Anthony Rota, speaker of Canada’s House of Commons handed in his resignation onTuesday, after accepting personal responsibility for inviting an elderly man who fought for a Nazi military unit during World War II to Parliament to hear a speech given by the Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
To make matters even worse, Canadian lawmakers gave 98-year-old Yaroslav Hunka a standing ovation when Speaker Anthony Rota drew attention to him. Rota introduced Hunka as a war hero who fought for the “First Ukrainian Division”.
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.
Mr Hunka and his family could not be reached for comment by the BBC. They have not yet commented to Canadian media.
“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,” he added.
Rota stepped down after meeting with the House of Commons’ party leaders. All main opposition parties had called for Rota to step down, and House government leader Karina Gould said that lawmakers had lost confidence in Rota.
“This is something that has brought shame and embarrassment to all of Parliament and indeed all Canadians. The speaker did the honorable thing in resigning,” Gould said.
Gould said that Rota invited and recognized Hunka without informing the government or the delegation from Ukraine, adding that the fact that Rota didn’t inform anyone and didn’t do diligence broke trust with lawmakers.
Members of Parliament from all parties rose to applaud Hunka on Friday unaware of the details of who he was.
“Never in my life would I have imagined that the speaker of the House would have asked us to stand and applaud someone who fought with the Nazis,” Gould said.
“This is very emotional for me. My family are Jewish holocaust survivors. I would have never in a million of years stood and applauded someone who aided the Nazis.”
Gould said Rota found out about it over the weekend. “He probably should have resigned as soon as he learned about it,” she said.
Canadian Health Minister Mark Holland had called the incident “incredibly embarrassing.”
The Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies said in a statement that the incident “has left a stain on our country’s venerable legislature with profound implications both in Canada and globally.”
“This incident has compromised all 338 Members of Parliament and has also handed a propaganda victory to Russia, distracting from what was a momentously significant display of unity between Canada and Ukraine. It has also caused great pain to Canada’s Jewish community, Holocaust survivors, veterans and other victims of the Nazi regime.”
In an earlier apology on Sunday, Rota said he alone was responsible for inviting and recognizing Hunka, who is from the district that Rota represents. The speaker’s office said it was Hunka’s son who contacted Rota’s local office to see if it was possible if he could attend Zelenskyy’s speech.
It is not known if Hunka’s son was aware of the fact that his father having fought for a Nazi division might be a cause of contention.
The prime minister’s office said it was unaware that Hunka was invited until after the address.
The speaker’s office also confirmed it did not share its invite list with any other party or group. The vetting process for visitors to the gallery is for physical security threats, not reputational threats, the speaker’s office said.
In Moscow, a Kremlin spokesman said it was “outrageous” that Hunka received a standing ovation.
“The Canadian government must bring to justice or extradite Ukrainian Nazi SS veteran Yaroslav Hunka, who has been given a standing ovation by the Canadian parliament last week”, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Wednesday.
Sources: AP, BBC, Sputnik.