Mr. Speaker, I would like to start by saying dobry den to all my Ukrainian friends and Ukrainian Canadians who I know are watching this evening.
I stand here with a great sense of frustration. As my colleague the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Development mentioned, we were all here in December debating this very same issue. I myself have made four visits to Ukraine on behalf of the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Government of Canada in the last two years. I visited Kiev, Kharkiv, Lviv, Sambir, and many other places. Wherever I went, I saw the people of Ukraine striving for democracy, freedom, a chance at a better economic future, integration with Europe, and yet the government of President Yanukovych refuses to listen to the people of Ukraine.
We sent a 500-person election monitoring mission to the last parliamentary elections in Ukraine, and we found many problems there. Canada sent the largest international election observation mission. Whether the next presidential election is held this year or in 2015, Canada will again be sending a large international election observation mission. Canada cares about Ukraine.
We should be here tonight celebrating the success of Ukraine. We should be celebrating Ukrainian democracy. We should be celebrating Ukraine’s integration with Europe. Instead, we are here to once again condemn this repressive government that wants to continually repress its people’s right to freedom and democracy. It wants to repress the rule of law, freedom of speech, and freedom of the press. It wants to hold back people’s economic opportunities. In short, the Ukrainian government refuses to listen to the people it professes to govern and support.
I would like to begin by thanking all of the parties for agreeing to have this important emergency debate this evening. This is an issue that is near and dear to all of us in the House, given that Ukrainian Canadians have played such an instrumental role in building Canada.
More than 1.3 million Canadians have Ukrainian heritage. That number of people mixed among the total population of Canada, approximately 34 million Canadians, in my view makes Canada the most Ukrainian country in the world outside of Ukraine.
Whether we have Ukrainian heritage of our own or just have a good neighbour or friend of Ukrainian heritage, people all across Canada know the efforts Ukrainians have made for over 120 years to build this country. They are integrated in all levels of Canadian society. They are doctors, lawyers, athletes, musicians, and academics, and they are Canadians.
The first wave of Ukrainian immigrants to Canada came in, rode on a railway to the end of the line, were given a bag of seed and a shovel, and were told to walk another 100 miles, where they would find some land. Then they were to make it work. They opened up western Canada.
In my hometown of Hamilton, Ontario, they came to work in the steel industries and built those industries. The neighbourhood where I grew up in Hamilton was 50% Ukrainian. Every day I saw how they contributed to this great country.
A few years ago I had the distinct honour of practising law with the Right Hon. Ramon Hnatyshyn, former Governor General of Canada, who was the first Governor General of Canada of Ukrainian origin and who held many roles in this very House as a member of Parliament for many years and in many different ministerial portfolios.
As we know, Canada has a long and proud history of supporting democracy in Ukraine. It is appropriate that Canada is having this emergency debate tonight, because on December 2, 1991, Canada became the very first western country to recognize Ukraine’s independence. Ever since that day, Canada has had a strong connection with Ukraine. That recognition was initiated by former prime minister Mulroney.
In 2004, Canadians across this country watched their television sets as Ukrainians came together in that very same Maidan, asking for freedom in the Orange Revolution.
We were all glued to our TV sets to hear of the latest developments, and we were encouraged to see the outpouring of democracy in Ukraine. Unfortunately, things have taken a turn for the worse in recent years.
We implore the Ukrainian government to protect their people’s right to peaceful, democratic protest and free speech. With tonight’s emergency debate, we have the opportunity to send a strong message back to Ukraine and back to President Yanukovych and his regime.
Today Ukrainians in the Maidan and across Ukraine are rejecting their Soviet past and instead embracing western ideals of freedom, democracy, human rights, the rule of law, and balanced justice. That is what the people of Ukraine are saying with the recent protests. They are fighting for a better future. They are fighting for hope.
Canada’s position has been clear. We are deeply disappointed with the Ukrainian government’s reaction to these peaceful protests. The new laws passed by President Viktor Yanukovych give the Ukrainian government, police, and security services harsh new powers that severely limit individual rights and freedoms. Our government believes that this is fundamentally inconsistent with democratic practice and of grave concern to all those who are committed to a free and democratic Ukraine.
While in Kiev just this past December, our Minister of Foreign Affairs met with his Ukrainian counterpart, Minister Kozhara, to express Canada’s grave concerns about the Ukrainian government’s crackdown on mass protests. Our minister also expressed to Minister Kozhara Canada’s expectation of the Ukrainian government to carry out an independent inquiry into the killings.
As a Canadian and a parliamentarian, I was proud to see our Minister of Foreign Affairs in Kiev defending the values we all hold dear. This was mentioned a few minutes ago in debate. Our minister, the Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs, went to the Maidan, to Independence Square in Kiev, to stand with those protesters. I do not believe any other foreign minister in the world has done that.
