With applause for an ex-Nazi, shame comes to the Commons

There are no words to describe the stupidity of the Speaker of the House of Commons, Anthony Rota, who managed to transform the visit of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky into a diplomatic blunder that went around the world. By inadvertently inviting a former Nazi fighter to the Commons, Mr. Rota discredited the Trudeau government, tarnished Canada’s reputation on the international stage and destroyed its credibility.

His apologies and explanations are not enough. Mr. Rota must resign as president, as demanded by the Bloc Québécois and the New Democratic Party. The Liberal MP will do less harm on the back benches of the Commons.

To those who assert that Mr. Rota, while contrite, deserves a second chance, we advise a careful rereading of the role and responsibilities of the Speaker of the House of Commons in our parliamentary system. Elected by his peers, the president interprets and applies the practices of the Chamber, ensures the smooth running of the work, and assumes administrative and diplomatic responsibilities, such as welcoming leaders of other countries and foreign dignitaries. He can even act as a representative of the Chamber and spokesperson at international events.

As NDP MP Peter Julian summed it up, the Speaker “is the face of the House”, the one who represents “the members and [leur] common commitment to democratic principles and institutions.” Can we imagine for a single moment that Mr. Rota could now carry out his duties without becoming a distraction? He will have neither the serenity nor the respect of his peers internationally to represent Canada and its democratic institutions with dignity. The fact that he hasn’t figured it out yet is itself another indicator of his terrible lack of judgment.

Mr. Rota apologized for inviting Yaroslav Hunka to the Commons during President Volodymyr Zelensky’s visit. He took all the blame, saying he acted alone. No one among his parliamentary colleagues or the Ukrainian delegation was aware of his remarks or his intentions, he said. Mr. Rota introduced Hunka as “a Ukrainian hero, a Canadian hero,” which earned him a standing ovation.

A few hours later, the Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Center revealed that Hunka had been part of a volunteer unit placed under the command of the Nazis during World War II. The division he was part of was “responsible for the massacre of innocent civilians with an unimaginable level of brutality and viciousness,” the organization denounced.

This raises serious questions about the validation process of the Speaker of the House of Commons, especially since the presence in Canada of Ukrainian soldiers who were part of the SS has already been the subject of a commission of inquiry, in 1986. We are not talking here about a hidden or unpublished fact, even if the story is old. Perspective and historical hindsight would have allowed Anthony Rota to sort things out.

And what about his apologies? They are of a good-natured simplism. His intention was “to demonstrate that the conflict between Russia and Ukraine is not new, that Ukrainians have unfortunately been subjected to foreign aggression for too long and that this must stop.” What depth of reasoning.

This story is a mess. Even if Anthony Rota strives to take all the blame for his actions, the fact remains that his actions and the position he holds entail Canada’s moral responsibility. MPs or members of their respective families have fought fascism and anti-Semitism. Some of them, including Mr. Zelensky, are direct descendants of Holocaust victims, exterminated by the millions because they were Jewish.

Through his error of judgment, President Rota forced his counterparts to applaud in the Commons a Nazi veteran, an accomplice in the unspeakable atrocities committed by the Third Reich. He invited shame to the Commons. He has irreparably broken the bond of trust he needs to carry out his duties, as summarized by the leader of the Bloc Québécois, Yves-François Blanchet.

The Trudeau government will bear the brunt of this blunder on the international stage. Russia is already making a profit by giving moral and history lessons to Canada for having failed in its duty of remembrance in the face of the Holocaust and fascism. On X, the Russian embassy in Canada deplored Canada’s glorification of “Nazi butchers”.

These days, the Kremlin does not need evil words to carry out its propaganda work. Domestically, Russian President Vladimir Putin has justified the invasion of Ukraine as a cleansing operation aimed at “demilitarizing and de-Nazifying” the neighboring country. Courtesy of Canada, he has material to promote this humbug theory.

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