Madam Chair, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Edmonton East.
It is my pleasure to rise today to speak to this important and timely debate regarding the recent erosion of democracy in Ukraine. I know that I am not alone in being deeply troubled by recent events. If the recent conviction of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko was not cause enough for concern, the fact that it is just the latest in a series of anti-democratic actions taken by the current Ukrainian administration certainly is.
When I look at these mounting attacks on democracy and human rights, it is difficult not to conclude that the current government is on a course that will suffocate democracy and subvert legitimate opposition in Ukraine.
In 1991 Canada was able to support Ukrainian freedom in a dramatic and concrete way. Under the leadership of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, we were the first western country to recognize Ukrainian independence and freedom. We did so on December 2, just one day after the Ukraine had itself affirmed its independence.
Since then, Canada has worked closely at the governmental level and informally through community and citizen organizations to help Ukraine rebuild after 70 long years of Soviet socialist tyranny. This has been no easy task.
Ukrainians have demonstrated time and again their courage and determination to turn their back on their communist past and to be part of the western spirit of democracy and freedom in which human rights are respected and the rule of law prevails. For that reason, the recent developments in Ukraine are that much more distressing.
There is a bitter irony in these recent developments, for the current president and his administration were brought to power in 2010 in what were agreed at the time to be mostly free and fair elections. However, only six years after the Orange Revolution which saw Ukrainian people rise up in the face of political corruption demanding the right to have their say in who governs and how, only six years after these momentous events which gave Ukrainians, indeed, people around the world such hope, their hopes are being dashed by an administration that appears to be prepared to subvert justice and the rule of law.
In every international rating of freedom, Ukraine is sliding today. Journalists increasingly practice self-censorship to avoid persecution. Those who do not practice self-censorship may face serious threats to their lives, threats that are often downplayed or ignored by the authorities. One has to ask how free and independent a press can be when one of its largest media magnets also just happens to be head of the Ukraine's security service.
As the Minister of Foreign Affairs for Canada so clearly stated in his recent address to the United Nations General Assembly, Canada is a vigorous defender of freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Standing for what is principled and just is a Canadian tradition”.
This principled approach forms the cornerstone of our country's foreign policy and of our response to the development in Ukraine. Canada has spoken strongly over the past two years as conditions have worsened in Ukraine. In August of this year, the minister publicly expressed the Government of Canada's concern over Ms. Tymoshenko's arrest and the potential negative impact this action would have on democratic development in Ukraine.
In September both the Prime Minister and the Minister of Foreign Affairs wrote to President Yanukovych, expressing the government's deep concerns about recent developments, in particular the apparent political motivation behind the trial of former Prime Minister Tymoshenko. There are clear signs that Tymoshenko's case has failed to follow a fair judicial process, like many other such politically motivated charges and trials being brought against former members of the opposition.
This is a glaring example in the Tymoshenko case. The prosecution requested the appearance of 32 witnesses and experts. The prosecution was granted all 32. The defence, on the other hand, asked for 30 witnesses and experts. The defence was only granted two.
A second example is that Ms. Tymoshenko has been charged under article 365 of the criminal code. This article is a remnant from the Soviet socialist penal code covering offences of excess of authority of official powers. This article is being used in a subjective way to criminalize the act of making a political decision, and in this case, reaching an international agreement.
Canada is deeply concerned about the appearance of reaching back to the laws of a Soviet socialist communist occupation that starved its people and executed political opponents. There can be no question that the political motivation and bias in the prosecution of this and other cases, as well as the court proceedings, undermines the neutrality of the court and therefore the strength of the rule of law in Ukraine.
While Ukraine's future is obviously in the hands of the Ukrainian people themselves, Canada cannot stand idly by while the very rights the Ukrainian people so bravely fought for and won are being eroded.
As the Prime Minister recently stated in his address to the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, “Canada will support Ukraine whenever it moves towards freedom, democracy and justice”.
Throughout some of the former Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc countries, enormous progress toward free, democratic and open societies has been made. In fact, some of the greatest champions of freedom and individual liberty are now among those countries. From low taxes and high economic freedoms to a commitment to shoulder international obligations to fight for democracy where it is at risk, countries like Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and more have been at the forefront.
For a time, Ukraine appeared to be following that same path of leadership in the cause of freedom. We know it can return to that path. We urge Ukrainian authorities to do so.
In the meantime the Ukrainian people must know that we will continue to support them and seek ways to work with them to strengthen their democratic institutions and to broaden their opportunities.