Canadian lawmakers gave a standing ovation to Yaroslav Hunka, 98, after Rota recognized him as a “hero” following Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s historic speech in Parliament on Friday — a moment that produced some of the best visuals from Zelenskyy’s visit.
But the story took a twisted turn and burst into global headlines over the weekend when it came out that Hunka was part of the First Ukrainian Division, also known as the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS under the Nazis.
“This was an embarrassment to Canadians and was completely unacceptable,” Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly said Tuesday before meeting with Cabinet.
Some opposition parties began to make calls for Rota’s resignation early Monday, when NDP House Leader Peter Julian said Rota broke a “sacred trust” with lawmakers.
But the issue only came to a head on Tuesday, when representatives of each party met with Rota. He remained in the speaker’s chair and presided over House of Commons proceedings Monday after apologizing despite much of the debate focusing on him.
Liberal House Leader Karina Gould said Rota invited and recognized Hunka “without informing either the government or the Ukrainian delegation or any parliamentarian that he was going to do this.”
Rota apologized on Monday after he became aware of Hunka’s Nazi past, although his comments have been brief and he has not taken questions from the media.
“I am deeply sorry that I have offended many with my gesture and remarks,” he said in Parliament.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called it “deeply embarrassing” for Canada, but he has not apologized following calls from opposition parties.
Conservative Party Leader Pierre Poilievre posted on social media that Trudeau and Rota have “brought shame on Canada” but Rota’s resignation does not excuse “Trudeau’s failure to have his massive diplomatic and intelligence apparatus vet and prevent honoring a Nazi.”
State Department spokesperson Matt Miller was asked about the bizarre incident at his daily briefing in Washington and said “The Canadian government said they were not aware of that individual’s past and expressed regret for it, and that seems like the appropriate step.”
In Ottawa, some of Rota’s colleagues stepped forward to defend his character.
“I was elected with Anthony in 2004,” said Health Minister Mark Holland. “He’s a profoundly good man.”
Citizens’ Services Minister Terry Beech described it a “regrettable mistake” and said “nobody has been harder on Anthony Rota than Anthony Rota.”
The Liberals tried to strike the comments and recordings of Hunka’s recognition from the House of Commons record on Monday but the other parties opposed the move.
“It was an ugly reminder of what survivors of the Holocaust know too well: that we must never forget,” said Conservative MP Marty Morantz. “Deleting the text of the speaker’s words from [the official record] would have only one purpose: to try to forget what happened and wash the record clean.”