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Senate Bills 276 and 278 deserve speedy passage

Oct 24, 2023 | Editorials, Featured

Senator Kutcher on Ukraine Heritage Month Bill. YouTube

Marco Levytsky, Editorial Writer.

Two bills, both of which received Second Reading in Senate of Canada last week, are of major importance to the Ukrainian Community here and to war-torn Ukraine itself. These are Bill S-276, An Act Respecting Ukrainian Heritage Month, which would establish September as Ukrainian Heritage Month in Canada; and Bill S-278, An Act to amend the Special Economic Measures Act (disposal of foreign state assets).

Bill S-276 was introduced by Independent Senator Dr. Stan Kutcher from Nova Scotia. A Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry at Dalhousie University, Dr Kutcher is also a first generation Canadian born to Ukrainian refugees; his parents survived World War II and made a new life for themselves and their families in Canada.

Currently, three provinces, Alberta, Ontario and Manitoba celebrate Ukrainian Canadian Heritage Day –on September 7, the day in 1891 when the first Ukrainian settlers arrived in Canada.

If passed, this bill would provide all Canadians with an opportunity to celebrate, reflect on, and learn about the many contributions made by Ukrainian Canadians to Canada’s unique social and historical fabric for an entire month.

“We are fortunate in Canada to have a social and cultural tapestry woven by many hands. The important contributions made by Ukrainian Canadians, throughout history and in the present, have helped form the country we live in today. This bill is an opportunity to recognize our Ukrainian heritage and provide opportunities for learning and celebration each year,” says Sen. Kutcher.

Speaking during Second Reading on October 17, Sen. Kutcher stated that the bond between Canada and Ukraine has been forged over many decades and is still being moulded.

“Since February 2022, all Canadians have become keenly aware of these bonds between Canada and Ukraine.

“Russia’s genocidal and illegal war on Ukraine has reminded us of the historic tragedies that we hoped were long gone but that are now re-emerging. This invasion not only threatened to destroy Ukraine but is also an attack on the shared values that bind us together — values such as human rights, democracy and the international rule of law,” he said.

“This history is part of the heritage that defines Ukrainian Canadians and binds them to others living in this country whose heritage includes similar memories. It is a history with deep and tragic roots, including about 4 million deaths during Holodomor, the Stalin-imposed famine, and between 8 and 14 million killed in World War II,” added Kutcher.

“As the Ukrainian people defend their country from Russia’s genocidal aggression, Ukrainian Heritage Month in Canada will provide an occasion for us to reflect on the values of freedom and democracy that unite us all,” stated Alexandra Chyczij, National President of the UCC. “It will also be an opportunity to celebrate the many important contributions Ukrainian Canadians have made to our country for the past 130 years.

Bill S-278, introduced by Ratna Omidvar, a refugee from Iran and an Independent Senator from Ontario, seeks to amend the Special Economic Measures Act (SEMA) to allow for a legal mechanism to seize and repurpose the state assets of perpetrators who breach international peace and security and to redirect those assets to the victims whose lives have been shattered.

Under current legislation, Canada is now legally able to seize the frozen assets of corrupt foreign officials and non-state entities and repurpose them to alleviate the suffering of the people who have been harmed. But while the new law applies and is being applied to oligarch assets, it gets ensnared in other legislation when it comes to the confiscation, seizure and forfeiture of state assets located in Canada. “State assets, particularly central bank assets, are where the big money lies, the big money that is required to rebuild Ukraine,” says Sen. Omidvar.

Bill S-278 amends SEMA to allow for the confiscation of state assets by executive action, thereby creating two paths for seizure: one through the courts for individual assets, and another through executive action by the Governor-in-Council.

“The invasion of Ukraine by Russia provides a clear context for this proposal,” she said during Second Reading on October 17. “Russia has launched an unnecessary, illegal and brutal war. It has destroyed the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of people — fathers, brothers, mothers, sisters and children have been lost. Cities have been reduced to rubble, and infrastructure has been bombed. People have been captured and tortured, and, still, there is no end in sight.”

She also referred to the recent attack of Hamas in Israel. “Although there is no proof that Russia supplied weapons to Hamas, we know that Russia supports it… Russia desires chaos. It desires to destabilize the world and the rules-based order as we know it.

“For these and many other reasons, we must hold rogue actors like Russia to account, but we must do so by carving out a legal pathway. It is difficult to quantify the misery of Ukraine in dollars and cents, but the World Bank has estimated the cost of war at US$600 billion,” she said.

While most legislation originates in the House of Commons, the Senate can propose bills as well. Like in the House, these go through two readings, followed by committee sessions and finally Third Reading, after which it goes to the House for approval. This can be a long process at times which is why we urge all Members of Parliament to ensure a speedy passage. This is particularly true of Bill S-278. A recent poll shows that 81 percent of Canadians support (59%) or somewhat support (22%) Canada seizing the state assets of the Russian government that are held in Canada and using those assets to help the victims of the war against Ukraine. That is one reason for speedy passage. The other is the urgency of providing support for Ukraine in order to ensure victory. Because the longer this war lasts the greater the cost in both human life, civilian infrastructure and global security.

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