Kateryna Bandura for New Pathway – Ukrainian News.
President of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress Alexandra Chyczij called on Canada’s Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland to provide direct support to Ukraine in a form of defensive weapons.
“Minister, I know that you're not able to make an announcement this evening, but I would be remiss if I did not ask for greater deterrence in the form of defensive weapons for Ukraine,” Chyczij said on January 19 during a virtual town hall discussion on the situation in Ukraine.
“If Ukraine falls, Russia will be a direct neighbor of NATO allies. And I don't think that that's anything that anyone wants to see,” she said.
The call came during a townhall meeting, hosted by MP for Parkdale-High Park Arif Virani. It provided an opportunity for Canadian politicians and members and friends of the Ukrainian Canadian community to engage in a conversation on a few important topics surrounding crisis in Ukraine. Other attendees included The Hon. Bill Blair, President of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada and Minister of Emergency Preparedness; Rob Oliphant, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs; Yvan Baker, MP for Etobicoke Centre; and James Maloney, MP for Etobicoke-Lakeshore.
Although Freeland was not going to make any “groundbreaking announcements”, as she said, she added that there is an overt and dangerous piece of disinformation that needs to be recognized and countered “very forcefully.”
“When we think about disinformation, we think about things like troll factories and smear campaigns,” Freeland said. “With the amassing of Russian troops on the Ukrainian border, and the public positioning we've seen from Russia, what we've seen Vladimir Putin try to do is shift the conversation.”
Freeland said that Putin has tried to portray Russia as threatened and needing to be appeased. That, she said, is simply the single biggest disinformation effort out there.
“What is going on here is a democratic country, whose people have chosen a way to govern themselves and have chosen to be sovereign and independent, are being threatened,” Freeland said. “They have already been invaded and they are being told that their own alliances and security relationships ought to be not their own sovereign choice, but ought to be decided above their heads.”
Freeland said that a strong Ukraine means a strong Europe.
“It means strong democracy in Europe, and a strong Ukraine strengthens the democratic idea in the whole world,” she said. “You can be a smaller country living next to a bigger country, and it doesn't mean you automatically get to be just invaded whenever the bigger country feels like it.”
Freeland continuously reaffirmed Canada’s continuous support to Ukraine.
“What is happening with Ukraine right now, I believe is the most important geopolitical issue in the world,” Freeland said. “[It’s] a fight between democracy and authoritarianism, between the sovereign right of people to choose their destiny, and imperialism.”
Freeland said that Ukraine matters to Canadian foreign policy, and that Ukraine should matter to every single Canadian.
“It is so important that Canada draws on our long tradition, our history of a close relationship with Ukraine,” she said.
Operation Unifier – Canada’s ongoing effort to help Ukrainians defend their sovereignty – has been going on since 2015, which Freeland called “a tremendous success”.
“It has been a success because it has trained thousands of young Ukrainians in uniform, and strengthened Ukraine's capacity to defend itself. It has been a success because it has helped to make Canada an expert in Ukraine,” she said.
That military-to-military connection offered some unexpected bonuses, such as when the Ukrainian soldiers helped Globe and Mail translators get out of Kabul and get to Canada.
Chyczij said that Operation Unifier has provided Canada with a unique strategic ability.
“We certainly hope for an extension of Operation Unifier and, of course, expansion of it,” she said.
Freeland also commented on the Magnitsky legislation and the sanctions that would be applied against Russia, which she said would be “very tough”. Freeland assured that Canada and allies will act swiftly and with determination in the event of further Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Canada has significant sanctions against Russia that were put in place as a response to the ongoing illegal invasion and annexation of Crimea, and to the ongoing illegal actions in the Donbas.
“And let me just say, I really hope that day never comes,” Freeland said.
Although Canada has used those sanctions, the Ukrainian Canadian community has been asking for their greater use against human rights violators. Chyczij said that violations of the rights of Crimean Tatars, as well as Ukrainians in the Donbass, have yet to be sanctioned.
“I think that personal sanctions against Putin's inner circle are perhaps critical at this stage, because that will change the calculus for his inner circle when they're weighing the cost benefit of supporting Putin's drive for further escalation,” Chyczij said.
The attendees also discussed the potential refugee migration in case of a war outburst.
Freeland said that Ukraine is already facing a very significant challenge with internally displaced people, given the annexation of Crimea, and the occupation of a significant part of the Donbass.
“They have an internal refugee crisis, with internally displaced people from the Donbass and from Crimea,” she said. “If you stand back, it is extraordinary that they have stood strong against Russian occupation since 2014.”
Would the refugee crisis get worse in the event of further invasion? “Absolutely,” Freeland said.
“We really need to recognize the strength of the people of Ukraine in holding the line. And I think we really need to appreciate the seriousness, the gravity of the struggle that is going on right now.”
Chyczij said that the displacement in seven per cent of Ukraine's territory, which is the occupied areas, of Donbass and Luhansk, resulted in one and a half million internally displaced persons.
“You can only imagine what that number would look like if this were to extend beyond the currently occupied territories,” she said.
To further address the crisis in Ukraine, MP for Etobicoke Centre Yvan Baker on January 19 sent a letter to the Hon. Mark Holland, Leader of the Government in the House of Commons. Baker, along with eight Liberal MPs, requested an urgent Take-Note Debate in the House of Commons on Ukraine and Russia's military buildup on its borders.
They also requested the holding of an Emergency Debate on this issue if there is no consensus amongst all parties to hold this debate.
Baker said that the emergency take-note debate in the House of Commons would provide a formal and urgent opportunity for Members of Parliament of all parties to discuss Canada’s and the international community’s response to this crisis.
“We can never stop that we must constantly be working to support Ukraine and support Ukraine's sovereignty and independence,” Baker said during the townhall meeting.
Holland positively responded shortly after receiving the letter.
“We have received this important letter from Liberal MP @Yvan_Baker. We fully agree with his call for an urgent debate in the House on Ukraine and the threat from Russia. We will support prioritizing an urgent debate as soon as the House returns,” Holland said on Twitter.
During the townhall meeting Baker said that Canada must ensure support to Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity.
“If we do that successfully, then we'll be able to celebrate Ukraine's independence not only for one year, not only for 30 years, but for generations to come,” Baker said.
This article is written under the Local Journalism Initiative agreement