This week, I changed much of the tech behind this site. If you see anything that looks like a bug, please let me know!

House of Commons Hansard #31 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was copyright.

Topics

Democracy in UkraineGovernment Orders

7:25 p.m.

York—Simcoe Ontario

Conservative

Peter Van Loan ConservativeLeader of the Government in the House of Commons

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.

Democracy in UkraineGovernment Orders

7:30 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Chair, I appreciate the hon. member's support for Canada speaking out and intervening to see greater democracy in the Ukraine.

The clear definition of democracy is the separation between the judiciary and the legislative and administrative arms.

I wonder if the hon. member could respond to a question I have asked some of the other members. It is reported that the Ukrainian Canadian Congress has called upon the government to make the condition that Congress supports pursuing a trade agreement with Ukraine that will benefit both this country and Ukraine if a good agreement is negotiated and we can maintain good trade into the future. However, it has have asked that this agreement be contingent upon the Ukrainian government committing to respecting democracy and human rights.

Could the member speak to whether his government supports that this be a term of any trade agreement?

Democracy in UkraineGovernment Orders

7:35 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Conservative York—Simcoe, ON

Mr. Chair, I am pleased to see some interest in the idea of a trade agreement with Ukraine from the opposition NDP. Traditionally it does not support trade agreements.

When we undertook those trade negotiations, and I was minister of international trade at that time, we consulted broadly in the Ukrainian community. It indicated its strong support for this kind of economic engagement. It believed that a free trade agreement would help further enhance the freedom and the prosperity of the people of the Ukraine, creating greater economic opportunities for them, as well as for the Ukrainian community in Canada, which would be best positioned to take advantage of the trading opportunities in that relationship.

We have continued to consult closely with the Ukrainian community to ensure that they are supportive of the ongoing process of negotiating free trade. We share many of the same concerns they have, hence the communications we have made in terms of our concerns with the erosion of democracy.

Needless to say, progress toward a free trade agreement has not been as rapid under the current regime in Ukraine as we had hoped it would, and as it was previously, but we will continue to move carefully forward in a fashion that will enhance freedom for people in both countries and economic opportunities in both countries.

Democracy in UkraineGovernment Orders

7:35 p.m.

Liberal

Jim Karygiannis Liberal Scarborough—Agincourt, ON

Mr. Chair, back in the late 1980s, early 1990s, Ukrainian Canadians demonstrated outside the Soviet Union embassy and the consulates general. They were demonstrating because they wanted a free and democratic Ukraine.

Euphoria happened when Ukraine moved into what seemed to be a democracy. There was the Orange Revolution. Now what we have today is the Ukrainian diaspora going back to demonstrate, but not against the Soviet Union embassy and the consulates general, but against their own embassies and consulates general.

I have been told of by my Ukrainian friends that they are seeing the hands of Russia starting to be engaged in Ukraine and play an important role. As they were saying then, “Russia, keep your hands away from Ukraine”, they are starting to say right now “Mr. Putin, keep your hands away from Ukraine”.

Has there been any conversations on the government side that it might want to send a strong message to Russia to stop meddling in the Ukraine?

Democracy in UkraineGovernment Orders

7:35 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Conservative York—Simcoe, ON

Mr. Chair, we have made it clear throughout that, whether it comes to issues like NATO accession or any other issues of international relationships or their standing, no country should have a veto over the choices that the people make to choose freedom. We have said that with regard to NATO accession for Ukraine and for Georgia and indeed we will say that in every forum.

The member for Scarborough—Agincourt brings to mind the ages when we used to protest against the Soviet Union for freedom of these captive peoples. I myself come from an Estonian background. I am part of a community that did exactly that. In fact, the reason I am here in the House of Commons today as a Conservative. I remember seeing, as we were fighting for freedom for those captive people, the prime minister of the day, Pierre Trudeau, palling it up with Kosygin and Brezhnev, the Soviet leaders. He did not have that commitment to freedom and human rights that we believed we were fighting for so strongly.

