Evidence of meeting #24 for Foreign Affairs and International Development in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was ukrainian.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Oleh Rybachuk  Chairman, United Actions Center
  • Halyna Coynash  Representative, Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group
  • Ihor Kozak  Chairman, External Affairs Committee, League of Ukrainian Canadians National Executive
  • Alyona Hetmanchuk  Director, Institute of World Policy

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Dean Allison

Did you have a quick comment, Mr. Rybachuk? We're almost out of time. I'll let you have a response.

4:50 p.m.

Chairman, United Actions Center

Oleh Rybachuk

Yes, because I have just come to Canada after finishing a tour of 24 major Ukrainian cities, all over Ukraine, where we organized coordination units of Honesty, the parliamentary movement, and I can tell you that we have been joined by probably more than 150 NGOs. I emphasize that it's all over the country; it's like a nervous system that exists in Google groups, thanks to new media, and that allows us to feel confident, to feel that we are shoulder to shoulder.

My impression is that there is no depression in civil society; people all over Ukraine are ready to act. I would just join my colleagues with what is maybe not a strong request but is strong advice, and that is to support the institutional capacity of civil society networks. This is something that could lead to a new quality of politics in Ukraine. Unfortunately, we have 200 parties, but without major promises or differences between them. But something different can come from the civil society. It is a very healthy process that is going on there nowadays.

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Dean Allison

Thank you very much.

We're now going to move to Mr. Bezan.

Welcome, sir. You have five minutes.

March 5th, 2012 / 4:55 p.m.

Conservative

James Bezan Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Thank you, Mr. Chair. It's a pleasure to be able to join the committee today.

I want to thank all of the witnesses for their very honest and forthright presentations.

I'm proud to be part of a government that, going back over the last two decades, has seen Canada being such a strong supporter of Ukraine, starting with Brian Mulroney recognizing the independence of Ukraine in 1991. I was proud to be part of the official delegation led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper just a short while ago.

Also, of course, Parliament and the government supported my bill to recognize the Holodomor as a genocide. As we know, the headache that Ukraine suffers from today is a result of that genocide, the Holodomor. What we see here is that ethnic Russians who were brought in to replace all the millions of Ukrainians who were killed are now influencing this whole political process, based upon ethnicity rather than what's good for Ukraine.

I was there to witness the last presidential elections. I was in Bila Tserkva and I was in Kiev and I saw some of the shenanigans that were being played out. I was shocked, along with many of my fellow people from the Ukrainian community who are here today, at how that election process played out. There was a lack of accountability. There was no transparency on who gets on the deputy list. I was looking forward to some of these reforms, especially with regard to having more direct representation, but with the way it has been presented and the way it's going forward, you have to question the constitutionality of the whole process.

I was there with the Prime Minister, along with our colleagues in the back of the room here, who witnessed how the press has already been brought underneath the thumb of the Yanukovych regime. Essentially, when Prime Minister Harper and our group were moving from the tomb of the unknown soldier, from making a presentation of the wreath at the memorial there and then walking a very short distance to the Holodomor memorial site, the local media left. They weren't welcome at that site. Only the Canadian media were there. It was the same thing when we were in Lviv, where the Prime Minister made the strong declaration that the Holodomor was a genocide. No local media were allowed in that room. Canadian media were there. So we could see that influence already.

I have to just ask about this. Canada has a number of agreements with Ukraine, such as the youth mobility agreement. We're negotiating a free trade agreement. We have the financial transaction agreements. I know where leading Ukrainian Canadians stand on wanting to keep engagement. I guess my question to our witnesses here is.... We're complaining about the actions that have been taken in relation to freedom of the press, to human rights, and to a free and open democratic process, yet everybody is saying “no sanctions”.

If you think, at least, in my opinion.... Yanukovych and his entourage are sitting there as cabinet ministers, saying, “Look what we've got away with already: we've got Tymoshenko in jail and we've got Lutsenko in jail, so let's look at who else we can throw in. We're going to take away all our political opposition, we're going to take away freedom of the press, and we're going to take away individual rights and freedoms.” And nobody is saying anything. I say that if you don't take sanctions, you're rewarding them. I'm looking forward to some feedback on that.

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Dean Allison

Go ahead, Mrs. Coynash.

4:55 p.m.

