July 15, 2024

The speaker of Canada’s House of Commons resigned on Tuesday after again apologizing for introducing a 98-year-old Ukrainian who had served with a Nazi SS unit as a “hero” just after President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine addressed a joint session of Parliament.

The speaker, Anthony Rota, introduced Yaroslav Hunka, a constituent from his electoral district, as “a Ukrainian hero, a Canadian hero” on Friday prompting two standing ovations from the lawmakers and other guest as well as a fist pump from Mr. Zelensky, who is Jewish.

But over the following days, several Jewish groups expressed anger and outrage, saying that Mr. Hunka had been a member of a volunteer Nazi unit known as the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS, which fought alongside Germany during World War II and declared allegiance to Adolf Hitler.

After days of calls for him to step down, Mr. Rota announced his resignation on a day when he was scheduled to host an annual garden party at his official country residence.

“This House is above any of us,” he told fellow lawmakers. “I reiterate my profound regret.”

Mr. Rota first apologized on the weekend for both his invitation and introduction of Mr. Hunka, noting that he “subsequently became aware of more information.”

The calls for him to step down first came from Jagmeet Singh, the leader of the left-of-center New Democratic Party. They accelerated on Tuesday during the lead-up to a lunchtime meeting that Mr. Rota had scheduled with the leaders of all parties in the House of Commons.

Before Mr. Rota’s announcement, the deputy prime minister, the foreign minister, the industry minister and the leader of the government in the House of Commons all had told reporters that he should step down.

“What happened was completely unacceptable and a really, really damaging event,” the deputy prime minister, Chrystia Freeland, said. “I hope and believe the speaker will reflect on how serious and damaging this was and will do the honorable thing.”

She repeatedly said that the episode is particularly harmful for Jews in Canada and around the world, adding “it is also a painful situation for the people of Ukraine.”

Over the weekend Mr. Rota said that he did not tell the governments of Canada or Ukraine about his plan to invite Mr. Hunka.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau offered no support for Mr. Rota and what he called his “deeply embarrassing” decision, but he also did not explicitly call for Mr. Rota to quit the speaker’s position.

“It is a good thing that Speaker Rota apologized personally, and I am sure he is reflecting now on how to ensure the dignity of the House going forward,” Mr. Trudeau said.

While Mr. Rota is a member of Parliament from Mr. Trudeau’s Liberal Party, he is not a political power broker like his counterpart in the U.S. House of Representatives. Speakers in the Canadian House of Commons act as nonpartisan referees in the chamber, independent of the government. The speaker, not the government, controls all activity and conduct in the chamber, as well as its employees.

That did not stop Pierre Poilievre, the Conservative leader whose party leads Mr. Trudeau’s Liberals in polls, from blaming Mr. Trudeau as well for the incident.

“Trudeau (and his Liberal Speaker) have brought shame on Canada,” Mr. Poilievre wrote in a social media post on Tuesday. “The Liberal Speaker will have to resign. But that does not excuse Justin Trudeau’s failure to have his massive diplomatic and intelligence apparatus vet and prevent honoring a Nazi.”

Before Mr. Rota made his announcement, several members of opposition parties in Parliament called on Mr. Trudeau to apologize on behalf of Canada to Jews, Ukraine and the world in general.

The 14th Waffen SS unit was made up of volunteers from the Galicia region, which stretched across parts of what is now southeastern Poland and western Ukraine. After the Soviet occupation of western Ukraine in 1939, the creation of the unit in 1943 attracted Ukrainians eager to fight for their independence, said Dominique Arel, the chair of Ukrainian studies at the University of Ottawa.

“Being trained by SS officers, you can imagine the kind of political indoctrination they got,” he said. Even if their aims were for independence, Mr. Arel said the unit “fought for and were trained by Nazis. There’s no question about it.”

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