Speaker of the House of Commons, Anthony Rota, at Parliament in Ottawa, September 25, 2023. BLAIR GABLE / REUTERS
He had been under pressure for several days. The Speaker of the House of Commons of Canada announced on Tuesday, September 26, his resignation following the scandal caused by the tribute paid Friday in Parliament, on the occasion of Volodymyr Zelensky’s visit, to a Ukrainian veteran who fought with the Nazis during World War II.
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“It is with a heavy heart that I rise to inform members of my resignation as Speaker of the House of Commons”declared Anthony Rota in front of Parliament, speaking of “his deep regrets for his mistake”. All parties were calling for his resignation – including the leaders of his clan, the Liberals of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The latter had spoken of a tribute “unacceptable” et ” embarrassing “.
“I accept full responsibility for my actions. My resignation will take effect at the end of the sitting day tomorrow, Wednesday September 27, to allow preparations for the election of a new president.explained M. Rota.
During the Ukrainian president’s visit to Ottawa on Friday, Anthony Rota applauded Yaroslav Hunka, a 98-year-old Ukrainian veteran accused of having fought in the Schutzstaffel, more commonly referred to by its acronym SS. He had presented this man as a “Ukrainian hero” coming from his electoral district. MPs from all parties, Justin Trudeau, his government and Volodymyr Zelensky, of Jewish faith, stood up to applaud Yaroslav Hunka, ignoring the details of his past.
But, according to the Canadian Jewish community advocacy group, Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies (FSWC), Mr. Hunka served in the 14th SS Division, a Nazi military unit whose Crimes against humanity during the Holocaust are well documented.
“This gesture of public recognition has caused pain to individuals and communities, including the Jewish community in Canada (…) as well as Holocaust survivors in Poland. I accept full responsibility for my actions”added Mr. Rota, who had already apologized on Sunday for this invitation, explaining that he was “the sole person responsible for this initiative”. Elected for the first time in 2004 under the liberal banner, Mr. Rota, 62, has been re-elected five times. He has been the Speaker of the House of Commons since 2019.
A “victory” for “Russian propaganda”
His apologies were not enough in the face of the controversy which threatened to fall on the Canadian Prime Minister. On Tuesday, many members of the government took to the front: Mélanie Joly, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, estimated that Mr. Rota had no choice and had to resign, speaking of “shame for Canadians”.
For the Conservative Party, the main opposition force in Canada and rising in the polls, the Trudeau government is responsible for not having checked Mr. Hunka’s background before paying tribute to him. For the Friends of the Simon-Wiesenthal Center, this incident “compromised the integrity of all 338 members of Parliament and also delivered a propaganda victory to Russia”.
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Russia in fact accuses the Ukrainian leaders of being “neo-Nazis” and advances, as justification for war, the necessity of “denazify” his neighbour. The Canadian episode therefore risks further fueling this rhetoric: the Kremlin spokesperson, Dmitri Peskov, also spoke of “scandal”Russian media reported.
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Poland requests investigation with a view to “possible extradition”
Furthermore, the Polish Minister of Education announced that he had requested an investigation to verify whether Yaroslav Hunka has not committed crimes in Poland, with a view to his possible extradition.
“In view of the scandalous events that took place in the Canadian parliament, where a member of the Nazi criminal group SS Galizien was honored in the presence of President Zelensky, I have taken steps towards the possible extradition of this man to Poland “a écrit Przemyslaw Czarnek sur X (ancien Twitter).
In a letter also published on X, the minister asked the president of the Institute of National Memory IPN, responsible for investigating Nazi and communist crimes, to “urgently check the documents whether Yaroslav Hunka is not wanted for crimes against the Polish people and Poles of Jewish origin”.
“The characteristics of these crimes constitute the basis for requesting his extradition to Canada”he added in this letter.
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