Mr. Chair, it is great to be here tonight. Before I begin my speech, I just want to say that we are doing some last work of the House of Commons before we go for our Christmas break, but certainly it is not the least work. This is an extremely important discussion we are having tonight.
I, as well as others, certainly want to wish the staff and pages a good vacation away from here for a few extra weeks. As the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands pointed out, I think we also need to remember that this is the season we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ and all that it means.
Tonight I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the discussion of the Ukraine at this very important and troubling juncture. Canada was both shocked and disappointed when the Ukrainian government suddenly announced, on November 21, that it would not be pursuing an association agreement on a deep and comprehensive free trade area with the European Union.
This was an abrupt reversal from years of planning and earnest negotiations on the part of our European partners and a divergence from Ukraine's promised path of deeper partnership and integration with the west. All indications until that point had been that the Ukrainian government would make its best effort to reform its institutions, its economy, and its legal system in the best interest of its people and the country's future.
The European Parliament's special envoys, former Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski and former European Parliament President Cox, had travelled together to the Ukraine some 27 times since 2011 in an impressive display of shuttle diplomacy. They had worked hard to find a solution to the issue of selective justice in the case of imprisoned former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, an issue that had to be resolved before an EU-Ukraine deal could be agreed upon.
In one instant, those efforts were swept aside by President Viktor Yanukovych. This regrettable decision by his government came just days ahead of the EU's eastern partnership summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, where the association agreement was scheduled to be signed. Yanukovych instead turned his back on the European Union, and worst of all, on the will of his people.
As soon as this decision was announced, ordinary Ukrainians took peacefully to the streets. They unfurled their blue and yellow Ukrainian flags alongside the blue and yellow banner of the European Union. Their hopes had been dashed by a decision taken by a government out of touch with the will of its people.
As the date of the Vilnius summit drew near, more and more Ukrainians gathered at Kiev's Independence Square, by the tens of thousands, amid the bitter cold, recalling scenes of the spontaneous Orange Revolution of 2004-05. That people-powered revolution sought to bring accountability, democracy, and the rule of law to the Ukraine. Today those values again are in jeopardy.
As the Vilnius summit came and went and a deal was left unsigned, more concerned Ukrainians, determined to ensure that their European aspirations not be squandered, streamed into the squares and streets of Kiev and other Ukrainian cities. According to reliable estimates, as many as 800,000 protestors marched in Kiev on December 1 in a display of solidarity against the government's decision.
Thousands of concerned Canadians, as well, demonstrated that day in front of the Ukrainian embassy in Ottawa and in towns and cities across this country. Canadians were taken to demonstrate not only in support of the aspirations of the Ukrainian people but also in response to the egregious acts of violence carried out by Ukrainian authorities the day before, on November 30, against peaceful protestors in Kiev's Independence Square.
On that day, the Minister of Foreign Affairs expressed Canada's strong condemnation of this deplorable use of violence. He called on the Government of Ukraine to respect and protect the rights of its citizens to express their opinions freely and to respect the freedom of assembly as rights inherent in any truly democratic country.
As we know, such values and principles are the cornerstones of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the OSCE, an organization that has been chaired in 2013 by none other than Ukraine.
On December 5 and 6, the OSCE's annual meeting of foreign ministers, the ministerial council, took place in the Ukrainian capital. It was an egregious affront to OSCE values and principles that so many of them, including freedom of assembly, freedom of speech, and the protection of journalists, had been violated in the host city on the eve of the ministerial.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs, who attended the OSCE ministerial on behalf of Canada, made it clear that such actions were unacceptable and an affront to the values that we all, as OSCE members, strive for. He expressed Canada's deep disappointment that the Ukrainian government had, in balking at implementing the measures necessary to sign an association agreement in Vilnius, effectively suspended the country's path toward democratic development and economic prosperity. This was clearly not the wish of the people of Ukraine.
While in Kiev, the minister met with his Ukrainian counterpart, Minister Kozhara, to express Canada's grave concerns about the Ukrainian government's crackdown on mass protests against its decision to suspend negotiations. He also met with leaders of the Ukrainian opposition and with representatives of civil society to voice Canada's support for the democratic rights of all Ukrainians. He also visited Independence Square, where he met personally with many of the protesters. People on the square chanted, “Thank you, Canada”, and cheered when he arrived.
The clear signals of the Ukrainian people have been broadcast around the world. The most concerning and disappointing aspect has been the Ukrainian authority's reaction to those peaceful protests. We will continue to stand with those Ukrainians who believe in freedom, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.
Canada hopes that preparations for a Ukraine-EU agreement can resume in the near future. This recent development must not stop the Euro-Atlantic and European integration processes, as they reflect a genuine aspiration among Ukrainians to embrace the values of freedom, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. Canada will continue to be there for help. Our development assistance programs in Ukraine will continue.
It is worth noting that at this moment, Canada has over two dozen election observers either deployed or being deployed to Ukraine to monitor the parliamentary by-elections being held on December 15 in five electoral districts where electoral fraud invalidated the results during the nationwide parliamentary elections of 2012. This is only our most recent and current demonstration of our government's ongoing commitment to Ukrainian democracy. Since Ukraine's renewed independence in 1991, Canada has played a pioneering and influential role, and I would say a continuing role, in promoting freedom, democracy, and human rights in this important country with which so many Canadians share deep historical, cultural, and people-to-people ties.
We are determined to continue to assist the Ukrainian people in achieving their aspirations for a fully free and democratic society while helping to transform Ukraine's economy into a better, more transparent, rules-based, and liberalized marketplace that is better equipped to integrate with a diversified global economy.
In conclusion, our Canadian values and our deep and long-standing friendship with the Ukrainian people demand nothing less of us.