Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to rise to join this exciting and important debate about ratifying the Canada-Ukraine free trade deal. This is an agreement and legislation that all parties in the House support, at least the three major parties. We are grateful for that and the statement it makes about Canada's co-operation with Ukraine.
I want to share a bit of the history of the Canada-Ukraine co-operation and talk specifically about some issues in Ukraine. Then I will also make a plea to the government to consider doing more when it comes to this co-operation. I think there is some pulling back in terms of this important relationship that has happened under the current government, not so much on the economic front but on other fronts. I want to draw the attention of members to that issue and again ask members of Parliament and the government to do more, because we are, indeed, talking about a relationship that is critically important for both countries.
I had the honour of visiting Ukraine in August of this year. I stayed in a hotel that overlooks Independence Square. I was there when this young nation marked its 25th anniversary and it was such a powerful experience for me. Canada is coming up to its 150th anniversary, an important milestone for our country, but we experience our founding moments as a matter of history and not so much a matter of immediate personal experience. They are part of our collective memory, but not part of any of our individual memories. Even so, our founding did not come out of occupation.
Being in Ukraine for this 25th anniversary was so powerful on multiple levels. The history of the occupation of all of Ukraine is very immediate. Most Ukrainians will remember what it was like to live under Soviet occupation, but Ukraine is also a country that is currently being occupied by Russia and Russian-backed entities. There is no doubt that there is a great deal of sorrow about the ongoing challenges and the occupation, but there is also a great pride in Ukraine about what this young nation has been able to accomplish.
Ukraine has been compared to the mythological creature, the phoenix, that dies and is continually dramatically reborn. This is the story of Ukraine, entirely irrepressible and continually reborn in the midst of a very harsh environment geopolitically in terms of the neighbour it has to deal with. The current incarnation of the Ukrainian state has, indeed, accomplished so much in a short time, so much since its founding 25 years ago and since the Euromaidan movement, which started about three years ago.
Eastern Europe, like many parts of the world, is a place where the shifting sands or, in this case, we might say the shifting snows, of empire have left a multicultural and multi-ethnic reality that makes the definition of ethnic borders quite difficult. This is sort of true of Canada as well, although we generally think of our multiculturalism here as being voluntary. Much, though not all, of our diversity is the product of immigration and accommodation as opposed to conquest. However, Ukraine emerged only recently from occupation, an occupation that included genocide, which was followed, in turn, by the sending of ethnic Russians into communities that had previously been inhabited by Ukrainians.
Therefore, as we think about Ukrainian identity and the reality of the Ukrainian state, it might be worth suggesting and understanding that, though quite diverse, Ukraine has found itself in a place of what we might call involuntary diversity. During the occupation, people were sent there and this was a situation that the Ukrainian state, upon coming into existence, found itself in. That history, obviously, has made certain cultural ties between Ukraine and Russia inevitable.
Because of this, we hear some political narrative from people with an interest in propelling this narrative about division, the claim that Ukraine is divided between east and west, between Ukrainian and Russian speakers, and along ethnic and religious lines. However, what I found when I was in Ukraine in August, what I observed and what I was told, is that Ukraine is a diverse but also a deeply united country, indeed, united in its intention to resist foreign aggression, a country that, in the midst of a history of involuntary diversity, is choosing to build a shared civic nationalism, with shared values and shared cultural touchstones as well.
It is within this context, and other members have already referred to this, that we hear about an interest in the Canadian model of unity around common values in spite of differences.
I mentioned my hotel room, when I was in Ukraine, overlooked Independence Square, which was the centre of a movement that started about three years ago, called the Euromaidan movement, where protestors bravely resisted a corrupt Russian-backed autocrat Viktor Yanukovych and successfully forced him from power.
As we have a discussion today about a trade deal with Ukraine, it is worth reminding ourselves that the spark that set off that conflict, initially, was actually a discussion about trade. The then government of Ukraine decided not to pursue closer economic integration with Europe, despite previous commitments to do that.
As we think about that, and we think about the debate we are having today, it is a good reminder that trade association, in this context, is not principally about the economy. It was, for Ukraine, about independence and identity. The initial decision to not proceed with this agreement would have left Ukraine in a position of serious economic vulnerability and, therefore, geopolitical dependence on Russia.
The Russian regime, the Putin regime, did not want Ukraine to be able to develop trading relationships that affirm and deepen its independent western and European identity; hence, the pressure that was put on Yanukovych. This was a key pivot point associated with a discussion about trade.
