canadian war hero who “fought for Ukraine’s independence against Russian aggressors back then and continues to support the troops today.”
But in the days that followed, Jewish and human rights organizations condemned Rota’s recognition, saying that Hunka served in a Nazi military unit known as the 14th SS Waffen Grenadier Division.
“This House is above any of us, therefore I must resign as its president,” Rota said in Parliament on Tuesday afternoon, reiterating his “deep regret for my mistake.”
“That public recognition has caused pain to individuals and communities, including the Jewish community in Canada and around the world, as well as survivors of Nazi atrocities in Poland, among other nations,” added Rota, who is a member of the Liberal Party. . “I accept full responsibility for my actions.”
Rota’s recognition of Hunka last week sparked a standing ovation. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the incident “deeply shameful.”
The 14th Waffen Grenadier Division was part of the Nazi SS organization declared a criminal organization by the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg in 1946, which determined that the Nazi group had committed war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The Jewish human rights organization B’nai Brith Canada in a statement condemned the Ukrainian volunteers who served in the unit as “ultranationalist ideologues” who “dreamed of an ethnically homogeneous Ukrainian state and supported the idea of ethnic cleansing.”
Recognizing Hunka was “beyond outrageous,” said B’nai Brith Canada executive director Michael Mostyn, adding, “We cannot allow history to be whitewashed.”
“Canadian soldiers fought and died to free the world from the evils of Nazi brutality,” he said.
Rota apologized in a statement on Sunday and on the floor of parliament on Tuesday, saying that “I learned of more information that makes me regret my decision to recognize this individual.”
Rota took full responsibility and said it was his sole decision to recognize Hunka, who Rota said is from his constituency.
“No one – not even anyone among you, my parliamentary colleagues or the Ukrainian delegation – was aware of my intention or my comments before they were delivered,” he said.