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.