Other members of this House, such as the member for Etobicoke Centre, were also there in December, standing shoulder to shoulder with the freedom-loving protesters in the Maidan and asking for a better future for all Ukrainians. At the same time, there were those in the opposition who were criticizing the Minister of Foreign Affairsfor being there, suggesting that perhaps he should not be at a protest, because that would indicate that Canada was taking one side over the other. I think it was the right thing to do and I think most Canadians think it was the right thing to do.
Our government has been engaged on this file, and we will continue to be. We urge the Ukrainian government to find a political solution by engaging in a real dialogue. We urge all Ukrainians to avoid violence. Continued violence will further undermine democracy and freedom in Ukraine and bring serious consequences.
We will review and consider all possible options, together with our international partners. Our Minister of Foreign Affairs Is meeting with the European Union foreign minister, the Hon. Catherine Ashton, and with other foreign ministers from the United States and from our other allies around the world so that we can collectively speak with a strong voice to condemn these actions in Ukraine and hopefully bring about some changes in Ukraine that will ensure freedom of protest and democracy and freedom of speech for the people of Ukraine. We will stand with the Ukrainian people, who courageously continue to speak out in support of democracy.
When we are discussing the current situation in Ukraine, I think it is also important to address the issue of religious freedom. I was pleased to see that Canada’s ambassador for religious freedom, the Hon. Andrew Bennett, was just in Ukraine over this past weekend in order to raise Canada’s concerns regarding the oppression of religious freedom and the attacks by the Yanukovych regime on the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. The last time we saw such repression was under Joseph Stalin, and no one wants to see Ukraine return to those days.
While in Kiev, Ambassador Bennett met with various clergy, including His Beatitude Patriarch Sviatoslav of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and Patriarch Filaret of the Orthodox Church. I would like to note that instead of suppressing the voices of religious groups, Ukraine should be embracing the important role that can be played by clergy and faith-based organizations in encouraging dialogue among all parties.
As history has shown us, the suppression of religious freedom is often a predictor for the abuse of other fundamental human rights. Freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and freedom of religion are important principles of any truly democratic country. Canada has shown that we are committed to advancing democracy in Ukraine, and despite Ukraine’s recent tilt toward Russia, our government remains committed to long-term democratic development there. In fact, in 2012 Canada fielded its largest-ever international electoral observation mission by sending 500 Canadians to Ukraine.
Overall, Canada provided $11.4 million in support of the 2012 election process, particularly through Mission Canada, but also through support to Ukrainian civil society organizations that mobilized thousands of young volunteers to conduct their own election monitoring and public awareness campaigns.
Canada understands that a functioning and growing democracy needs active informed citizens, a free press, well functioning public institutions and the rule of law. Over the last 20-plus years, Canada has made an investment of approximately half a billion dollars in the development of democracy in Ukraine. That is because the people of Canada care about Ukraine. They want to see their friends and relatives, their brothers and sisters, the relatives of those who gave so much to our country have the same freedoms and opportunities for prosperity that we have here in Canada.
Canadian development assistance to Ukraine has always reflected this and will continue to do so. Despite Canada’s ongoing contributions and those from many other countries wanting and working for a more free and democratic Ukraine, recent events demonstrate that a democratic deficit still exists.
Earlier this evening mention was made of the report by the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development to the House on the situation in Ukraine. That happened in May 2012. I was a member of that delegation, as was my colleague, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Development, and many other members of the House.
We visited Kharkiv, Kiev, Lviv and Sambir. We met with people from all walks of life in Ukraine, ranging from members of parliament, members of the government, and members of the opposition to academics and people in the media. We found that there were many problems that needed to be addressed in Ukraine. We submitted the report to the House and it is very instructive. I would encourage all members of the House to read that report, because there are issues going on in Ukraine that started quite a few years ago and continue. We have seen them get worse and worse these last few months in Maidan and other places across Ukraine.
In conclusion, Mr. Speaker, I want to thank you for granting us the ability to discuss the situation in Ukraine this evening. It is important for us to send a message that Canada and the world is watching. Canada is deeply troubled by the anti-democratic trends emerging in Ukraine. On that I will say that I have read quotes today by opposition leaders in Ukraine who know that this debate is taking place tonight in the Canadian Parliament. They are watching. Tomorrow the Verkhovna Rada will be meeting in Kiev. They will be debating these issues. I hope that these comments they are hearing tonight from us will give them courage to stand up for democratic principles and freedoms in Ukraine.
Canada is deeply troubled by these anti-democratic trends emerging in Ukraine, and our Prime Minister and our Conservative government will continue to stand with those Ukrainians who believe in freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law.
Slava Ukraine! Slava Canada!