That is why we have to be vigilant that the era of Kosygin, Brezhnev or Stalin or any of those Soviet leaders that kept those people in prison. Crimes against humanity that were not sufficiently condemned by those in the other parties always will be on this side and we will fight for freedom and stand for it four-square. That is why we are proud to be doing what we are doing today for freedom in the Ukraine.

Democracy in UkraineGovernment Orders

7:35 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Goldring Conservative Edmonton East, AB

Mr. Chair, I am pleased to rise this evening to add my voice to those who have expressed their deep concern about recent developments in Ukraine, in particular the apparent political motivation behind the trial and conviction of former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

My deep concern for the unfolding of recent events in Ukraine led me, as a member of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development, to recently call for a committee study on the geopolitical realities of Canada-Ukraine relations today. As former chair and executive member and now vice-chair of the Canada-Ukraine Parliamentary Friendship Group, I have expressed concerns at many levels. It is important to raise our deep concerns when we officially can.

For Canadians who have followed Ukraine's development so closely since 1991, these latest developments are deeply troubling. How have things gone so wrong since the heady days of the Orange Revolution, and what can Canadians do to help Ukraine get back on a democratic track?

What happens in Ukraine is of particular interest to Canadians, for our ties with that country are strong: there are 1.2 million Ukrainian Canadians who have helped make Canada the successful, secure and democratic country that it is today.

My wife's family, the Taschuks, came to northern Alberta from Ukraine in the early 1900s. My wife Lorraine, my two daughters, Corinna and Kristina, and my three granddaughters, Katelin, Alexandra and Eleanor, are all of Ukrainian heritage.

Canada was the first western country to recognize Ukrainian independence in 1991. The transition to an open and democratic society after 70 years of Soviet rule, to say nothing of the years of the Tsarist regime before that, has been difficult. Almost from scratch, not just institutions but whole cultures of dialogue and trust have had to be developed, and that development is not yet complete. Ukraine suffers from the weaknesses of civil society, and governance structures remain fragile.

I was in Ukraine as a monitor for the failed election of November 2004 and personally witnessed and photographed massive electoral ballot box stuffing. I stayed on, on my own funding, as the only Canadian politician to report on the Orange Revolution and was constantly followed and intimidated. I was there to see the end of the discord of the revolution in a burst of fireworks over Independence Square, signalling an agreement, success and hopefulness for the future.

I have returned to Ukraine six times since then, five times as an election monitor and once to take part in the annual parliamentary assembly of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the OSCE, and I witnessed the growing political frustration and discord. While many positive changes did take place, such as increased media and political freedom, many of the population's hopes were not met. Corruption, for example, was not tackled and continued to permeate all levels of government and society.

In the 2010 presidential elections observed by myself for the OSCE and judged to be free and fair, Yanukovych became president, and while democratic development had failed to move forward under the previous president, under Yanukovych's administration it is being forced back.

As we all know, elections in and of themselves are not enough to allow a democracy to grow. A vibrant civil society and active and independent media are essential components of democracy. The current Ukraine administration has been hampering democratic development on all fronts. It has been arresting former members of the opposition, ostensibly on charges of corruption, but those charges consistently change as the judicial process progresses.

An open and democratic society invites thought, innovation, enterprise and investment. A closed society can only feed on itself, and eventually there is nothing left but a hollow shell that can only implode. After 70 years of Soviet rule, Ukrainians know this better than most. We must engage with Ukrainians to support their desires to build a democratic and free society. This cannot mean, however, that we sacrifice our principles for the sake of engagement.

Canada will repeat its criticisms of shortcomings that threaten the building of a peaceful, democratic and prosperous Ukraine. It is through this type of critical engagement that Canada can most effectively support the Ukrainian urge for freedom and democracy.

Democracy in UkraineGovernment Orders

7:40 p.m.