Because of the bravery of protesters who risked and, in some cases, gave their lives, Ukraine positioned itself to start a stronger future as a more independent, more European, more western-looking nation. It was a brave and proud moment for Ukrainian nationals.
Russian propaganda, then and since, tries to dismiss Ukrainian nationalism, in general, and the Euromaidan movement, in particular, as being about narrowly xenophobic and ethnic nationalism, even anti-Semitism and white supremacy; but the reality could not be further from the truth.
In fact, these messages are particularly ironic when we identify Russian support for far right movements in Europe. The Russian regime and its enablers and useful idiots in the west peddle an exclusive colonialist vision of nationalism that suggests they have a right to seek to control affairs in countries that they have historically bullied or occupied, their so-called sphere of influence.
No sovereign state has a right to bully another on the basis of cultural ties or historic claims to so-called sphere of influence. There is no moral or legal justification for such bullying, and there never has been.
However, while the Russian state peddles narrow and ethnocentric nationalism, the Ukrainian nationalism that spawned the Euromaidan move is open, pluralistic, and democratic, and it has strengthened Ukraine and it continues to strengthen Ukraine.
When I was there, I spoke with young Ukrainians who participated in the Euromaidan movement, of all varied ethnic and religious backgrounds. I met with Jewish leaders, one of whom led a Jewish brigade in the Maidan. I met Muslim Crimean Tatar leaders who have inspired their fellow Ukrainians by showing as great a pride in their predominantly Christian country as anyone else.
We have an opportunity tonight in the vote to recognize the genocide they have faced and to do something very important for this community.
We have Muslim Ukrainians, ethnic Tatar Ukrainians, Jewish Ukrainians, Russian-speaking Ukrainians, Polish Ukrainians, Catholic Ukrainians, Orthodox Ukrainians, Ukrainian Ukrainians. They are all Ukrainians, united by culture, to some extent, but, more important, by common Ukrainian values of independence and democracy.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine sought to capitalize on a moment of weakness but, in fact, it united Ukrainians more than ever in a commitment to share civic nationalism, and to the western and European values that spawned Euromaidan in the first place.
Ukraine's success was never inevitable, but her people have shown, and continue to show, inspiring and inspired courage.
Trade with Ukraine is economically useful, but it is also a moral and strategic imperative. We must use our own significant and unique cultural ties with Ukraine to ensure that this brave nation is never again as vulnerable to the bullying of Russia as it once was. Its independence requires economic ties with nations that will respect that independence and, indeed, that share its values.
We share cultural ties with Ukraine, but also we have a common approach to nationalism, a love of country rooted in shared civic values, not in ethnic exclusiveness or a desire to dominate someone else.
While I am pleased to see a certain consensus in the House around the need to have a strong relationship with Ukraine and to support Ukraine, we need to do more and better when it comes to standing up for Ukraine. I want to identify three specific areas where the government can do a better job when it comes to standing by our important partner.
The first thing we can do is to do more for domestic human rights issues inside Russia. Why would I say that in the context of a debate about Ukraine? Because we know, and we can see as we look at different conflicts around the world, that a government that is a menace to its own people is necessarily going to be a menace to international peace and security. When a government is aggressive and hostile toward its neighbours, we know that will also likely lead to or be associated with the repression of human rights domestically.
It is in the midst of the Russian attempt to distract attention from domestic challenges, economic challenges, and human rights issues inside Russia that it is undertaking this aggressive activity in other countries. Therefore, we need to be very clear about the fact that human rights in Russia must not be sacrificed. There is a very concrete way that we can do it. We can support and pass Magnitsky sanctions, which specifically target human rights abusers associated with the Russian regime. This is a piece of innovative political technology that targets, with sanctions, individuals involved in human rights abuses. Unlike in times passed, the autocrats of the world and those around them often enjoyed having investments in and travelling to countries in the west. By working with our allies to impose these individual targeted Magnitsky sanctions, we can make a real concrete difference for human rights in Russia.
This is something I know individual members of the government support, but so far we have seen in statements made by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, a reluctance to move forward with this. I think we know why. Because the government is pursuing a policy of closer relations with the Russian government. It justifies it on the basis that if we engage, we could talk about human rights issues. I would be more sympathetic to that if we actually saw the government using engagement as a means to advance human rights issues, if it was talking to the Russians but still insisting on Canadian values and still insisting, for instance, on the implementation of Magnitsky sanctions. However, that has not been the tone, and does not seem to be the direction, at least, that the current Minister of Foreign Affairs is setting.
