With The Honourable John Baird
and The Honourable Chris Alexander
The following is a transcript of a media conference call that was held Wednesday Jan 29, 2013 in Ottawa with MP Ted Opitz and MP James Bezan, The Hon. John Baird and The Hon.Chris Alexander
Ted Opitz: Good evening, and thank you all for joining us here on the call this evening. As you’re aware, Canada has a longstanding and close relationship with Ukraine. In fact, we were the first country to recognize Ukraine’s independence in 1991. And as such, Canada’s deeply concerned by the political conflict and the escalating violence that has occurred in Ukraine in the past weeks, and we have categorically condemned the killing of innocent protestors by the government. Prime Minister Harper has stated that Canada shares the concerns of the Ukrainian people who are protesting the government’s actions, which remind them of an anti-democratic and Soviet past. He has also stated that Canada stands ready to take further action against the Ukrainian government’s violations of basic freedoms.
And like all Canadians, my caucus colleagues and I are deeply troubled by the situation. And that’s why MP Bezan and I supported an emergency debate last evening that you all saw unfold in the House of Commons. We have had meaningful discussions with constituents, both Ukrainian and with other groups. And we appreciate the support that they have expressed for Canada’s clear and principled position in supporting the Ukrainian people.
And with that, I’m going to now turn it over to Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister, the Honourable John Baird.
Hon. John Baird: Obviously we are watching things on an hour by hour basis and are deeply troubled by a pattern of escalating violence and heavy-handed behaviour. This is causing us significant concern. Obviously our objective is to promote Canadian values — freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Canada’s working very closely with the European Union, which is a powerful force for good in Ukraine, and with the United States. Our team on the ground led by our Ambassador are engaging with people at the highest levels. I have been in contact with my counterpart, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine and obviously visited Ukraine last year and met with both representatives of the government and the opposition and had a chance to meet with the people protesting on the streets in the Maidan.
This remains a key priority. It is essential that we maintain the capacity to escalate our pressure, and that’s exactly what we’re doing.
And I’m very pleased to introduce Chris Alexander, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration.
Hon. Chris Alexander: Thanks, everyone. Great to be here with Minister Baird, James Bezan, Ted Opitz who’ve worked tirelessly to ensure that Canada’s response to this crisis is effective, principled. As everyone has said, it’s the violence that has commanded our attention. We deplore it. We deplore the role of members of Ukraine’s ruling elite in unleashing this violence in the face of popular and growing protests, protests that aren’t over and protests that we see as legitimate. I mean now they’re protesting violence itself, obviously, but they have been protesting repressive measures by the government. They have been protesting corruption, widespread corruption in the government. They have been protesting outside pressure on Ukraine to step away from its European vocation and all of that means that we have been compelled to take targeted and meaningful action after extensive consultations with stakeholders and others, as Mr. Opitz said.
So effective immediately, our government will restrict entry to Canada for key Ukrainian government figures that have been responsible for the repression and silencing of opposition voices. We continue to stand with the Ukrainian people as they defiantly and courageously speak out in support of freedom and democracy. And we’ll continue to monitor developments and consider other possible options if necessary.
Hon. John Baird: Thank you very much. Now all three of us will be prepared to take your questions along with Member of Parliament James Bezan, who, along with Ted Opitz led the effort for the emergency debate in Parliament last night.
The media then had an opportunity to pose questions
Operator: Thank you. The next question is from Walter Derzko from New Pathway Newspaper. Please go ahead.
Question: Thank you, Mr. Ministers and Mr. Ted Opitz and Mr. Bezan. Thank you for all your efforts that you’ve taken, especially last night in the emergency meeting and your key announcement today. My question is concerning the regime in Ukraine. The violence that we’ve seen could be considered as state-sponsored terrorism against your own people. Will that qualify the Yanukovych regime to fall under Canada’s no-fly list and possibly the U.S. and EU? And is that an option that’s being considered in collaboration with your allies in Europe and in the United States?
Hon. John Baird: I don’t think at this stage we’re looking to that. Obviously, I pushed directly with my counterpart a number of days ago that we wanted to see a full and independent investigation into the violence. That is absolutely essential. Obviously, we’re taking detailed note of specific actions on the ground. The decision of the Prime Minister and his government to resign is important. At the same time, we want to wait and see who would replace them. They actually have not left office yet. So we want to see the other shoe drop. So I would just leave it at that.
Hon. Chris Alexander: And for the purposes of the measures we’ve announced today, restricting entry into Canada for certain individuals, our current law is sufficient. Under the current Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, anyone who poses a risk to Canada’s security, has violated human or international rights, who has a record of criminality, actions that would constitute crimes in Canada is inadmissible to Canada. And we’re just making that law – ensuring that it does apply for those members of the regime of the ruling elite in Ukraine who are responsible for the violence.
Ted Opitz: Great. I’ll just pass it over to MP James Bezan who will sign us off.
James Bezan: Well, I want to thank everyone for participating in tonight’s conference call, and I want to thank Minister Baird and Minister Alexander for the work that they’re doing on this file, careful measures that they’re taking, but this is an important step that we’ve seen today, and it’s about accountability and holding those to account for the crimes that have been committed in Ukraine. And we’ve seen it play out in the media. Many people have now witnessed it firsthand with the police brutality, the attack on innocent activists and of course the complete disrespect for democracy and the rule of law.
You know we are entering into a presidential cycle that’s coming up at the end of this year. We have to make sure that we’re working with all parties to ensure that there are free and fair elections because right now on the streets of Ukraine people do not trust their political leadership. And so this is going to be a continuing evolving situation that Canada will be monitoring and participating in and standing with the people of Ukraine. And I think that that is key to every move that we make as a government. And under the leadership of Prime Minister Harper with the support of cabinet ministers like John Baird and Chris Alexander we’re going to ensure that Canada continues to play a major role – a major role in the future of Ukraine, as we have done in the past. And we will take further action as necessary as the situation continues to unfold and how the government of Ukraine under President Yanukovych reacts over the upcoming days is going to be really the catalyst as to how we move forward.
So with that, I say Slava Ukraini.
Ted Opitz: Thank you very much.
Other questions were asked by Marco Levitsky, Myroslav Petriv and Myroslava Oleksiuk and other unnamed members of the media.