NDP

Peggy Nash NDP Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Chair, the Ukrainian Canadian Congress has said that given concerns about Ukraine's drift towards authoritarian rule and limitations to freedoms, politically motivated prosecutions, curtailment of academic freedom and freedom of assembly, media censorship and harassment, and politically motivated selective justice, the UCC believes that there is a need to ensure that the Canada-Ukraine free trade agreement includes provisions guaranteeing human rights protection as a precondition to concluding such an agreement.

Does the member opposite agree with that statement?

Democracy in UkraineGovernment Orders

7:45 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Goldring Conservative Edmonton East, AB

Mr. Chair, there are many scenarios that we could engage in. Perhaps the trade agreements could have wording, but it would be difficult to have those words have full and defined meanings. I don't know; I have not been involved before in trade agreement writing.

However, there are other things we can do. One is to have a meeting of the friendship committee that the member is a part of. The member has been with me on election monitoring in Ukraine. This also, on side visits, engages some of the parliamentarians as well. There are many things that we can do. We are calling this issue forward in the foreign affairs committee as well.

Some of the other suggestions that have come forward are interesting and should be considered as well. I agree totally, as has been said on all sides of the House, that this is a commitment we all have a part of and one on which we come together politically as one in our effort to have this issue heard. If we make this issue roundly, firmly and vocally, I believe there are people there listening. I believe the president is listening.

Democracy in UkraineGovernment Orders

7:45 p.m.

Mississauga—Erindale Ontario

Conservative

Bob Dechert ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs

Mr. Chair, I would like to acknowledge the work that my hon. colleague has done over many years to promote the cause of democracy in Ukraine. He is a tribute to all democracy-loving Canadians, and especially those of Ukrainian heritage. The member will know that the Minister of Foreign Affairs has made some important comments on the Tymoshenko matter. I will read one quote. He said on October 11:

Canada is troubled by the manner in which the arrest, prosecution and conviction of Yulia Tymoshenko were carried out by Ukrainian authorities. The apparent political bias and arbitrary prosecution in this and other cases hamper Ukraine's democratic development. A legitimate and active opposition is a vital part of a vibrant and effective democracy.

There are clear signs that the court proceedings fall far short of internationally recognized norms of fairness, transparency and due process.

I wonder if the hon. member could comment on those statements by the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Democracy in UkraineGovernment Orders

7:45 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Goldring Conservative Edmonton East, AB

Mr. Chair, it is troubling for all parliamentarians. My understanding of the issue is that she was in office, and whether she has an implied immunity or an actual immunity, for someone who is in a law-making, decision-making process while they are in politics to be subject to criminal charges when they leave politics runs counter to the understanding of parliamentary democracy as we know it.

Who would want to come into a political decision-making role if they were to be subject forever and for all time to someone's reading of a rule from the law books when the laws themselves may be confused? In this case she not only was tried by that law, but convicted by that law and imprisoned by that law. What person would want to follow in those shoes and take up those reins of power under those circumstances?

Democracy in UkraineGovernment Orders

7:45 p.m.

NDP

Anne-Marie Day NDP Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Mr. Chair, I would like to thank the hon. member for his speech. Canada plays an important role on the international stage in terms of supporting democracy and human rights. What diplomatic pressure is the Government of Canada putting on Ukraine regarding human rights?

Democracy in UkraineGovernment Orders

7:45 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Goldring Conservative Edmonton East, AB

Mr. Chair, Ukraine is a sovereign country, but what we can do, and what we are are doing at this very moment, is what I would call strong suggestions of action. This is one method of doing it.

The reporting from this Parliament is already taking place in Ukraine. The reporting for our committee meeting coming up on a study on Ukraine has been in the Kyiv Post today, so these different actions are having an effect and they are being heard there. In fact, we are having our voices and our disappointment heard in Kiev.

Democracy in UkraineGovernment Orders

7:50 p.m.

NDP

Peggy Nash NDP Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Chair, it is a privilege to be part of this debate this evening on the important topic of current events in Ukraine.

