Mr. Speaker, as we begin our debate here this evening, I note that tomorrow morning the Canada–Ukraine free trade agreement will be debated in the Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine's parliament. I issue a challenge to Speaker Parubiy, Ukraine's parliament and our colleagues to see which Parliament will pass this free trade agreement first.
This past July, as the chair of the Canada–Ukraine Parliamentary Friendship Group and as a Ukrainian Canadian, I had the honour of bearing witness to the historic signing of the Canada–Ukraine free trade agreement in the presidential ceremonial hall in Kiev. I would like to thank our Prime Minister for including me in the delegation and, more important, for making the state visit and signing a priority for our new government. In fact, it was the Prime Minister's first one-on-one state visit of his term after his visit to the United States. This will most likely be the first free trade agreement to be ratified by our government.
Watching my fellow Ukrainian Canadian, the former minister of international trade, sign the treaty was especially poignant, as we had first met in Kiev in 1992 as young and idealistic Canadians who were intent on making a difference in the ancestral homeland of our parents and grandparents, the minister as a journalist, and I a Canadian organizer of Rukh, Ukraine's democratic front. Twenty-five years later, the minister worked hard to make this free trade agreement a reality, Twenty-five years later, we accompanied Canada's Prime Minister for the signing of this historic agreement.
Why would the Canada–Ukraine free trade agreement be a priority for our country? Our bilateral trade has been a modest $289 million on average for the past five years. Why was CUFTA's implementation specifically referred to in the previous international trade minister's mandate letter? Why would this free trade agreement be the sole such agreement to have the unanimous support of the current House? It is because not every free trade agreement is just about trade. It must be seen through various lenses, one of which is Canada's special relationship with Ukraine.
Internationally and in the House, everyone is aware of Canada and Ukraine's special relationship. However, the word “special” is not just an adjective but a term defined in an agreement in 1994, the joint declaration on the “special partnership” between Canada and Ukraine, an agreement which was reaffirmed in 2001 and again in 2008. As well, Ukraine is one of 25 countries of focus for the Canadian International Development Agency, CIDA.
Although Canadians and our symbol of the maple leaf are warmly received in almost every country of the planet, there is no country where Canadians are more warmly, in fact affectionately, welcomed than in Ukraine.
Many of us literally stood shoulder to shoulder with the people of Ukraine during the independence movement of 1988 tolasnost 1991, in the democratic revolutions, in the Orange Revolution of 2004, and in the revolution of dignity of 2014. I cannot relate to the House and the Canadian people how often during these historic events, Ukrainians, upon hearing that I was from Canada, would embrace me and say, “Thank you, Canada. Please say thank you to the people of Canada from us”.
For the past 25 years, tens of thousands of Ukrainian Canadians, as well as many of their Canadian friends, have directly engaged in building democracy in Ukraine. In many ways, my personal story of engagement in Ukraine's difficult journey toward freedom began in earnest in the summer of 1991, on the centenary of Ukrainian immigration to Canada. A group of youthful Ukrainian Canadians travelled into Ukraine's eastern Donbass region, the front line of the current Russo-Ukrainian war. It was the time of Mikhail Gorbachev's glasnost, when the Iron Curtain had been slightly drawn, allowing in the winds of change. For most in the Soviet Union, especially in the regions, it was like the wind rustling leaves at the tops of trees. We could hear it in the distance, but we could not feel it down on the ground.
Our group of Ukrainian Canadians decided to head into a region that had been among the most devastated by Soviet rule: the epicentre of the Holodomor, the genocide by famine of the Ukrainian people, a region whose churches had mostly been dynamited generations ago under Stalin's decrees; a region in which history, the past, had been destroyed and in whose libraries and schools history began with the 1917 Bolshevik revolution; a coal mining and heavily industrialized region that was also among the Soviet Union's most ecologically devastated. It was here, to a region formerly closed to westerners, that we brought Ukrainian- and Russian-language copies of Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms and pamphlets describing our multicultural nation.
It was also in this region that we had a glimpse into the future. It was here that in various towns, during the span of a week, I was taken in for so-called conversations by communist party first secretaries, the local KGB, and police. At times, conversations were theoretical, sometimes quite threatening. Others were almost pleasant.
I recollect one particular incident when the police came. We had set up our little table with copies of Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the police came and took me to meet with the communist first party secretary in his office. As I sat there, he was intent on showing me a model of a Lenin monument he was going to build in his town of Milove, near the Russian border, today near the front of the Russo-Ukraine war.
