Canadian Parliament speaker quits after publicly praising former Nazi soldier

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau‘s government had urged the speaker of the House of Commons to resign

September 26, 2023 11:42 pm | Updated September 27, 2023 12:15 am IST - OTTAWA

Speaker of the House of Commons Anthony Rota looks on at Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada on September 25, 2023.

Speaker of the House of Commons Anthony Rota looks on at Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada on September 25, 2023. | Photo Credit: Reuters

The speaker of Canada’s House of Commons lower chamber on September 26 said he would quit, a few days after he publicly praised a former Nazi soldier in Parliament in an incident that Russia said helped justify its war on Ukraine.

Anthony Rota told legislators he had made a mistake by inviting ex-soldier Yaroslav Hunka, 98, to attend a session in the House honouring Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy last Friday. Mr. Rota publicly recognised Mr. Hunka, calling him a hero.

The speaker’s position rapidly became untenable after it emerged that Mr. Hunka, who received two standing ovations from lawmakers, had served in one of Adolf Hitler’s Waffen SS units during World War Two. Russia called the incident outrageous.

“That public recognition has caused pain to individuals and communities, including the Jewish community in Canada and around the world ... I accept full responsibility for my actions,” said Mr. Rota, a member of the ruling Liberal party, adding his resignation would take effect on Wednesday. Until then a deputy speaker will be in charge.

The episode played into the narrative promoted by Russian President Vladimir Putin that he sent his army into Ukraine last year to “demilitarise and denazify” the country, a charge Kyiv and Western allies say is baseless.

The furore helped tarnish the visit by Mr. Zelenskyy, who thanked Canada for the billion of dollars in aid and weapons it has provided since Russia invaded in February 2022.

Foreign Minister Melanie Joly earlier said Mr. Rota should resign while Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called on him to ponder his future.

Although opposition parties blamed what they called failings by Mr. Trudeau’s Liberal government for the affair, Mr. Rota said he took sole responsibility for what had happened. Mr. Hunka lives in Mr. Rota’s parliamentary constituency.

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