This happens to be the 120th anniversary of Ukrainians in Canada. This year we have been celebrating the incredible legacy of that 120 years of Ukrainian achievements in building our country. We are proud of our special relationship with Ukraine.

My riding of Parkdale--High Park is home to the largest Ukrainian street festival throughout North America. We have a large Ukrainian community. It is home to the Taras H. Shevchenko Museum.

Many of us have been to Ukraine, as my hon. colleague mentioned, as election observers, including in 2004 in what was called the Orange Revolution. We saw the incredible determination and passion of Ukrainians for democracy and human rights. It was inspiring. People camped out for months at the Nezalezhnosti Square in downtown Kiev in Ukraine.They inspired the country in their quest for democracy after tainted elections had occurred. Those of us who had the privilege of being there as election observers saw the genuine desire of the majority of Ukrainians to have free and fair elections. Many people said to us that they just wanted a normal country. They wanted to see the normalization of Ukraine.

While Ukraine is an old and historic country with a long history, it has only 20 years of modern independence. There is real concern that the country is slipping backward.

The manner in which the arrest, persecution and conviction of Yulia Tymoshenko was carried out by Ukrainian authorities is deeply troubling. With the sentencing of the former prime minister to seven years in prison, the Ukrainian government under President Yanukovych has reached an alarming new low in the deterioration of democracy and the rule of law in modern Ukraine. The apparent political bias and arbitrary prosecution in this and other cases hamper Ukraine's democratic development. A legitimate and active opposition is a vital part of a vibrant and effective democracy, as we see in the House.

There are clear signs that the court proceedings that occurred fell far short of internationally recognized norms of fairness, transparency and due process. The verdict was the product of a politically motivated trial that did not meet international standards and seemed aimed at silencing a member of the opposition a year before elections.

We believe that a fair and independent judiciary is an essential branch of democratic governance. As vice-chair of the Canada-Ukraine Parliamentary Friendship Group, I join with my colleagues in urging Ukraine to strengthen its judicial independence and capacity.

EU officials have said that they would like to see both Mrs. Tymoshenko and several others, her jailed cabinet ministers, released by Ukrainian authorities before signing a new association agreement with Kiev that marks the first step to membership in the EU. It is hard to see how any agreement with the EU can be signed as long as Kiev rejects a core value of European democracy, namely that elections, not courts, are where politicians settle their differences.

This debate is about far more than the fate of one Ukrainian leader. It really goes directly to the question of whether the Ukrainian government respects basic human rights and its international commitments and whether Ukrainian citizens receive equal treatment under the law.

It is now more important than ever for Canada and our European allies to work together to make clear to the Ukrainian government that the benefits of Euro-Atlantic integration will not be available to Ukraine so long as it violates the values of freedom, political pluralism, and the rule of law that lie at the heart of the Euro-Atlantic community.

We urge the Canadian government to strengthen judicial independence and capacity. These are necessary to the peaceful, democratic and prosperous society Ukraine is striving to become, and Canada will continue to support its efforts in that direction.

Further, the Canadian government must in no uncertain terms communicate its concern to Ukrainian officials, including requesting assurances that Yulia Tymoshenko's constitutional rights will be fully respected.

Canada also has to be clear that negotiations for a Canada-Ukraine free trade agreement cannot be advanced as long as the Ukrainian government refuses to guarantee the protection of human rights, rule of law and democracy in that country. The Ukrainian Canadian Congress is arguing strongly for these provisions to be included.

In closing, as part of our strong relationship, we have a Canada-Ukraine parliamentary program which this year has brought for the 21st time more than 30 talented students to the Canadian Parliament to work with a number of MPs to experience democracy in action. It is our help with Ukraine for democracy building.

These talented interns working with us, one of whom I have in my office, represent the new wave of young and promising citizens of Ukraine. They work hard every day and dream about the better future for their home country. I encourage them and all Ukrainians to do their best and never give up believing in the bright future of Ukraine, and most important, working toward great change in their lives and in the life of their country.

