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Russia-Ukraine conflict a fight between democracy and authoritarianism, Freeland says

Feb 1, 2022 | Featured

Marco Levytsky, Western Bureau Chief.

Canada’s support for Ukraine is support for democracy, says Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland.

“Canada’s Ukraine policy is not about the fact that Canada has such a large and important Ukrainian Canadian community and I want to start there because it’s really important for us to be clear about what is at stake in Ukraine and needs to drive Canada’s involvement. And it’s very important to underline this because of the false narrative we are hearing from Russia every day and because of the way Russia is trying to skew and frame the conversation. So, to be really clear what’s at stake in Ukraine is nothing less than a fight between democracy and authoritarianism,” she said at an online meeting with members of the Ukrainian communities in the three Prairie Provinces, January 24.

This was the second such virtual meeting. The first was organized by Toronto MP Yvan Baker on January 19.

Freeland was joined by Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly, Minister of Emergency Preparedness Bill Blair, Minister of Tourism and Associate Minister of Finance Randy Boissonnault and Winnipeg South Terry Duguid, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change, who served as moderator.

The Ukrainian community was represented by Ihor Michalchyshyn, Executive Director of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress National Office; former Director of the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies Jars Balan for Alberta; Immigration Consultant Iryna Matsiuk from Saskatchewan and Dmytro Malyk, Second Vice President of UCC Manitoba.

Joly elaborated upon Canada’s $120 million loan to stabilize Ukraine’s finances which was announced on January 21.

“They (Ukrainians) are retrieving so much money from their bank accounts, it has had n impact on the economic stability and the currency. And that was the single ask the president made to me directly and to the Prime Minister and to Chrystia, which was provide us quickly with liquidities and at the same time make sure to start a movement,” she explained.

She also noted that the European Union is divided in its approach to the crisis with western members taking a more cautious approach while eastern ones are urging stronger measures.

Joly also pointed out that 70 percent of Russians are against a full-scale invasion.

Balan praised Operation Unifier under which Canadian Armed Forces have trained over 14,000 Ukrainian soldiers, then compared the current situation to the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis and to former British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement of Adolph Hitler in 1938.

“It’s time that Putin gets the message that enough is enough,” he said.

Balan further suggested that the matter be raised at the United Nation at a special session.

Freeland agreed Operation Unifier “has been a tremendous success” and is a two-way street With Ukraine benefitting from Canada and Canada from Ukraine.

Joly said Canada has raised the issue at the UN.

“We definitely think this is something the world should be talking about,” she noted.

Matsiuk said Ukraine is being pressed on all sides and that the community would like to see more action.

She asked whether economic sanctions would help prevent more aggression and, if worst comes to worst, is Canada prepared to deal with the humanitarian crisis.

Regarding sanctions Freeland said: “I do think that it is very important for Canada working with our western allies to respond with the full suite of tools at our disposal. That includes economic sanctions. That includes strengthening and supporting Ukraine and we support Ukraine thorough Operation Unifier.”

As for the humanitarian crisis: “Canada is preparing for every eventuality. But let’s work hard, very, very hard to ensure that doesn’t happen.”

Malyk said he was very disappointed in how the international community reacted to events in 2014 and noted that any further invasion of Ukraine could create a global ripple effect, particularly for countries in Asia and Africa that rely upon Ukrainian agricultural exports.

He also raised the issue of Russian propaganda, specifically Russia Today (RT) which is broadcast in Canada and should be banned.

Freeland agreed that any new invasion would have serious repercussions around the world and, as for taking action against Russian propaganda, “everything is on the table and we have to consider every possible action.”

Approximately 500 people connected with the webinar which was billed as a “virtual town hall”, but was actually a tightly controlled and orchestrated affair with none of the free-wheeling give and take of an in-person town hall meeting.

Freeland herself set the tone when she told participants that there would be no news that evening, but that announcements would be made “in the coming days”.

The question-and-answer period was limited, and the questions carefully selected. When Cassian Solykevych’s question “when can we expect arms and military equipment to be sent to Ukraine as our U.S. and U.K. allies have done” was voiced, moderator Duguid passed it to Freeland noting “you took pains not to answer earlier Chrystia because there may be news coming down the pipe.”

She nevertheless replied, emphasizing: “This is an issue our government is considering urgently. The prime minister is very, very urgently involved as are truly all of our colleagues in cabinet and the whole government. We will have more things to say in the days to come.”

The announcement came the following day.

Towards the end Boissonnault noted that 90 questions had been received. Only six were addressed. New Pathway – Ukrainian News has sent several emails to both Freeland and Duguid’s offices asking whether the rest will be answered in the future or placed online where members of the community could see them. As of press time, we had not received a response.

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