Thank you, Mr. Chair and honourable
Thank you for your invitation to appear this morning.
Our discussion about Ukraine is timely.
The political nature of the charges against former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, the conduct of the judicial proceedings, and the sadly inevitable guilty ruling in that trial have brought into focus long-standing concerns about where Ukraine may be headed, particularly with respect to freedom, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. These, as you know, are key priorities in Canada's principled foreign policy.
Canadian concerns about Ukraine's current trajectory are rooted in the deep historical links between our two peoples and the special partnership we have enjoyed since 1991, when Canada was the first western country to recognize a newly independent Ukraine. Canada has supported Ukraine throughout its independence and its efforts to transition into an open and democratic society. Canada's vibrant Ukrainian community now numbers 1.2 million members, and recent developments risk shattering the dream of these people for their ancestral homeland.
We should not lose sight, however, of the serious systemic challenges that independent Ukraine faced from the very first as the Soviet Union collapsed in the 1990s. More than 70 years of Soviet rule have proven to be an extremely difficult legacy to overcome. To this day, Ukraine does not have a truly effective civil society network. Governance structures remain weak and corruption persists at all levels of government and society.
The Orange Revolution of 2004-05 was seen at the time as a turning point for the Ukrainian people. Through the power of grassroots actions, the result of a flawed and unfair election was overturned. Hope abounded that Ukraine would overcome its authoritarian legacy and develop into a modern European country.
The 2005 constitutional compromise, which attempted to restructure relations between the executive and legislative branches of government, supported this hope. Positive developments in the form of new freedoms continued until 2010. However, the political system remained somewhat dysfunctional, progress on reform was halting, and democracy was not fully institutionalized.
Unfortunately, the politicians of the Orange Revolution were unable to overcome both systemic obstacles and their own internal differences to meet the expectations of their supporters.
In February 2010, Ukrainian voters, through elections that were deemed largely free and fair, placed the current President, Viktor Yanukovych, in power.
President Yanukovych has so far markedly changed Ukraine's domestic and foreign policies. The resulting political stability was a welcome change to the frenetic infighting and policy gridlock of the previous administration. Some specific, though limited reforms have been carried out.
Over time, however, it is clear that this has come at a cost. Through means that many Ukrainian legal experts consider illegal and inappropriate, President Yanukovych has enticed opposition parliamentary deputies to join his Party of Regions, pushing constitutional bounds to form a coalition and thereby gain a governing majority. He overturned the 2005 compromise constitution that had removed some of corruption-laden mechanisms of the Kuchma era. He has limited certain freedoms and forced through changes to electoral laws, which benefited his Party of Regions in the lead-up to local elections in October 2010.
The continued pervasiveness of corruption has also had an impact on the human rights situation. Journalists report increased harassment by the Security Service of Ukraine. Reporters Without Borders lists Ukraine at 131 out of 178 countries in its current press freedom index, and the NGO Freedom House downgraded Ukraine from “free” to “partly free” in its 2011 report.
Under the guise of fighting corruption, the government has arrested or detained members of the opposition. For example, Yuri Lutsenko, former Minister of the Interior, has been held in remand since December 26, 2010, on charges of misuse of budgetary funds. Fleeing charges, the former Minister of the Economy, Bohdan Danylyshyn, sought and acquired political asylum in the Czech Republic. Heorhiy Filipchuk, former Minister of Environment, was arrested in December 2010 for alleged abuse of power.
Then, of course, there is the case of Yulia Tymoshenko. As you know, on October 11, Madam Tymoshenko was convicted and sentenced to seven years in prison and a $200-million fine to cover alleged losses inflicted on Naftogaz, the national gas company, due to the gas pricing agreement Madam Tymoshenko signed with Russia in 2009.
Canada is deeply concerned by the treatment of Ms. Tymoshenko and other Ukrainian opposition members, which sends a disturbing signal about the current state of Ukraine's judicial system. It would appear that that system is not appropriately independent and is therefore subject to interference in the service of apparently political goals.
We now understand new charges will be added, reinforcing questions about the independence of the judicial system.
While the policy of the government to date has been to build on our special partnership with Ukraine, to engage with the government and to cooperate with Ukrainians who seek to build a peaceful, democratic and prosperous society, this has not precluded delivering strong messages and constructive criticism when necessary.
On August 6, Minister Baird spoke out about the arrest of Ms. Tymoshenko, indicating that Canada was concerned by the appearance of politically motivated persecution, asserting that the appearance of political bias in judicial proceedings undermines the rule of law, and urging the Ukrainian government to strengthen judiciary independence.
In a statement to the House of Commons on September 29, Minister Baird once again urged the Ukrainian government to strengthen judiciary independence, underlining Canada's continued commitment to support efforts to build a peaceful, democratic, and prosperous society in Ukraine.
Both Minister Baird and the Prime Minister have also written letters to President Yanukovych in regard to the conduct of the Tymoshenko trial, expressing Canada's deep concern about the process and the appearance of political motivation.
Most recently, on October 11, Minister Baird issued a statement in reaction to the guilty verdict in the Tymoshenko trial, indicating that Canada intends to review our bilateral engagement with Ukraine. We are not alone in taking this approach. Both our U.S. and EU partners have indicated in strong terms that the outcome of the trial is indicative of deeper problems in Ukraine and will result in some reflection on the future of their respective relationships with Ukraine.
The EU is in the midst of finalizing an association agreement with Ukraine, the ratification of which members of the European parliament have indicated has been jeopardized by Ukraine's actions. The approach of our partners has been largely to favour engagement over isolation, an approach similar to Canada's.
We draw on our special partnership with Ukraine to access the highest political levels to ensure that our concerns are noted and taken seriously. Engagement with Ukraine takes place not only at official levels, but also with civil society organizations that exist in Ukraine. During Prime Minister Harper's visit to Ukraine in October 2010, he met with universities and church officials to demonstrate Canadian support for community efforts to make positive change.
During my own visit to Ukraine in June 2011, in meetings with civil society figures, I saw the positive dynamic these Ukrainians are making in their community and society. While political frustration exists, Ukrainians increasingly understand that they must take the future into their own hands, and they are doing so through civic involvement.
The longer-term impact of recent events remains to be seen, however; the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade will continue to monitor developments closely, including the expected appeals process in the Tymoshenko trial. Officials will develop the best possible advice to our ministers and conduct future relations with Ukraine in accordance with the guidance and direction we receive.
Ultimately, it is our Ukrainian friends themselves who must make a choice about their future: whether to accept the status quo and all that entails, or whether to reinvigorate efforts to build a peaceful, democratic, and prosperous Ukraine. We, of course, hope they will take the latter path, on which they can be assured of Canada's continued strong support.
With that, I am happy to take questions.
Thank you once again for your invitation this morning.