Today we all wish to see a great country and its talented people succeed in overcoming the legacy of its difficult past and continue to build a democratic, stable, prosperous and harmonious society within Ukraine based on respect for national and religious minorities and strong, mutually respectful relations with its neighbours and beyond.

As we say in Parkdale—High Park, slava Ukraini, slava Canada.

Democracy in UkraineGovernment Orders

7:55 p.m.

NDP

Alexandrine Latendresse NDP Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Chair, I would like to thank the hon. member for her enlightening speech. It was very interesting to hear about the young Ukrainians travelling abroad who are learning what democracy, in the west or elsewhere, can do. Programs were recently set up to encourage as many students and other young Ukrainians as possible to come to Canada to study. It would be wonderful to encourage more of these types of programs that allow youth to come to Canada, to study here and to see what can be had in the west. When they return to Ukraine, they might want to take those ideas back home. Could the hon. member comment on that?

Democracy in UkraineGovernment Orders

7:55 p.m.

NDP

Peggy Nash NDP Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Chair, I thank the hon. member for her question. Canada has very close ties with Ukraine, and we can help Ukrainians in many ways, especially the youth. They have a lot of hope and ideas for the future. They want their country to be better in the future. Exchanges can be a great opportunity for them to see how our democracy and universities work. It is an important investment for Canada, and I continue to encourage our government to make this type of investment. It is a great boost to democracy in Ukraine.

Democracy in UkraineGovernment Orders

8 p.m.

Conservative

Leon Benoit Conservative Vegreville—Wainwright, AB

Mr. Chair, I have an interest in this issue from different points of view, starting with a large Ukrainian population in my constituency. On the farm many of my neighbours and friends were of Ukrainian descent. As well, I am involved with the Canadian NATO Parliamentary Association. In that association we often talk about Ukraine. Canada has been a great supporter of having Georgia and Ukraine come into NATO. I know some members of Parliament from Ukraine very well. When I ask how things are in Ukraine, they refer to the arrest and are very concerned by it.

In the long run it is apparent to me that what is holding Ukraine back more than anything else is corruption. It just cannot get through the issue of corruption like some other former Soviet bloc countries have. It is not nearly as successful, and that certainly is holding Ukrainians back.

On the general issue of corruption in Ukraine and how that is holding that society back, how does the member consider that to differ from the issue of the arrest of Mrs. Tymoshenko and the impact this could have on Canada-Ukraine relationships, and also on future development and advancement in Ukraine?

We all are sincerely hoping for the best for Ukraine. It is a country with so many resources and great people. It should be moving ahead faster than it is.

What does the member foresee as a possible impact of this arrest?

Democracy in UkraineGovernment Orders

8 p.m.

NDP

Peggy Nash NDP Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Chair, my colleague asked about corruption and the relationship with this latest situation with Mrs. Tymoshenko. It is about trust in democratic institutions. If the average person does not believe there is transparency and that institutions are accountable and working for the population, then people do lose trust. There is a relationship between unhealthy and corrupt institutions and an undermining of people's belief that democracy is possible.

That is why, as my colleague was remarking previously, it is important to have young people come here to study and participate in institutions like Parliament through the internship program. It is important to have exchanges, like several of us as parliamentarians have done, where people go as election observers to see the institutions in Ukraine, and help to strengthen the democratic capacity of Ukraine.

People are very worried. The Ukrainian diaspora around the world and Ukrainians are very worried because once things start to slip backwards, people fear losing all the gains they have made.

Democracy in UkraineGovernment Orders

8 p.m.

NDP

Alain Giguère NDP Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Mr. Chair, I want to take this opportunity to thank my colleague from Parkdale—High Park for her very fine presentation.

Currently, through CIDA, Canada is one of the main providers of aid to Ukraine. Insofar as this aid is directly and exclusively based on agriculture, would it not be wise to provide more support that is focused on training activities for legal experts and journalists? At present, it is clearly the lack of independence of the justice system in the face of partisan political power that is the problem.