I encourage all members of the House to understand the importance of Magnitsky sanctions. This is not a piece of political technology that is limited in its effectiveness to Russia. We should explore the use of Magnitsky sanctions in many different places to target human rights abusers, but let us take this vital step. It is a step that is important to Ukrainians and the Ukrainian community in Canada. They want to see their Russian neighbours enjoying the same freedoms that people in Ukraine and Canada enjoy. I think they understand that a Russia that is genuinely free and democratic can be a good neighbour to Ukraine, at some point in the future we hope. However, as long as there is internal repression of human rights in Russia, there is a greater threat that exists to Ukraine and other countries in the region.
Number one is to do more for human rights inside Russia.
Number two is that the government needs to strengthen military co-operation with Ukraine. We hear a lot from members of the government about the need to be engaged as a strategic partner with Ukraine. However, there is one simple thing they could do, which is to reverse a step they took back on May 6 of this year. At the time of the previous government, the Harper government, it was agreed that we would share information from Canadian satellites with the Ukrainian armed forces. This information was very helpful in their fight with Russian-backed entities in eastern Ukraine. This was a decision the previous government undertook, but then it was reversed by the Liberal government. We have stopped providing these satellite images.
I have asked this question of multiple members of the government today, and it is important that we continue to ask this question. No justification has been given for withdrawing the use of this imagery in terms of giving it to the Ukraine government. We can imagine what the reasoning might be. We can only assume that the Russians wanted Canada to stop providing this information to Ukrainian authorities and that the Liberal government decided to listen to the wishes and the interests of the Russians. The reality is that this satellite imaging was extremely helpful to the Ukrainian armed forces. It was right for us to be providing this strategic support. As of May 6 of this year, Canada stopped providing these images.
I have a quote from Ivan Katchanovski, a political science professor at the University of Ottawa. He said, “I think this was a sign of a possible change in the Canadian stance toward Ukraine”. He noted as well that budgetary considerations were unlikely to be the real reason for these decisions.
These images are being taken anyway. Canada has these satellites, so sharing these images with the Ukrainian government does not strike me as a difficult or challenging thing to do. If the Russians are against it and the Liberal government is being overly-influenced by Russian interests, then that obviously creates a problem for Ukraine. Ukraine is in a battle for its very existence and Canada needs to be there. We need to provide these satellite images.
For all of the government members who are giving flowery speeches about the need to support Ukraine and to work with Ukraine, I ask them to take this simple step and show goodwill, show that they actually want to co-operate. That would be proof positive of a real commitment to working with Ukraine. However, it looks like, on the one hand, there is this discussion of the need to work with Ukraine. On the other hand, there is this pulling back of support. There seems to be a dissidence between what is being said and the reality, at least as it pertains to military co-operation.
We need to strengthen military co-operation with Ukraine. This would mean the continuation of the training mission that began under the previous government, which is up for renewal in March 2017. We have yet to hear a formal commitment with respect to continuing that support. It would be really unfortunate if the government did not continue to provide Ukraine with what it needed in addition to the satellite imagery we pulled back in other areas.
The final point I want to make with respect to Canada's co-operation with Ukraine is on the areas in which we can do more. We can reinstate initiatives that were aimed at promoting communal harmony in Ukraine. When I was in Ukraine in August, it was interesting to have discussions with people about the issues of some of the religious tension that existed. There have been significant concerns about faith-based persecution taking place in Crimea and in other Russian-occupied parts of Ukraine, the persecution especially of Catholics and Protestants, as well as some persecution targeted at the Muslim community.
As we think about that, it is important to recognize that under the previous government, we had the Office of Religious Freedom. It provided funding for on-the-ground projects aimed at building harmony between different communities. That office had projects inside of Ukraine aimed at bringing together some of the different religious elements and promoting communal harmony, this being important for the ongoing unity of the Ukrainian state.
During a debate we had in the spring about the Office of Religious Freedom, one member from the NDP suggested that the fact we were putting money into projects on religious freedom in Ukraine suggested that this office was somehow political, as if to suggest that there were no real issues with communal harmony in Ukraine but especially as we saw the persecution of certain faith groups in Russian-occupied parts of eastern Ukraine. There is a need for Canada to be involved in that conversation, and we can provide meaningful support.
I am pleased to support this free trade deal, but I am also eager to urge the government to do more when it comes to helping Ukraine, to do more for human rights inside Russia, to strengthen our military co-operation with Ukraine, reverse the decision with regard to satellite imaging, and reinstate international initiatives aimed at promoting communal harmony, especially which have benefits for Ukraine. We could do these things. We could actually put our money where our mouths are when it comes to helping that country in addition to this important step today, which is the free trade deal.