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Conservatives press government to send lethal arms

Feb 8, 2022 | Featured

NDP reject that proposal in House of Commons debate.

Marco Levytsky, National Affairs Editor.

Conservatives pressed the government to provide lethal arms for Ukraine while the New Democrats voiced their opposition to such a move, during a special House of Commons debate on the situation in Ukraine, January 31.

Both the Government of Ukraine and the Ukrainian Canadian community have called upon Canada to send lethal weapons immediately.

“Ukraine is facing a crisis of increasing Russian aggression and a possible further Russian invasion, and Ukraine needs arms to defend itself,” stated the Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC) in a January 26 media release.

“Canada’s NATO allies the United States, the United Kingdom, Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Turkey, the Czech Republic and others are providing Ukraine with lethal defensive assistance. Canada needs to step up now and join our allies in deterring Russian aggression,” it added.

According to a survey conducted by Abacus Data on January 20-21, 3 in 4 Canadians support or are open to supporting Canada providing defensive weapons to Ukraine. The number of Canadians (42%) who explicitly support the provision of weapons to Ukraine by Canada outnumbers the number of Canadians who oppose (23%) the provision of weapons by almost 2 to 1.

Conservative (CPC) Defence Critic and Vice Chair of the Canada-Ukraine Parliamentary Friendship Group (CUPFG) James Bezan set the tone for the Conservatives with his opening question.

“I know that President Zelenskyy and the embassy here have been asking the Government of Canada to provide lethal weapons. The Prime Minister has been completely mute on this. Why has he not supplied lethal weapons to Ukraine? Is he going to wait until Russia invades Ukraine? By then, it is too late,” he said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau replied that “the number one ask from President Zelenskyy was economic support, which we delivered in a $120-million sovereign loan to help the Ukrainians counter the economic destabilization in which Russia is engaging.

“Their other ask, indeed, is a preoccupation with their ability to defend Ukraine’s territorial integrity. On that, we have responded. We have responded by extending and enlarging Canada’s extraordinarily successful mission, which has directly trained up 33,000 members of the Ukrainian defence forces and continues to be one of the most impactful and positive elements of NATO’s support for Ukraine,” he added. He did not address the question of lethal arms.

Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly said that “we are absolutely committed to a diplomatic solution… We also need to invest in deterrence, sanctions and economic support for Ukraine. Extending and expanding Operation Unifier are our immediate actions. On sanctions, any further aggression will have serious consequences, including coordinated economic sanctions with allies. Canada is ready.”

Bezan pressed on.

“I have to say that it has been incredibly disappointing to see the minister go over empty-handed on her trip to Ukraine. She did, after her return, announce $120 million of financial assistance, which I know is welcome, but we know for a fact that there have been demands from the Government of Ukraine for the last several years for more military help, including the provision of lethal weapons.

“When will the minister actually provide the kinetic energy and military might that is required for Ukraine to fend off this potential Russian invasion? When will the Liberals provide those lethal weapons? When will they restore the use of RADARSAT images, which are world-renowned and would really help with the security situation on the ground?

“Will they actually stand with Ukraine rather than just offer empty rhetoric and half measures?”

Joly replied that “right now the most important thing we need to do is make sure that we invest in diplomacy and deterrence, and that is exactly what we are doing.

“Right now, we are really the country that is bridging all the other countries of the alliance together and making sure that there is strong unity, which is the case. We are also specialists in Ukraine because, just as my colleague himself is of Ukrainian descent, we have 1.4 million Ukrainian Canadians in Canada, and therefore we can make sure that people know about Ukraine even within the NATO alliance.”

Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minster Chrystia Freeland was not present for the debate.

CPC Foreign Affairs Critic Michael Chong noted that: “Diplomacy that is not backed up by credible threats to use military force, and in limited and rare circumstances the use of that force, is naive talk and empty rhetoric. That empty talk and rhetoric will result in damage to Canada’s security and the security of Europe and Ukraine. That is what a previous generation of Canadians understood in 1945 when they created the North Atlantic Treaty Organization out of the bloodshed that had happened in the previous 50 years. That is not something the Prime Minister understands. He has said this will only be solved through diplomacy, not through the threat of force to defend democracy. I urge the government to get off of its naive position, defend the rules-based international order and ensure that lethal defensive weaponry is provided to a democracy, to Ukraine, in order to uphold that order.”