Democracy in UkraineGovernment Orders

8 p.m.

NDP

Peggy Nash NDP Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Chair, I want to thank the hon. member for his question.

Indeed, Canada currently provides a great deal of aid to Ukraine. Perhaps now is the opportunity to change the orientation of this aid and start training journalists and legal experts to help democracy.

A great deal of care is taken in the maintenance and growth of democratic institutions for the future. Canada has a special relationship with Ukraine and I believe that we can provide a great deal of help.

Democracy in UkraineGovernment Orders

8:05 p.m.

Conservative

Leon Benoit Conservative Vegreville—Wainwright, AB

Mr. Chair, I appreciate the member's intervention but I would like to ask her a direct question. We are having this take note debate on this issue. All parties thought it was important. Does the member think this could have a real impact on what is done in Ukraine?

Certainly, Canada has a very strong relationship with Ukraine. That relationship is important to the people of Ukraine. It certainly is important to the people of Ukrainian background in my constituency. I am sure some Canadians are wondering what difference it is going to make. Does the member think this debate could make a difference in the way that Mrs. Tymoshenko is handled and how this proceeds in Ukraine?

Democracy in UkraineGovernment Orders

8:05 p.m.

NDP

Peggy Nash NDP Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Chair, I am convinced that the Ukrainian embassy here in Ottawa is probably taking note of this take note debate. I know that people of Ukrainian origin and people who believe in democracy across the country are watching this debate and appreciating that all parties have come together to express their concern about recent events in Ukraine and that we are united in wanting to foster institutions that will help promote democracy in Ukraine. People want to see concretely what Canada can do to help.

The Ukrainian Canadian Congress has been very clear in terms of actions Canada can take in helping Ukraine to move in the right direction. We want to fully support those recommendations. We know that Canada will continue to play a big role going forward with the situation in Ukraine.

Democracy in UkraineGovernment Orders

October 18th, 2011 / 8:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Assistant Deputy Chair Conservative Bruce Stanton

Before we resume debate, I want to point out to those members who have recently joined us that in a take note debate format they are welcome to take any seat in the chamber. Unlike in the normal proceedings of the House of Commons, members can be recognized and speak from whichever seat in the chamber they prefer. Members are welcome to move to a seat that they would like to occupy and they will still be recognized.

Resuming debate. The hon. member for Etobicoke—Lakeshore.

Democracy in UkraineGovernment Orders

8:05 p.m.

Conservative

Bernard Trottier Conservative Etobicoke—Lakeshore, ON

Mr. Chair, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Mississauga East—Cooksville.

I am thankful for the opportunity to speak this evening to this matter of vital importance to the people of Ukraine, Ukrainian Canadians and people everywhere who cherish freedom, democracy and the rule of law.

I know that members of Parliament from all parties share my concern over the conviction of Yulia Tymoshenko last week to seven years in prison over allegations stemming from the handling of a natural gas deal with Russia. Fair-minded observers everywhere call into question the charges and the conduct of the trial. The Government of Canada and our western allies have condemned the actions of the Ukraine government, and rightly so.

I have had several discussions with Ukrainian Canadians in my riding of Etobicoke—Lakeshore. These include organizations active in the greater Toronto area and across Canada, such as the Ukrainian Canadian Congress and the League of Ukrainian Canadians, among others. They ask that the Canadian government work with our allies to press the government of Ukraine to implement fair measures to ensure a fair and independent judiciary.

Much has been said about the flaws of the trial, including: the apparent political motivation of the charges, pressed by President Yanukovych, who narrowly defeated Ms. Tymoshenko in the 2010 presidential election; the jailing of Ms. Tymoshenko during her trial, even though she posed little risk of flight; her lack of access to defence counsel; inadequate time and facilities provided for the preparation of her defence; the judge further denying Ms. Tymoshenko the right to examine witnesses under the same conditions as witnesses for the prosecution; and the additional sentencing that Ms. Tymoshenko be barred from participating in political activity for a period of three years after her sentence.