As I listened to him, I saw out his window that a fire truck, which looked like it was built in the fifties, had pulled up. It had a nozzle, almost like a tank turret, that it pointed at our Ukrainian Canadians standing at the little table with their Canadian flag and copies of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. As I was watching out of the corner of my eye, I asked the first party secretary if it would not be better to be spending resources not on this grand monument to Lenin. I said that it may well be that in the next few years, that monument may be taken down. I said that no matter how they might laud him in Moscow, would it not be better to spend those resources on local schools or to fix the potholed streets of his town?
In all of these conversations with officials, I noticed that there was a plan formulating. They spoke of how Ukraine was not really a country and that if Ukraine were to become independent, it would split up into regions. In fact, the same map was produced in different towns showing a small, truncated Ukraine, a Novorossiya, New Russia, a republic that encompassed all of Ukraine's south and east.
Later, in Luhansk, the capital of the current so-called Luhansk People's Republic, I met Don Cossacks, who had come from Russia's Rostov-on-Don, who, after selling me a Cossack hat for $10, confided to me that they were actually soldiers sent in from a Russian military unit in friendship.
As I have previously stated, my experiences are just examples of the thousands of such personal experiences of Ukrainian Canadians in Ukraine. However, the ties between Ukraine and Canada run much deeper than the personal contributions of Ukrainian Canadians over the past 25 years. Ukraine has given Canada its most precious of gifts: its people. There are 1.3 million Canadians who can trace their ancestral roots to Ukraine.
Next year marks Canada's 150th anniversary. Last year Ukrainians marked the 125th anniversary of the arrival of the first Ukrainian pioneers in Canada's Prairies. These pioneers transformed the bush of the Prairies into the golden wheat fields of Manitoba, Alberta, and Saskatchewan. As one travels the vastness of the Prairies, the golden paysage is regularly broken by grain elevators and the domes of Ukrainian churches. There is not a city in Canada where golden church domes do not testify to the presence of Ukrainian Canadians. They testify to the perseverance, industry, and spirituality of Ukrainian Canadians.
The ribbons of steel of the Canadian Pacific Railway bound our vast Confederation together. It was largely Ukrainian Canadians who filled that prairie vastness. Their presence countered the movement of American settlers north who, as had their southern brethren in Texas, California, and other states previously, were opposing sovereignty threats to their northern neighbour.
Canada may well have had a very different geography if not for the government's policy at the time of free land to the people in sheepskin coats. However, Ukrainian Canadians did not only transform our landscape, they gave us a deeper understanding of who we are as a nation.
The term “multiculturalism” was first used by Senator Paul Yuzyk in his maiden Senate speech in 1963. The Ukrainian Canadian committee, as the congress was called at that time, lobbied the federal government through the 1960s on this issue, a government at the time whose official policy was biculturalism. It was due to these determined efforts that former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau officially announced the federal policy of multiculturalism in 1971, thus transforming our understanding of Canada and who we are as a people.
Today, in a world of resurgent xenophobia and nativism, Canada stands as an aspirational city on the hill amongst liberal democracies. Our multiculturalism, our strength in diversity, is a shining example to a world of darkening chauvinism and increasing divisions.
Ukrainian Canadians' contributions to Canada both in numbers and in length of time qualify us as one of this country's founding peoples. It is why, when Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov referred to us as a “rabid diaspora” in January of last year while ranting against Canada's steadfast policy of standing with Ukraine, his denunciation was responded to by Canada's foreign minister's statement of January 27 last year in this House. Minister Dion stated:
I am so pleased...to express...the steadfast support of Canada for Ukraine, how much we deeply disagree with the invasion and interference of the Russian government in Ukraine, and also how much we will not tolerate from a Russian minister any insults against the community of Ukraine in Canada.
We owe so much to Ukrainian Canadians and we will always support them.
It must also be seen through a geopolitical lens in a world in which Ukraine has been the victim of military invasion and annexation of her territory by a Russia that does not subscribe to international treaties on the sanctity of borders, a violation of accords that have largely brought a grand peace to Europe since World War II.
It must be understood in the context of the 2014 Ukrainian revolution of dignity, a modern revolution by a people of 45 million in support of liberal democratic values and in support of their dream to be part of a multilateral European union of states with enshrined universal human and democratic rights.
Today, Russia poses the greatest geopolitical threat to liberal democracy in the west. Ukraine and her people are literally on the front line. When Putin ordered his armies to militarily invade and annex Ukrainian territory, he broke a fundamental principle of international rule of law, the sanctity of borders. We have not seen European borders changed through military force since the 1930s. Ten thousand Ukrainian soldiers, mostly volunteers, and civilians have been killed by invading Russian soldiers and their proxies. Two million Ukrainians are currently internally displaced. In annexed Crimea, Muslim Tatar leaders continue to disappear.
