House Speaker Anthony Rota faced calls to resign on Monday as his decision to honour a Ukrainian man who served in a Nazi unit in the Second World War caused a political storm in Parliament and was used in Russia for propaganda.
Mr. Rota apologized to the House of Commons for his error in judgment, but that did little to dissuade the NDP and Bloc Québécois who said trust was broken with the House and they no longer had confidence in the Speaker.
The Conservatives did not say Mr. Rota should resign, and instead blamed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, saying the government was responsible for vetting visitors to the Commons, especially in the presence of foreign leaders. The Liberals also did not call for Mr. Rota to go.
“It was my decision and I apologize profusely. I cannot tell you how regretful it is. It may not be good enough for some of you, and for that I apologize,” Mr. Rota told the Commons on Monday morning.
Mr. Trudeau told reporters on Parliament Hill that what happened is “extremely upsetting” and is “deeply embarrassing to the Parliament of Canada and by extension to all Canadians.”
Mr. Rota had issued a statement apologizing on Sunday for inviting 98-year-old Yaroslav Hunka from his riding of North Bay, Ont., to Parliament on Friday for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s visit and calling him a hero, prompting two standing ovations. Mr. Rota praised Mr. Hunka for fighting for Ukraine independence against the Russians during the Second World War.
NDP MP Peter Julian is calling for the resignation of the Speaker of the House of Commons after a man who served in a Nazi SS unit was invited to attend Parliament. Speaker Anthony Rota invited Yaroslav Hunka, who served in the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS, to a speech by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Sept. 22.
Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre for Holocaust Studies said in a statement on the weekend that Mr. Hunka served in the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS, a Nazi military unit with documented evidence of “crimes against humanity.”
“The fact that a veteran who served in a Nazi military unit was invited to and given a standing ovation in Parliament is shocking,” the group said, joining other Jewish organizations that called on the government to publicly apologize.
Government House Leader Karina Gould also said it is time for Mr. Rota to exit.
“I can’t see, based on the conversations I have had, how he can continue to have the support of Liberal members of Parliament. I think it’s time for him to do the honorable thing,” Ms. Gould said as she arrived for Tuesday’s cabinet meeting.
On Monday, the Russian embassy in Ottawa chided Canada over the incident, calling it a “slap in the face” of Canadians who fought Nazis along with Soviets for European liberation.
Russia falsely claimed the “de-Nazification” of Ukraine as one of the reasons for its invasion of the country last year.
“Such sloppiness of memory is outrageous,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters. “Many Western countries, including Canada, have raised a young generation that does not know who fought whom or what happened during the Second World War. And they know nothing about the threat of fascism.”
The volunteer unit has been linked to massacres of civilians carried out in villages in Poland. Witold Dzielski, the Polish ambassador, has called for an apology from Canada.
A 1985 royal commission studying whether Canada had become a haven for criminals, made the controversial finding that being a member in the unit was not a war crime on its own, unless the person was personally found to have participated in a crime.
Mr. Rota said no one else was aware of the invitation or his remarks before he delivered them. Mr. Rota is the Liberal MP for the riding of Nipissing-Timiskaming.
“I am deeply sorry that I have offended many with my gesture and remarks,” said Mr. Rota, who oversaw an impromptu debate Monday in the House of Commons over his actions.
NDP Leader Peter Julian told the Commons Mr. Rota should resign from his post.
“A sacred trust has been broken. It’s for that reason, for the good of the institution of the House of Commons that I say, sadly, I don’t believe you can continue in this role,” Mr. Julian said. “I ask, for the good of Parliament, that you step down from the role of Speaker.”
Ms. Gould moved a motion seeking unanimous consent to have Mr. Hunka’s recognition struck from the record, but it was rejected.
Conservative MP Marty Morantz said deleting the text would serve one purpose: to forget what happened and wash the record clean.
Ms. Gould said that as someone of Jewish origin, the situation was particularly disturbing for her.
“But I also know for Canadians who are Jewish right across the country and particularly today on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, the day of atonement as we prepare for the new year. This is particularly disturbing.”
Retired Conservative senator Noel Kinsella, the second longest serving Speaker in the Upper Chamber, said Tuesday that Mr. Rota should step down to protect the honor of Canada and Parliament.
Mr. Kinsella said Mr. Rota’s staff had let him down by failing to do a proper background check on Mr. Hunka but that does not absolve the Commons Speaker of his responsibility to do the right thing.
“He must do the honorable thing and resign for the good of the Parliament. What happened is an offence to President Zelensky and against the memory of the Jewish community. It is going international and it is hurting Canada and Parliament’s reputation,” he said.
Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet joined the call for the Speaker to leave.
“The Bloc Québécois can only note, on the one hand, the damage caused by the Speaker’s error, and on the other hand, the loss of confidence in the House that it needs to carry out its function,” Mr. Blanchet said in a statement. “Therefore, we call on the Speaker of the House to act responsibly and relinquish his office.”
The Speaker’s communications director Amélie Crosson said in a statement that Mr. Rota was proceeding with his plans for a Tuesday garden party at Kingsmere, the Speaker’s rural residence in Quebec, and that he would be attending.
-With a report from Robert Fife, Reuters and The Canadian Press
Yaroslav Hunka, who served in a Nazi SS unit in the Second World War, was praised by speaker Anthony Rota in Parliament on Friday and received two standing ovations from the audience who had assembled with Prime Minister Trudeau to hear a speech by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
The Globe and Mail