Representative, Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group

Halyna Coynash

I would be delighted to mention it. I totally agree with you that at the moment, any sort of statement that lets Yanukovych and company think they have gotten away with it is extremely dangerous.

I would just mention that on top of Tymoshenko and Lutsenko, whom everybody mentions, just recently another person, who was a definite candidate for the parliamentary elections, Avakov, from Kharkiv—he was the governor—has been put on the international wanted list and will doubtless not return to Ukraine in order to take part in elections that would have certainly elected him to Parliament.

If that is the way they're going to fight the elections, then clearly engagement is a problem. Yes, perhaps sanctions of some sort are needed. The only problem with sanctions is that sanctions must target the right people.

5 p.m.

Chairman, United Actions Center

Oleh Rybachuk

Target the wrong people.

5 p.m.

Representative, Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group

Halyna Coynash

The wrong people, yes, you're right—a very good correction.

The wrong people must be targeted, and targeted hard, rather than simply going for the judge. Yes, we know from Nuremberg that obeying orders is bad, but on the other hand, if we know that, for example, the people who passed the sentences against Tymoshenko, against Lutsenko, were carrying out orders, then justice for the murder of Gongadze.... We must actually approach sanctions that will hurt those people, the people who give the orders.

Yes, I think that sanctions may well be required.

5 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Dean Allison

That's all the time we have.

We're going to move over to the next round, starting with Mr. Opitz. Welcome, sir.

5 p.m.

Conservative

Ted Opitz Etobicoke Centre, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

First of all, thank you all for being here. You have come from a long way, many of you. Thank you to the Ukrainian diaspora in Canada, which is unbelievably strong and vocal on this issue. The League of Ukrainian Canadians has certainly been a leader, as has the congress, as has Canadian Friends of Ukraine, and so many others.

I'd like to thank Mr. Kozak for being here, a former brother-in-arms. We're both now retired. He has done tremendous work for Canada at NATO, and was in fact voted one of the top 10 or 25 immigrants to Canada at one time. He has demonstrated his leadership within his community.

I would like to thank you very much for that.

I do have limited time, and I'd like to talk about so many things: energy, the natural resources of Ukraine, the gas, and the ability for Ukraine to control its own future through its natural resources. These are all big questions. A military presence of Russian troops on Ukrainian soil provides volumes to be spoken on those issues. Journalists and academics, as we've seen, can certainly be intimidated and forced to modify their views.

Certainly the impact of Canadian NGOs, some of whom I've just mentioned, from here in Canada and Ukraine has been significant. They have made a tremendous impact.

I'm going to ask a couple of quick questions, and hopefully—because I'd like to get a few through—keep your answers fairly brief.

Just going through the election in the medium and long term, how does Canada help assure fair elections in the medium to long term?

Mr. Rybachuk, perhaps you could answer.

5 p.m.

Chairman, United Actions Center

Oleh Rybachuk

Like Tom Cruise, mission impossible is the shortest answer.

5 p.m.

Voices

Oh, oh!

5 p.m.

Conservative

Ted Opitz Etobicoke Centre, ON

Okay.

Mr. Kozak, why don't you weigh in there?

5 p.m.

Chairman, External Affairs Committee, League of Ukrainian Canadians National Executive

Ihor Kozak

I disagree, actually. Probably for the first time I disagree with Mr. Rybachuk.

The mission is possible. Anything is possible. I believe one way—it's a sad word—is engagement. First of all, let President Yanukovych and his entourage know bluntly and clearly that the world is watching, that Canada is watching, and that everything he is negotiating, including the free trade agreement, is on the table, is at stake here. The first and foremost step here is letting them know prior to the election.

Second, I believe it's important to send observers to Ukraine.

Third, I believe it's important to support the democratic organization in Ukraine, because they're on the ground, they know what they're doing, they know the system, they know their way around, and they will be the ones who can tell us the truth. If you look retrospectively at 2004-05, people said it was impossible to prevent falsification prior to the Orange Revolution. I beg to differ, because we did change history at the time.

I believe that if it happened once, it can happen again. We have to keep trying.

5 p.m.

Conservative

Ted Opitz Etobicoke Centre, ON

Great. Thank you.

Ms. Hetmanchuk, who are MPs in Ukraine? Can an ordinary person run for Parliament in Ukraine? Who is Parliament generally made up of?