We should make it clear that the threats to freedom and democracy in Ukraine are not limited to the Tymoshenko trial. Several opposition figures are facing similar charges to those brought against Ms. Tymoshenko. These political trials are incompatible with the requirements of the Ukrainian constitution, the laws of Ukraine, the state's international obligations and generally accepted norms.

We need to be clear that political persecution, in Ukraine or anywhere else, is completely unacceptable. Canada will not stand silent while the proud people of Ukraine have their hard-won rights trampled upon.

On October 14 of this year, I had the pleasure of participating in a tribute to our Prime Minister where he received the Taras Shevchenko medal for his dedication to public service, for his leadership and, in particular, for the outstanding contribution he made toward the development of the Ukrainian Canadian community.

First presented in 1961, the Taras Shevchenko medal is the Ukrainian Canadian Congress' highest honour. The Prime Minister is in good company, joining the first Canadian Prime Minister to receive this award, the Right Hon. John Diefenbaker.

Taras Shevchenko was a great artist and a renowned poet but, most important, he was a voice for freedom in Ukraine. As a consequence, Czar Nicholas I condemned him to live in exile. He was sentenced to live, “Under the strictest surveillance, without a right to write or paint”.

Now even that cruel sentence could not silence Shevchenko. In the decades that followed, his words and conduct would inspire Ukrainians to fight for liberty against not only the Czars, but also the totalitarian ideologies of the Soviets and Nazis.

What binds our two countries are values and principles. When Ukraine declared independence in 1991, Canada was the first western country to recognize its sovereignty. On December 1, Ukraine declared independence and, on December 2, Canada recognized its statehood and government.

Why? We all heaved an enormous sigh of relief when Soviet communism was finally and irrefutably discredited. The communist ideology had purported to be the cure for all that ails humanity. It had one major problem. Before it could implement its program, it had to jail or kill everyone who disagreed. Millions were murdered and millions more were starved. It is a past that must not be forgotten, that must never be swept under the carpet.

We stand with the people of Ukraine to ensure that Ukraine's history is not forgotten. In 2008, at the initiative of my colleague, the hon. member for Selkirk—Interlake, we had the chance to finally do something about it, and we did. We recognized Holodomor as a genocide by Canada's Parliament, so that we may never forget.

Going forward, we must let the government of Ukraine know that we implore Ukraine to respect human rights and the rule of law. We also implore Ukraine to ensure free and fair elections in the upcoming election and going forward into the future.

We look forward to a brighter future for Ukraine. We stand with the people of Ukraine in demanding respect for human rights, a fair and independent judicial system and freedom for all political prisoners.

Democracy in UkraineGovernment Orders

8:10 p.m.

NDP

Alexandrine Latendresse NDP Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Chair, I thank my hon. colleague for his very interesting speech. I would like to know what the government plans to do in order to put these words into action. Basically, we are all very concerned about the current situation. Will any concrete action be taken in order to indicate to the Ukrainian government that we disagree with what it is doing and why? What can we do to send a clear message?

Democracy in UkraineGovernment Orders

8:10 p.m.

Conservative

Bernard Trottier Conservative Etobicoke—Lakeshore, ON

Mr. Chair, last week the Prime Minister wrote a letter to the Ukrainian President to express our disappointment regarding the Ukrainian government's actions. The wording of the letter was quite strong. It is important that Ukraine and the entire international community know that we do not agree with the Ukrainian government's actions. It is also important that the people of Ukraine read our comments in newspapers, online and through any other means of communication. The people must know that Canadians stand in solidarity with them. This will give them strength to resist the appalling actions of the Ukrainian government. These concrete gestures, these forms of communication, are, in a way, the most important thing we can do in the short term.

In the medium term, we must commit to take action with our allies, that is, Europe, the United States and other countries that share our values. We need a unified effort with our allies in order to have an influence on Ukraine and its government, which is resisting our country's requests. That is what we will do.