His exit from the stage leaves one Canadian politician in the crosshairs over how the strange and offensive debacle could have possibly happened: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
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. Joly said she has been in contact with her “Ukrainian colleagues” but stopped short of saying anything about what they told her.
In the wake of the bombshell news, Poland’s Education Minister Przemysław Czarnek said he is moving to have Hunka extradited.
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 said he was “deeply sorry” 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.
Conservative MP Melissa Lantsman expressed outrage Tuesday that Hunka was “welcomed and celebrated as a hero” and demanded an apology from the prime minister.
“Nobody from the government has said this man is not a hero,” she said in Parliament. “He is a monster and he had no business being here.”
Trudeau called it “deeply embarrassing” for Canada, but he has not apologized following calls from opposition parties.
Conservative Party Leader Pierre Poilievre said Rota has “taken the fall for this massive shame and embarrassment.”
But he said Rota’s resignation does not excuse the failure of the government to prevent honoring a Nazi, and called for hearings to investigate the vetting process.
“Canada’s reputation is broken,” Poilievre said.
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 caused another uproar over the issue when they moved to strike the comments and recordings of Hunka’s recognition from the House of Commons record on Monday. That bid failed when 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.”
Tuesday lawmakers instead unanimously passed a formal motion that condemned Nazism and Hunka’s invitation to attend Friday; it also withdrew the tribute paid to him.
The position of speaker is a plush job in Canadian politics that comes with a salary top up of roughly $68,800, making for a combined annual salary of $217,800, according to the latest figures from the Library of Parliament.
House speaker is a top administrative role in Parliament that lawmakers vie for in an election among their peers.
It comes with a host of enviable perks, including the speaker’s own branded Scotch and whisky and a gorgeous country farm estate in Gatineau, Quebec called Kingsmere, where Rota was scheduled to host a garden party tonight. That event has been canceled.
Rota did not make any other comments about his future plans, such as whether he will remain on as a lawmaker.