2023October 2023

Canadian House Speaker Resigns After Accidentally Honoring Nazi

Megan Pitt
Staff Writer

The speaker of Canada’s House of Commons resigned on September 26, only days after he honored a Ukrainian veteran who served in a Nazi military unit during World War II, according to CNN. On September 22, Speaker Anthony Rota recognized 98-year-old Yaroslav Hunka as a war hero who “fought for Ukrainian independence against the Russian aggressors then, and continues to support the troops today,” CNN also notes. 

The announcement followed an address to the Canadian parliament by the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy. The Guardian states that Zelenskyy could be seen raising his fist in appreciation of Hunka. However, Zelenskyy himself is Jewish, reports Al Jazeera. The article also states that Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and other Canadian officials, were seen giving Hunka two standing ovations. 

House government leader Karina Gould argued that Canadian and Ukrainian lawmakers alike were not informed of Hunka’s invitation. Rota honored him on his own accord, NPR explained, and thus, the government was unknowing of the details of Hunka’s life. Gould also noted, according to NPR, that she would have never expected to be asked by the Speaker of the House to celebrate someone who had fought with the Nazis: “This is very emotional for me. My family are Jewish Holocaust survivors. I would have never in a million years stood and applauded someone who aided the Nazis.” 

Rota and all other government officials confirmed Gould’s statement, in an article by Politico, claiming they were not aware of Hunka’s history until it was revealed over the weekend that the veteran had participated in the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS under Nazi rule. Rota said that he was very apologetic for the situation. Trudeau describes the incident as “deeply embarrassing” for Canada, reports Politico. However, he has not apologized for his honoring of Hunka. 

Following the reports of Hunka’s involvement in Nazi affairs there were cross-party calls within the Canadian cabinet for the resignation of Rota. According to The New York Times, the first call for Rota’s resignation came from the leader of Canada’s New Democratic party, Jagmeet Singh. Other Canadian leaders and academics including the foreign minister and the industry minister similarly urged Rota to step down. Lori Turnbull, a professor of public and international affairs at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, said in a discussion with The New York Times, that although it is understood that Rota made a genuine mistake, “it doesn’t matter. The point is that [Canada] is still the country that got Zelenskyy to applaud a guy who fought with the Nazis.” Foreign Affairs Minister, Melanie Joly, said she does not think there is any alternative to stepping down, according to BBC News. Canadian parliamentarian for the New Democratic Party, Peter Julian, said, “We fully accept Mr. Rota’s apology and believe that he didn’t intend to cause harm but, unfortunately, there are very real consequences to his lapse in judgment.” After meeting with party leaders in Ottawa, Rota officially resigned. Reuters reports that Rota has taken full responsibility for his actions. On October 3, Canada’s House of Commons elected Greg Fergus as its new speaker. Fergus is the first Black Canadian to hold the role, ABC News states. 

Polish Education Minister Przemysław Czarnek has begun an effort to possibly extradite Hunka to Poland, according to The Washington Post. The nation is working to discover if Hunka is responsible for crimes committed in Poland during World War II. Hunka’s age and the fact that Canada does not have an extradition treaty with Poland will make the action complicated, The Washington Post explains. Canada’s Minister of Justice and Attorney General refused to comment on the possibility of Hunka’s extradition. However, he noted that the Canadian government had not yet received a formal request from the Polish government. 

Image courtesy of Parliament of Canada

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