Why did Putin invade? It was because the people of Ukraine chose liberty and democracy. Ukraine's revolution of dignity was a revolt against a new enslavement by the kleptocratic President Yanukovych, puppet of a dictatorial Kremlin. It was the first time in the history of the European Union that people, including student demonstrators, were shot by snipers, killed while carrying the European Union flag, a symbol of the western democratic values that we cherish.
These protestors were not only a threat to the puppet President Yanukovych and Putin's revanchist imperial vision; as the Russian President watched Kiev's Maidan with hundreds of thousands of citizens building barricades, he envisioned the contagion of the revolution of dignity spreading and infecting Russians.
Since 2000, Putin has methodically dismantled Russia's nascent democracy and created a new Russian dictatorship. At least 132 investigative journalists have been silenced in Russia through murder, as well as opposition leaders such as Boris Nemtsov, symbolically assassinated outside the Kremlin walls, and FSB defectors like British citizen Litvinenko, who was gruesomely poisoned by radioactive polonium in London, England.
Glorious patriotic wars started in Chechnya in 2000, Georgia in 2005, and Ukraine in 2014. However, Russia's war against Ukraine is not only imperial revanchism; it is to create a terrifying example of Ukraine for Putin's own Russian people, as a dismembered, failed democratic state.
The Kremlin has not only declared war militarily against Ukraine, and there is not only an ongoing propaganda war, but there is a Kremlin economic war against Ukraine. Russia had been Ukraine's largest trading partner, equivalent in importance to Canada's economic relationship with the United States. At the same time that Russia invaded militarily, Putin shut down trade with Ukraine. That is why the Canada-Ukraine free trade agreement is of such importance. It is a clear statement of support by Canada for Ukraine at a time of Kremlin military aggression and economic war. It is not just a reaffirmation of our government's policy in regard to free trade; it is a geopolitical statement of support.
Having earlier noted the current modest levels of trade, we should not dismiss the opportunities that CUFTA would afford to the business communities of both countries, especially for small and medium-size businesses. Ukraine, with its free trade association with the EU, can be the entry point for Canadian low-cost capital investment and low manufacturing costs on the European continent, a de facto gateway into the European market. Canada can become a gateway for nascent small and medium-size Ukrainian businesses to expand and invest in Canada as an entry point into the North American market.
CUFTA is but one effective tool in a policy kit to strengthen democracy in Ukraine and to contain Putin's plan to create a democratic failed state of Ukraine. We must renew and broaden Operation Unifier, our military training mission in Ukraine. However, while standing with Ukraine, we must also strengthen our resolve to stand shoulder to shoulder with Russia's embattled, yet courageous, democratic opposition.
This past week, I received the terrible news that my friend Vladimir Kara-Murza had been hospitalized in Russia due to acute intoxication by an unknown substance—poisoning. My prayers are with Vladimir and my thoughts with his wife, Yevgeniya, and their three children.
Vladimir had testified before the foreign affairs committee in Ottawa this past spring, stating that Canadian Magnitsky sanctions for gross human rights abusers would be a pro-Russian measure. He was joined on the panel of witnesses by Zhanna Nemtsova, the daughter of the late Boris Nemtsov, also an acquaintance of mine, who had come to Canada's Parliament in 2012 in support of Magnitsky legislation and was assassinated two years ago, on February 27, and by Bill Browder, whose lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, had been tortured and killed in a Russian prison for uncovering, documenting, and reporting massive fraud against the Russian people by individuals sanctioned by President Putin.
We must join our American legislative colleagues in sanctioning gross human rights abusers by expanding our Special Economic Measures Act to build upon the U.S. Jackson-Vanik repeal and Sergei Magnitsky rule of law accountability act of 2012.
I conclude by thanking Canada on behalf of all Ukrainian Canadians. This has been freedom's shore and the land of opportunity for waves of Ukrainian immigrants for over 125 years. This is the land in which our ancestors, with their perseverance and industry, built new lives and, in building their lives, helped to build and transform our great country, Canada.
They built a future in their new homeland. However, they never forgot their ancestral roots, who they were and where they came from. The Canada-Ukraine free trade agreement is a hand of friendship and solidarity by Canada to a country, Ukraine, which gave its most precious resource, its human resources, its people, to us. Long may our special relationship endure.
Slava Canadi. Slava Ukraini.