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh said that “Canada should continue to work with our allies to find a real diplomatic solution to this looming crisis.

“Canada should focus its efforts on diplomacy, non-lethal assistance and economic sanctions against Russia, including but not limited to the Magnitsky sanctions as a deterrent. Bloodshed must be avoided through coordinated international pressure and stronger sanctions.

“It is not by sending guns that we will succeed in stabilizing the situation… New Democrats have always believed that peace is achievable only through diplomacy. New Democrats urge the Canadian government to continue to do its part to support the people of Ukraine through robust diplomacy. Millions of eastern Europeans are counting on us to help foster peace. Let us not disappoint them,” he added.

Edmonton Strathcona MP and Vice Chair of the CUPFG Heather McPherson echoed his sentiments.

“Canadian Global Affairs Institute fellow Andrew Rasiulis, a defence expert and former Department of National Defence official, has explicitly said that if Canada sends arms to Ukraine, it would aggravate the situation.

“You’d be neutralizing your effect. If you put arms in and then try to negotiate — you could do both, there’s no law against it — but you’d be neutralizing your effect.

“There is still time. Working with its allies, Canada can de-escalate this conflict. We can use economic sanctions. We can include removal of Russia from the SWIFT international payment system and place sanctions on Russia’s sovereign debt. How we respond to this crisis and how we use diplomacy and sanctions to de-escalate this crisis will be an indication of whether Canada is indeed back on the world stage,” she added.

Calgary Shepard CPC MP Tom Kmiec noted that earlier McPherson compared the Russian Federation and President Putin with a bully.

“We know that bullies only respond to strength, not to more talking. At this point, more talking without some type of action, without a response that strengthens Ukraine’s capacity to defend itself, is just going to encourage President Putin and the military to keep preparing for war. They have been moving troops into Belarus on this fake training exercise, so they have this longer undefended border that they could invade through.

“Other countries are already contributing firearms and weapons to Ukraine, whether Turkey, Latvia, Estonia or Poland. They have been providing arms to Ukraine. We know they need to defend themselves. They need the means to try to equalize the huge differences in forces between an all-weather, very professional combat force in the Russian military, and Ukraine, which is still trying to pick itself out of fighting an endless war with Russian separatists, supported by the Russian Federation.

“More talk is not going to achieve this. The bully is not going to go away. The bully is getting more arms, more people and more weapons, and it is delivering more crushing blows to the Ukrainian government.

“I have to disagree with my colleague across the way. Hitting a bully is not the best way to deal with bullying. Realistically, I have a 13-year-old son, and I certainly would not want the member advising him how to deal with bullying at his school,” responded McPherson.

Another issue she raised was “to ensure that the feminist foreign policy is front and centre as we deal with this current crisis in Ukraine and …to ensure that women are at all negotiating tables right now.”

CUPFG Vice Chair Stéphane Bergeron of the Bloc Quebecois expressed concern with Canada’s decision to withdraw non-essential personnel from the embassy, explain this could “stoke the fear of further aggression in Ukraine, which even the Ukrainian authorities have denounced.”

Although none of the Liberal speakers addressed the issue of lethal arms directly, several hinted at it indirectly.

Etobicoke-Centre MP Yvan Baker, Chair of the CUPFG stated: “Ukraine’s security is Europe’s security, it is the world’s security, and it is Canada’s security, so let us take stock of what is needed. Let us take every step we can and every step that is possible. If we do this, we will succeed in deterring an invasion.”

Another was Vancouver-Centre MP Hedy Fry:

“Obviously, we need to try to find a peaceful resolution to conflict, but we also need to have an iron fist… This is a government that we need to stop where it hurts, in the pocketbook and in the personal pocketbook. If that does not work, we need to think about the fact that we, as members of the OSCE and NATO, have to be prepared to take whatever steps we need.”

Davenport MP Julie Dzerowicz stated: “For me, the right choice is to push hard and to explore any and every opportunity for a diplomatic resolution. Providing arms should be our last option, not our first one.”

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