By Mickey Djuric in Ottawa
House of Commons Speaker Anthony Rota is facing calls to step down from across the political spectrum after he invited a man who fought for the Nazis to attend a speech by Ukraine’s president, in what senior Canadian politicians are calling an international embarrassment.
Government House leader Karina Gould said Tuesday morning that she believes members of Parliament have lost confidence in Rota and he should do the “honourable thing.”
Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre also urged Rota to resign, following similar calls by the NDP and Bloc Québécois on Monday.
Rota, whose role it is to be impartial and maintain order in the House of Commons, has been facing international scrutiny over the controversy, and Russia has used the invite to advance its propaganda in an attempt to legitimize its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
On Friday, Rota honoured and recognized Yaroslav Hunka, a veteran of the First Ukrainian Division, during a parliamentary address by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
The voluntary unit was under the command of the Nazis and was also known as the Waffen-SS Galicia Division or the SS 14th Waffen Division during the Second World War.
All members of Parliament who were in attendance had stood twice and applauded the 98-year-old without knowing the details of his past, including Zelenskyy and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Russian President Vladimir Putin paints his enemies in Ukraine as “neo-Nazis.”
The Holocaust, World War II and Nazism have been important tools for Putin in his bid to legitimize Russia’s war in Ukraine, but historians see their use as disinformation and a cynical ploy to further the Russian leader’s aims.
Zelenskyy is Jewish and has said his great-grandparents were victims of the Nazis. His visit to Canada was meant to shore up support for Ukraine during the war, but now the opposite is happening, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said on Tuesday.
“The visit was marred by this incident that is now being used by the aggressor, Russia, in propaganda to attack or take away from — in a deleterious way — the efforts of the war.”
Singh called on Trudeau to apologize for how things have unfolded, and present a plan to try and undo the harm.
Trudeau said he was expecting important conversations to be held when the House leaders for the main federal parties meet with Rota later on Monday, but he wouldn’t say if he thinks the Speaker should resign.
“It’s a good thing that Speaker Rota apologized personally and I’m sure he’s reflecting now to ensure the dignity of the House going forward,” Trudeau said Tuesday before his cabinet meeting.
“I know that House leaders are going to be meeting later this morning and I’m sure they’ll have very important conversations.”
Prior to the meeting, Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly joined other MPs asking for Rota’s resignation.
“What happened on Friday is completely unacceptable,” Joly said on Tuesday. “I think the Speaker should listen to the House and step down.”
The Speaker’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
If Rota resigns, parliamentary procedure dictates that the House will cease its normal operations in order to elect a new Speaker at the earliest opportunity.
The Conservatives have said they believe Trudeau is throwing Rota under the bus and that the prime minister should take responsibility for the invitation.
The Prime Minister’s Office said it was unaware that Hunka was invited until after the address. The Speaker’s office also confirmed it did not share its invite list with any other party or group.
The vetting process for visitors to the gallery is for physical security threats, not reputational threats, the Speaker’s office said.
Rota apologized to MPs on Monday, saying the decision to invite Hunka was entirely his own.
He also met with Poland Ambassador to Canada Witold Dzielski following the invite.
In a post on X, formerly known as Twitter, Dzielski said he had a “very open and detailed conversation” with Rota and that his understanding is there was no ill intent related to the invitation.
“If the mistakes make us wiser and our bond stronger, so be it! Thank you Anthony!” Dzielski posted with a photograph of himself shaking hands with Rota.
But that’s not good enough for one Polish politician who is participating in a general election back home.
Poland’s Education Minister Przemysław Czarnek posted on X that he’s taken steps to possibly extradite Hunka back to Poland.
Justice Minister Arif Virani said no one from the Polish government has contacted him regarding the matter.
He added that he can’t comment on anything related to extradition until it lands on his desk, because his wading into the issue could jeopardize any investigations that may be underway.
“Commenting on an early stages of an extradition process is not appropriate,” Virani said Tuesday.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 26, 2023.
— With files from Associated Press.
Banner image via The Canadian Press