Liberal MP Anthony Rota is stepping down as House of Commons Speaker after inviting a Ukrainian veteran who fought in a Nazi division to Parliament — a dramatic turn of events that will be welcomed by MPs on all sides who said the embarrassing incident was unforgivable.
Rota’s resignation will take effect at the end of the sitting day on Wednesday.
“I have acted as your humble servant, carrying out the important responsibilities of this position to the very best of my abilities. The work of this House is above any of us. Therefore, I must step down as your Speaker,” Rota said ahead of Tuesday’s question period.
“I reiterate my profound regret for my error in recognizing an individual in the House.”
WATCH: Anthony Rota resigns as Speaker after calls to quit
Anthony Rota resigns as Speaker after calls to quit
Anthony Rota is resigning as Speaker of the House of Commons after facing calls to quit from all sides over his decision to invite a man who served in a Nazi unit to Parliament during a historic visit by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. ‘The work of this House is above any of us,’ Rota said as he announced he was leaving the sought-after position.
Rota said the “public recognition” he gave to a former Nazi soldier “caused pain to individuals and communities,” including Jewish people, Poles and “other survivors of Nazi atrocities.”
Rota’s decision to step aside means MPs will need to pick another presiding officer soon so the Commons can continue to function.
On Friday, Rota invited Ukrainian veteran Yaroslav Hunka, a constituent of his from North Bay, Ont., to sit in the parliamentary gallery during Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s address to Parliament.
Over the weekend, it emerged that Hunka was part of the First Ukrainian Division, also known as the Waffen-SS Galicia Division or the SS 14th Waffen Division — a voluntary unit under the command of the Nazis.
The shockwaves from the 98-year-old’s appearance in Parliament are still being felt.
Poland’s education minister has said he wants Hunka be extradited to face criminal penalties for his role in the Galician division, a unit that committed atrocities against Poles in the Second World War. Przemysław Czarnek said he has “taken steps” to get Hunka to Poland.
The Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre (FSWC), a Jewish rights group, said Rota’s action “compromised all 338 MPs” and “handed a propaganda victory to Russia.”
The FSWC is also calling on the Commons’ Procedure and House Affairs Committee (PROC) to hold public hearings, investigate what took place and examine “vetting process failures.”
B’nai Brith, another Jewish group, said the government must make the Duchesne Commission‘s 1980s-era report public in its entirety so the country can learn the true extent of Ukrainian Nazi activities in post-Second World War Canada.
Reports suggest as many as 2,000 Ukrainian members of Adolf Hitler’s Waffen-SS were admitted to Canada after the war — after some British prodding. The commission said the number is likely lower than that.
But Jewish groups have long been critical of how these collaborators have been allowed to live in peace in Canada after voluntarily serving in Hitler’s war machine.
Historians have documented how soldiers like Hunka were trained at SS facilities in Germany, swore an oath to Hitler and received an education in Nazi doctrine.
“We cannot move forward as a country from Friday’s humiliating debacle without the government committing to finally opening its wartime records,” said Michael Mostyn, B’nai Brith Canada’s CEO.
Government House Leader Karina Gould, who is of Jewish descent, said she’s horrified she celebrated Hunka. The Ontario MP also posed for a picture with the man after Friday’s festivities.
“This is very emotional for me,” Gould said, holding back tears as she spoke to reporters after Rota’s departure.
“My family are Jewish Holocaust survivors. I would have never in a million years stood and applauded someone who aided the Nazis.”
She said Rota should have never invited “someone like this.”
She said the outgoing Speaker was also “very misleading” when he encouraged parliamentarians to stand and applaud a Nazi collaborator.
WATCH: Liberal House leader reacts to Rota’s resignation:
Liberal House leader reacts to Speaker’s resignation
Karina Gould, whose family are Jewish Holocaust survivors, says that Speaker Anthony Rota’s decision to invite a Ukrainian who fought with the Nazis to Parliament was “beyond her wildest imagination.”
NDP MP Peter Julian, the party’s House leader, also welcomed Rota’s decision to leave.
It was Julian who first called for the northern Ontario MP to step away from the Speaker role.
“It’s not a happy day for us. It’s a sad day, of course. But the reality is, he made the right decision. The Parliament has been tarnished and so many people have been hurt by what happened last Friday,” Julian said. “Canada’s parliamentary reputation has taken a real hit.
“Imagine the Jewish community sitting down to Yom Kippur and having somebody that is affiliated with the SS and the horrific murders taking place in Eastern Europe being honoured in the House of Commons,” Julian added, referring to the Jewish high holiday.
WATCH: How MPs ended up honouring veteran of Nazi unit:
How MPs ended up honouring veteran of Nazi unit
How did a Ukrainian veteran who fought for a Nazi unit during the Second World War end up being honoured inside the House of Commons? CBC’s John Paul Tasker breaks down the damage caused by Speaker Anthony Rota’s invitation and whether it could lead to his resignation.
For a second day in a row, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was absent from question period Tuesday as the Opposition peppered the government with questions about the Rota mishap.
“Where is the prime minister? Why is he hiding?” Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre said.
“Our nation’s reputation is in tatters. Will he stand up and apologize for this mess he helped create?” he added, trying to link Rota’s invitation to the Prime Minister’s Office.
“Has there ever been a greater diplomatic embarrassment in the history of our country? I mean it literally. In coffee shops, in gyms and businesses and boardrooms around the world, people are reading about this massive and shameful disgrace that unfolded under the watch of a Liberal Speaker and a Liberal prime minister.
“And yet he can’t even show up for work. Where is he? Why is he hiding under a rock today?”
While Trudeau was in Ottawa early Tuesday for a cabinet meeting, he later left for Toronto to participate in a “fireside chat” with an automotive parts group.
Rota initially resisted calls to resign. But he lost the support of some key Liberal cabinet ministers — a sign that his position had become increasingly tenuous.
It wasn’t just the invitation — Rota also recognized Hunka as a “Canadian hero” in the House of Commons and prompted a standing ovation.
It wasn’t enough for Rota to apologize, some parliamentarians said.
“What happened on Friday is completely unacceptable. It was an embarrassment to the House and Canadians,” Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly told reporters on Tuesday.
Joly also said she’s spoken to her Ukrainian counterpart about the incident, which has had global repercussions.
Trudeau stopped short of saying Rota should resign but made it clear where he stands.
“This was deeply embarrassing for the House and for Canada,” Trudeau said.
Industry Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said Rota had to step down to protect Parliament’s reputation, something that has been on shaky ground since Hunka’s past came to light.
“This is the Parliament of Canada, which will outlast all of us. I’m really thinking about the institution, the office, and doing what is in the best interest of preserving the integrity of the institution,” Champagne said.
Health Minister Mark Holland, who recently served as government House leader and worked closely with the Speaker in that role, said Rota is “a profoundly good man” and the last few days have been “incredibly difficult” for him and those who know him well.
“I know he puts Parliament first,” Holland said.
While the NDP and Bloc Québécois said Monday that Rota needed to go, Poilievre and Conservative MPs spent the day blaming Trudeau for Hunka’s presence in Parliament.
A spokesperson for Rota has said the Speaker’s guest list was not shared with the Prime Minister’s Office or any of the other parties.
Rota’s picks to be in the gallery were sent to the House of Commons protocol office and the confirmed list of attendees was then shared with corporate security, which is partly responsible for security in the parliamentary precinct, including the Commons chamber in West Block.