This blog continues to examine changes to Canadian foreign policy regarding Ukraine following the October 19, 2015 federal election and formation of government by the Liberal Party of Canada. Meanwhile, the number of civilian casualties in eastern Ukraine is at the highest point since August 2015 despite the so-called Minsk “ceasefire” agreements.
Below, the following four points were posed in a previous blog post and and compared to the current actions of the Liberals since the election. In short, the Trudeau Government has moved away from being a leading G7 member on supporting Ukraine and has made several conflicting decisions to date:
1. “Who is going to champion Ukrainian issues in the new government is yet to be seen, but the front-runner has to be Chrystia Freeland (University-Rosedale, Ontario).”
- Unfortunately, Minster Freeland continues to be visibly absent on the Ukraine file, except from her brief appearance in Ukraine with the Prime Minister to sign a historic Canada-Ukraine Free Trade Agreement (CUFTA), which was negotiated by the previous government last year.
- Minister of Foreign Affairs Stéphane Dion has emerged as the most vocal Minister on Ukraine, while unfortunately making a number of statements showing the change of Canadian foreign policy towards Ukraine and Russia. For instance, CBC reported that Minister Dion regarding Russia – “Cooperation is often in our interest – on environmental issues, for example – given that we are Arctic neighbours, facing similar challenges due to our shared geography.” Last month, Dion met with Russia’s Foreign Minister further indicating Canada’s willingness to re-engage with Russia. Simply, Dion ignores Russian involvement in the illegal annexation of Crimea and the evidence of Russian participation in the Donbas conflict, which has resulted in over 10,000 dead and over 1.5 million internally displaced people. Simply, Dion sends contradictory messages to Canada’s allies around the world, including the G7.
2. “It remains to be seen if the new government can continue to provide as much support to Ukraine as the previous Conservative government.”
- Yes, CUFTA has been signed, but negotiations were started and concluded by the previous Conservative government. Additional financial aid for “containment and safe storage of radioactive materials resulting from the 1986 accident” has also been provided, sanctions on “individuals and entities for activities relation to Russia and Ukraine” have been introduced, and further support for Ukraine’s reform efforts such as the provision on police training and OSCE monitors have been offered.
- As Ukraine is still actively defending its sovereign territory against Russian aggression, Prime Minister Trudeau has continuously dodged questions about the extension of Canada’s military training mission in western Ukraine, Operation UNIFIER, and also failed to sign or discuss a defence cooperation agreement with the Ukrainian military during his official state visit. Lastly, the Liberal government recently cancelled the supply of critical RADARSAT satellite imagery, further evidence of a shift in Canada-Ukraine relations since the last federal election.
3. “According to Ms. Freeland, the Liberals support initiatives in the House of Commons to assist Ukraine and called for additional measures to be taken such as travel bans on individuals with close ties to the Russian President and have business connections in Canada. Moreover, she has also urged that Russian banks be excluded from the SWIFT (Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication) system.”
- Since the federal election, the Liberals have not only been silent on these promises, but they have also allowed a “Trojan horse” to lead an official Canadian Trade and Business Mission to Ukraine. MPs James Bezan and Tony Clement reported that the Canada Eurasia Russia Business Association (CERBA) led a business mission for the Canadian airspace industry to Ukraine in May 2016. CEBRA is a business lobby group that operates in Canada to largely promote Russian businesses. MP Bezan posted a press-release on his Facebook page which discussed this business mission and pointed out the following: “In addition to criticizing Canadian sanctions, members of CERBA also have strong links to Vladamir Putin and the Kremlin kleptocracy. One of their board members, Piotr Dutkewicz is a member of the Valdai group, of which Putin is also a member, an exclusive group of ‘academics’ from around the world who are nothing more than apologists for Russia. This is another example of how Minister Dion has mismanaged the Ukraine file. Moreover, Minister Freeland was scheduled to speak at a conference sponsored by CERBA in June 2016: https://cerba22.wildapricot.
- Additionally, Minister Dion continues to reject an all-party effort to pass the so-called Sergei Magnitsky Law, named after the Russian lawyer who was imprisoned, tortured and ultimately died in a Russian jail for exposing corruption in Russian business circles and government. Introduced by Manitoba MP James Bezan, Bill C-267, The Justice for Victims of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act, proposes “restrictive measures against foreign nationals responsible for gross violations of internationally recognized human rights.”
- Petition E-394: https://petitions.parl.gc.ca/
- It is important to note that the Liberal Party of Canada was in favour of passing such a law during the election campaign last year before deciding to flip-flop and reject this legislation despite public pressure from sitting and former Liberal MPs. Others like Mr. Bill Browder, a former investor in Russia and the champion of the Magnitskiy Act around the world, have also called upon the federal government to swiftly adopt Bill C-267. Mr. Browder said in his Globe & Mail op-ed that “to my horror, instead of embracing the Magnitsky Act, Foreign Minister Stéphane Dion rejected it out of hand.” Further, Browder tweeted “Kremlin propaganda outfit Sputnik news celebrating Canadian Foreign Minister Dion’s rejection of Magnitsky Act”. This latest flip-flop from the Minister’s office demonstrates indecisiveness and weakness in the eyes of Ukraine, G7 and other world leaders.
4. “In fact, the only official promise outlined in the Liberal’s platform was a commitment to continue Canada’s participation in NATO’s Operation REASSURANCE in central and eastern Europe as well as the multinational training mission in Ukraine (Operation UNIFIER).”
- The Trudeau Government has committed to deploying Canadian forces to the Baltics under the auspices of NATO’s Operation REASSURANCE. This was the only promise regarding Ukraine in the Liberal Party Platform released prior to the 2015 federal election.
- Lastly, the rhetoric of the Trudeau Government on Ukraine doesn’t match reality when Liberal MPs participate in rallies and events organized by the pro-Putin supporters in Canada. For example:
- Liberal MP Michael Levitt participated in the opening of the Russia House in Toronto hosted by some pro-Putin sympathizers and activists ( https://www.youtube.com/
- MP Michael Levitt and MP Adam Vaughan also participated in the commemoration event with the pro-Putin supporters on May 8, 2016 in Toronto. A similar rally took place in Winnipeg on May 8. Wisely, representatives from the federal and provincial governments did not participate in the show by the Manitoba Legislative Building. All pro-putin rallies on May 8 across Canada distributed the St. George’s ribbon to participants. This ribbon was created under the Putin regime in 2000 to celebrate the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945 and recently became the symbol of the occupation of Ukraine when Russia-backed terrorists and separatist wore the ribbons during the attacks on Ukrainian forces:
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These actions clearly do not match the government’s words on the Ukraine file, and appear to further demonstrate Canada’s growing appeasement of Russia under the Trudeau Government. I’d let Canadians judge whether the new Prime Minister truly gets it on Ukraine.