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Canada’s House of Commons speaker resigned Tuesday, just days after he welcomed a man who fought for a Nazi military to attend a speech by the Ukrainian president. During the address, the man was publicly introduced and received a standing ovation.
On Tuesday, Speaker Anthony Rota addressed Canadian lawmakers, expressing his regret for inviting 98-year-old Yaroslav Hunka to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s address to the House of Commons on Friday.
“No one in this House is above any of us. Therefore, I must step down as your speaker,” Rota said in Parliament on Tuesday. “I reiterate my profound regret for my error in recognizing an individual in the House during the joint address to Parliament of President Zelenskyy.
He added: “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.”
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The Speaker of the House of Commons Anthony Rota shakes hands with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Friday, Sept. 22, 2023. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press via AP)
Rota, 62, faced calls to resign after it was made public that Hunka, introduced to Parliament on Friday as a war hero who fought for the First Ukrainian Division, actually served in a Nazi command unit.
Over the weekend, as Zelenskyy’s remarks began to circulate online and additional attention was brought to Hunka’s presence at the event, people clarified that the First Ukrainian Division also was known as the Waffen-SS Galicia Division, or the SS 14th Waffen Division, a voluntary unit that was under the command of the Nazis.
House government leader Karina Gould said lawmakers had lost confidence in Rota over the mishap.
“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.
The Speaker of the House of Commons Anthony Rota delivers a speech following an address by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Friday, Sept. 22, 2023. Rota apologized for recognizing in Parliament a man who fought for a Nazi military unit during World War II, just after Zelenskyy addressed the House of Commons on Friday. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press via AP)
Rota apologized on Sunday, saying he alone was responsible for inviting and recognizing Hunka, who is from the district that Rota represents. The speaker’s office said Hunka’s son contacted Rota’s local office to see if he could attend Zelenskyy’s speech.
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Gould, 36, reiterated that Rota was solely responsible for inviting and recognizing Hunka without informing the government. She also said Rota did not adequately inform anyone or do his due diligence, breaking trust with lawmakers.
Members of Parliament from all parties rose to applaud Hunka on Friday, unaware of his past work for the Nazi regime.
“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.
Yaroslav Hunka, right, waits for the arrival of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in the House of Commons in Ottawa, Onatario on Friday, Sept. 22, 2023. The speaker of Canada’s House of Commons apologized Sunday, Sept. 24, for recognizing Hunka, who fought for a Nazi military unit during World War II. (Patrick Doyle/The Canadian Press via AP)
The House leader added: “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 also said Rota should have resigned sooner: “He probably should have resigned as soon as he learned about it.”
On X, Gould urged members of Parliament to “avoid politicizing this incident” as several lawmakers met with Hunka and took photos with him during Friday’s event, still unaware of his history.
“The Speaker has now made it clear that he was responsible for inviting this individual to the House. The government played no role. It did not know he would be there. The PM did not meet him. I am deeply troubled this happened,” Gould wrote.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recognize Yaroslav Hunka, who was in attendance and fought with the First Ukrainian Division in World War II before later immigrating to Canada, in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Friday, Sept. 22, 2023. (Patrick Doyle/The Canadian Press via AP)
“Like all MPs, I had no further information than the Speaker provided. Exiting the Chamber I walked by the individual and took a photo. As a descendent of Jewish Holocaust survivors I would ask all parliamentarians to stop politicizing an issue troubling to many, myself included,” she added.
Canadian Health Minister Mark Holland also called the incident as a whole “incredibly embarrassing.”
Opposition Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre blamed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and said everyone in the House of Commons on Friday should have been properly vetted with Zelenskyy in attendance.
“Canada’s reputation is broken. This is by far the biggest hit Canada’s diplomatic reputation has ever taken in history and it happened under Justin Trudeau’s watch,” Poilievre said.
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The prime minister’s office said it was unaware that Hunka was invited until after the address.
Rota has been speaker of the House of Commons since 2019.
Fox News’ Emma Colton and the Associated Press contributed to this report.