Canada House Speaker Anthony Rota resigns after celebrating Ukrainian veteran who fought for Nazi unit in World War II

"This house is above any of us, therefore I must step down as your speaker."
"This house is above any of us, therefore I must step down as your speaker." Photo credit: Reuters

By Paula Newton of CNN

Speaker of the Canadian House of Commons Anthony Rota resigned his post Tuesday, days after he praised a Ukrainian veteran who fought for a Nazi military unit during World War II.

On Friday, following a joint address to parliament by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Rota lauded Yaroslav Hunka, 98, as a Ukrainian-Canadian war hero who "fought for Ukrainian independence against the Russian aggressors then, and continues to support the troops today."

But in the days since, human rights and Jewish organizations have condemned Rota's recognition, saying Hunka served in a Nazi military unit known as the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS.

"This house is above any of us, therefore I must step down as your speaker," Rota said in parliament Tuesday afternoon, reiterating his "profound regret for my error."

"That public recognition has caused pain to individuals and communities, including the Jewish community in Canada and around the world, in addition to survivors of Nazi atrocities in Poland, among other nations," Rota, who is a member of the Liberal party, added. "I accept full responsibility for my actions."

Rota's recognition of Hunka last week prompted a standing ovation. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has called the incident "deeply embarrassing."

The 14th Waffen Grenadier Division was part of the Nazi SS organization declared a criminal organization by the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg in 1946, which determined the Nazi group had committed war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Jewish human rights organization B'nai Brith Canada in a statement condemned the Ukrainian volunteers who served in the unit as "ultra-nationalist ideologues" who "dreamed of an ethnically homogenous Ukrainian state and endorsed the idea of ethnic cleansing."

Recognizing Hunka was "beyond outrageous," B'nai Brith Canada CEO Michael Mostyn said, adding, "We cannot allow the whitewashing of history."

"Canadian soldiers fought and died to free the world from the evils of Nazi brutality," he said.

Rota apologized in a statement Sunday and on the floor of parliament Tuesday, when he said he had "become aware of more information which causes me to regret my decision to recognize this individual."

Rota took full responsibility, saying it was his decision alone to acknowledge Hunka, who Rota said is from his electoral district.

"No one - not even anyone among you, fellow parliamentarians, or from the Ukrainian delegation - was privy to my intention or my remarks prior to their delivery," he said.