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Canadian House Foreign Affairs Committee urges Ottawa to bolster initiatives for Ukraine

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Member of Parliament Garnett Genuis (center) with Ukrainian Catholic Patriarch Sviatoslav and Alberta United Conservative Leader Jason Kenney during a visit to Ukraine in August 2016.

Office of MP Garnett Genuis

Member of Parliament Garnett Genuis (center) with Ukrainian Catholic Patriarch Sviatoslav and Alberta United Conservative Leader Jason Kenney during a visit to Ukraine in August 2016.

OTTAWA – Canada’s House of Commons Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development has called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government to maintain its major initiatives regarding Ukraine and add new ones in the areas of cyber-security and visas.

In a report released on November 22 and based on fact-finding missions committee members made to Ukraine, Poland, Latvia and Kazakhstan in January along with witness testimony, the House committee said the Canadian government should maintain “its sanctions against Russian and post-annexation Crimean officials, those responsible for the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine, as well as those involved in the abduction and illegal show trials of Ukrainian citizens in Russia and Crimean Tatars and others within Crimea.”

Ottawa “should also engage with the Russian government on the need to respect international law and Ukraine’s sovereignty” and “continue to support multilateral efforts” through such international bodies as the United Nations and NATO, “to help bring about a resolution to Russia’s military invasion and illegal annexation of Crimean territory” and provide “logistical and military support for the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine” by continuing Operation UNIFIER, the House committee recommended. Its report was unanimously adopted by the 14 government and opposition Members of Parliament who serve on the committee.

Since it began in the summer of 2015 under the previous Conservative government, UNIFIER has sent some 200 Canadian soldiers to train about 5,000 of their Ukrainian counterparts in and around Lviv.

The operation continues until the end of March 2019. But the Canadian government has so far not equipped the Ukrainian military with arms as repeatedly requested by Kyiv nor has it added Ukraine to the Automatic Firearms Country Control List that would allow it to purchase lethal aid from Canadian weapons manufacturers – although Prime Minister Trudeau said it would “absolutely” be included on the list during Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s visit to Toronto for the Invictus Games in September.

Alberta Conservative MP Garnett Genuis, the Official Opposition deputy shadow minister of foreign affairs, who serves on the House committee, said in an interview that his party also wants the Liberals to restore the sharing of satellite images with Ukraine’s military that the Conservatives, under former Prime Minister Stephen Harper, began in 2015.

“The government has provided no explanation as to why it canceled the provision of those images,” said Mr. Genuis, a 30-year-old parliamentarian first elected to the House in 2015, who visited Ukraine for the first time in 2016 during the country’s 25th anniversary of independence.

Earlier this year, a spokesperson for Canadian Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan told The Ukrainian Weekly that the government determined that “resources could be redirected to other areas” in addressing Ukraine’s “evolving security assistance” and terminated the supply of images from Canada’s Radarsat-2 satellite.

The opposition Tories have also called for a Canadian-led U.N. peacekeeping mission in eastern Ukraine. However, there was no mention of a specific mission as part of the Liberal government’s recently unveiled peacekeeping plans.

Mr. Genuis, the MP for the Edmonton-area riding of Sherwood Park-Fort Saskatchewan that includes a significant Ukrainian Canadian community, said that Canada is best suited to lead a U.N. peace operation in Ukraine because of Canada’s “strong commitments to the rule of law” and its history of supporting human rights and “non-belligerence,” and that such a mission should reflect “Canada’s values and interests” and not “be a mechanism for securing [a] Security Council” seat, for which Mr. Trudeau has been actively lobbying.

In its report, titled “Strengthening Canadian Engagement in Eastern Europe and Central Asia,” the House Foreign Affairs Committee also called on the Canadian government to help “improve collective defense mechanisms against cyberattacks, as well as proactively monitor disinformation campaigns and develop countermeasures to minimize damage inflicted by information warfare,” but provided no detail as to how to reach these objectives.

The committee heard from witnesses “about how Russian state-run information agencies use various media platforms to foment discontent and anti-government sentiment within ethnic-Russian populations” in neighboring countries of Russia, and that “such discontent could serve as a prelude to Russian intervention if these groups made the case that their rights or interests were being denied,” said the report.

Canada is not immune from cyberattacks, the committee observed, and the Communications Security Establishment – Canada’s electronic spy agency – warned in a report this year that “multiple hacktivist groups will very likely deploy cyber capabilities in an attempt to influence the democratic process during the 2019 federal election.”

The House Foreign Affairs Committee also recommended that the Canadian government should “improve the efficiency of the visa-application process,” without compromising Canadian security, for nationals of countries in the region covered by the report.

Although Ukrainians holding biometric passports were given visa-free access this year to 26 European countries in the Schengen zone for up to 90 days, Ukrainians have not been granted the same privilege from Canada. The House committee heard from witnesses in Kyiv that the rate of refusal for visa applications from Ukraine was between 20 and 25 percent – significantly higher than the 2- to 3-percent rate for applications from Europe.

The committee was told that there was an “uneven quality of the necessary supporting documents from Ukrainian applicants that have led to increased scrutiny of such documentations and applications more generally.”

During his visit to Toronto in September, President Poroshenko said he discussed visa liberalization with Prime Minister Trudeau and agreed to efforts to reduce the number of visa refusals Ukrainians face when attempting to enter Canada.

The president also announced that Ukraine would open a consulate in Edmonton, familiar territory for Mr. Genuis, who developed a deep affection for Ukraine when he spent three days in Kyiv in August 2016.

“The tangible national pride was really powerful and it was awe-inspiring to see where the Maidan happened,” said Mr. Genuis, before departing for Beijing on his first trip abroad with the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

“I’m not someone with any Ukrainian heritage, but I really felt I fell in love with the country in a short period of time – just feeling the authentic national pride in the context of where that national identity is threatened by an aggressive neighbor,” Mr. Genuis said, adding that in his previous role as the Conservative deputy critic for human rights and religious freedom he also met with Crimean Tatar and Jewish groups in Kyiv.

“All of them were very much opposed to the Russian occupation and highlighted that the propaganda that we sometimes hear in the West about alleged high levels of anti-Semitism is simply not correct. Many people of different kinds of backgrounds were proud Ukrainians, buying into this emerging sense of civic nationalism as well,” commented the MP.

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