Mr. Speaker, it is certainly a pleasure to add my voice to the many voices that have spoken today, many eloquently, putting forth the position of Canada and uniting in a common voice to indicate that what is currently happening in Ukraine is not acceptable and that there needs to be a change.
I truly feel that Ukraine is at a crossroads and at a turning point in its history. It is difficult to say exactly how it might turn out. We do know that those in authority will be meeting and discussing what needs to happen and what will be taking place.
Of course, the worst would be the imposition of force in a semblance of some sort of security and causing more deaths and injuries. It would be my hope and desire, and I am sure the desire of all in the House here, that those in authority will think long and hard in terms of where they are going. As Amnesty International said, they do not want to take Ukraine back 20 years or more from where it was. They want to take Ukraine forward to enjoy the rights and freedoms that we take for granted here in Canada and enjoy day by day.
The actions of the president, the government, and the security forces must be condemned loudly and unequivocally. I think that is what we are doing here, not only today but day by day, in response to the intimidation we have seen, the humiliation, the use of brutal force by Ukraine against its own people, who are assembling in a peaceful way to protest and express their views. That is fundamentally essential in a free and democratic society. I think what we are seeing is a culmination of a series of steps that have taken Ukraine to where it is today.
Of course, the trouble is that once one tastes of democracy, of freedom, it is difficult to take it away and it is hard to give up. The people of Ukraine have been in that place where they have tasted of freedom. They have tasted how democracy works.
I have been to Ukraine, as my colleagues have, on a number of occasions to monitor the elections that have taken place. There was a spirit of hope and aspiration. However, the steps that we have seen taken in the last while have suppressed these hopes, have suppressed these aspirations, and the people of Ukraine are not prepared to accept that. They are standing up for forward progress, for their legitimate aspirations, and we must support them at every turn of the way.
A political system that is manipulated and orchestrated so that laws are passed in a hurry, and perhaps not in the way that they should be, to achieve an individual's result or for the benefit of a certain sector of society at the expense of the majority of the people is a problem. It goes against the very core of what we know is right.
I think there is a better way, and it is unfortunate that the better way was not taken. I truly feel that if individuals can express themselves, if their abilities can be used in an appropriate way, if there is due process so that one can do things without fear of intimidation or fear of suppression while knowing that the judiciary actually works, and if the fairness of the laws apply evenly and equally to everyone, the country would prosper.
The Ukraine had an opportunity, or perhaps we could say at the moment a missed opportunity, to sign an association agreement with the European Union. Ukraine, in failing to do that, missed an opportunity to further develop democracy and to ensure the prosperity of the country by setting in place some rules and regulations that business would know would be enforced. Those who wanted to invest in the country's great potential would have known that they could, and that they could expect the rule of law and due process to prevail. That opportunity was there, and it continues to be there in large measure. Western countries and European countries are prepared to work with Ukraine and invest quite heavily.
Instead, a comprehensive agreement was signed with Russia that has taken Ukraine back a number of years to the old ways, something that did not need to happen. What is worse, when the people took exception to that, when they peacefully assembled and demonstrated, the reaction was to pass really draconian laws that anyone could objectively say are anti-democratic and do not respect individual rights. I will just go through some of them to indicate the direction that was taken.
The state could decide to ban Internet access. Maybe in days past things could have been done in a corner, but in today's society where we have the Internet, television, and cameras, and telephones that take pictures, things are not done in the corner and we can see live action, so the authorities try to suppress that. Today's society is remarkable. I would urge this type of action not be taken.
Criminalization for libel and targeting of the media for criticizing government officials was another law, with sentences of up to two years in jail. That is remarkable. Moreover, the blocking of government buildings could result in a sentence of up to five years in jail. The unauthorized installation of tents, stages and sound equipment could result in up to 15 days' arrest for someone doing something that is fundamentally their right to do.
A group of more than five cars driving together requires permission from the ministry of interior affairs, otherwise the drivers face a loss of licence and vehicle for up to two years. Imagine that: five vehicles driving in a row is considered offensive.
A broad definition of extremist activities adopted prevents NGOs and churches from engaging in the support of civil protests.
The Canadian Ambassador for Religious Freedom observed that the Ukrainian culture minister has threatened to delist the Ukrainian Greek Catholic church as a legal body if its priests continue to publicly pray with the protestors. Can anyone remember the last time that churches were delisted as entities? We know when that was, and it is a very regressive position to take. How can the people of Ukraine stomach a law like that? How can anyone impose a law like that? It must be challenged. It must be reversed. Reason must prevail.
MPs may be stripped of immunity by a simple majority vote in Ukraine's parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, thereby allowing the initiation of criminal proceedings, detention or arrest, with such cases no longer requiring prior review by the relevant parliamentary committee. When election rules can be changed, when opposition members can be put in jail because of the position they take, where is the country headed? A number of political prisoners really ought to be released, because when we look at the process that put them there, when we look at the weight of the law the president placed upon them, a quick look would say this cannot be right.
Another law indicated that NGOs that accept foreign funds must include in their title the term “civic organization that fulfills the functions of a foreign agent”.
Those kinds of actions are regressive and go back to an era and a time we would like to forget.
Of course, we have seen a protestor killed. A funeral was held for a 25-year old who paid the ultimate price.
The deliberate beating of protestors and journalists, kidnappings and disappearances, people falling off tall buildings are the kinds of things one would expect in a very regressive and totalitarian regime. The use of deadly force, physical assaults, home visits, requests for statements, censorships are the kinds of things that cannot be tolerated.
I probably will not have time to mention an article in the Daily Herald, in which a young person who came to Canada decries what is happening. Two fellow students, one a poet and one going to university, were arrested for protesting and put in jail. How is that appropriate in a democracy? It is not.
I would encourage the Ukrainian people to continue to stand for that which is right, at this very critical moment in history.