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Alexander Dalziel: Ukraine needs our support now more than ever

Commentary

After two years of a Russia-initiated war that has killed thousands of Ukrainian civilians and soldiers, upset world order, worsened inflation, and cost millions of taxpayer dollars, Canadians are getting a little tired of the Ukraine-Russia conflict, polling shows. But now is not the time to lose focus.

The February 24 anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the Ukrainians’ inspiring resistance is an opportunity to reassess and reaffirm the importance of Canada’s commitment to Ukraine—and a more secure Canada.

The House of Commons agreed to update a free-trade agreement with Ukraine on February 6, but, unusually, the Conservative Party opposed it, claiming not to support some of the environmental provisions it contained. That vote was taken as Canadians from across the political spectrum are feeling less inclined to support Ukraine, according to a recent Angus Reid poll

The number of those polled who said Canada is doing too much has almost doubled to 25 percent, particularly among Conservative voters. Interest overall is waning, as only 45 percent say they are closely following the conflict in the news, down from 66 percent in May 2022.

But after two years, we should pay attention, because support for Ukraine is as important as ever, even if events elsewhere threaten to shift our attention. The conflict is but one part of an increasingly turbulent global picture, extending from a combusting Middle East to Serbia interfering with its Balkan neighbours to Azerbaijan ejecting its entire Armenian population. Insecurity abounds in parts of Africa and South America. The Economist Intelligence Unit tells us democracy is doing poorly worldwide. Atop this, U.S.-China tensions sit unresolved.

Most significantly, China and Russia are creating a colossal geopolitical bloc in Eurasia with daunting fundamentals in natural resources, technology, and industrial capacity. The authoritarian dynamic evolving between them is now closer together than ever. They have a shared interest in pushing back the United States and its allies—that is, Canada and our allies—so they can have a free hand in neighbouring countries.

The conflict in Ukraine represents a pivotal arena, and, if left unchecked, that dynamic will have three key implications for the West and Canada. First, an abandoned Ukraine would destabilize Europe. Anyone saying Russia’s ambitions end at Ukraine’s western borders is, at the very least, overconfident. Moscow openly stated in 2021 that it wanted NATO rolled back in Europe. The tensions unleashed even if Russia “only” occupied all of Ukraine would cause the most severe deterioration in European security since the early Cold War. The surest way to keep Canada and NATO out of a broader war with Russia, not get into one, is to support Ukraine.

Second, a Russian victory in Ukraine imperils Canadian interests in the Indo-Pacific region. Since 2022, we have seen China’s aggressiveness towards Taiwan mount. A flagging commitment to Ukraine tells the Communist Party of China a lot about the reserves of fortitude—or lack thereof—of Taiwan’s foreign supporters, should it invade the island. That increases the likelihood of an armed China-U.S. confrontation—and an interruption to the supply of computer chips our economy depends on given that most are manufactured in Taiwan. 

Third, Russia and China are enjoying unprecedented cooperation in the Arctic. While to date this is mostly economic, two authoritarian governments projecting influence in the Arctic corrodes Canada’s regional governance. Russia already has the world’s largest icebreaker fleet; China, a non-Arctic state, is on course to have almost as many polar-class heavy icebreakers as Canada and the U.S. combined. Conceding Russia’s imperialism in Ukraine is unlikely to encourage Moscow to abide by international law when it comes time to settle maritime boundaries with Canada in the Arctic Ocean. 

To protect Canadian security and prosperity amid this flux, Canada will need partners. 

Seen in this light, Ukraine is a good investment. Its political fundamentals are strengthening. Elections there are real. It has a flourishing civil society fighting for—and achieving—transparency and accountability to dismantle corruption, including in the military. Ukrainians openly criticize President Volodymyr Zelenskyy during a war. (In Russia, even calling it a war lands you in jail.) That speaks to basic political rights that Ukrainians have won and do not take for granted.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy receives a standing ovation from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and parliamentarians before delivering a speech in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Friday, Sept. 22, 2023. Patrick Doyle/The Canadian Press.

Compare that to Russia, where the leading opposition figure of the last decade, Alexei Navalny, died in mysterious circumstances at 47 years old in a penal colony last week. He had already survived several attempts on his life and health. Keep in mind that we hear about corruption in Ukraine because the media actually reports it there. In Russia, President Vladimir Putin has destroyed the media to prevent such exposure. And, by the way, he will be re-elected for another six years in sham polls next month. The threat is not going away.

On the battlefield, Ukraine needs immediate help. It is fighting hard. For instance, without a navy of its own, it is regularly sinking Russian warships, allowing grain to reach Africa and the Middle East, bringing down food prices, and tackling a key component of inflation. But it is under pressure, badly outnumbered by Russian forces, and, undersupplied by its foreign supporters, slowly conceding ground on some fronts and holding the line in others, all at great cost to Russian forces. Russia’s economy is on a war footing; North Korea’s artillery shell production for Russia is out-competing the collective military-industrial capacity of NATO. 

Regardless of future U.S. choices, we have committed European partners. Europe’s monetary, material, and political commitments to Ukraine are large. Cooperation with NATO and European Union allies defrays the financial costs. Enhanced Canada-Europe cooperation on defence production, for instance, would produce the armaments and technologies that Ukraine (and Canada and Europe) require.

If Canadians’ enthusiasm for Ukraine is flagging because of money alone, we should reconsider the cost in the world as it is, not as it was or as we wish it to be. Defending our security and prosperity is going to get much more expensive, regardless of what we choose to do in Ukraine. That is an inconvenient fact for all of Canada’s political parties.

Our politicians—and let’s be honest, we Canadians—have so internalized the idea that we can free-ride on the Americans for security that we indulge the belief that our politics consists of domestic issues only, such as cutting taxes or spending on social programs. But foreign policy is the other side of the statehood coin. To be a country, you have to have both. We have forgotten that over the last 30 years. Internecine debates about day-to-day politics are well and good, but they cannot become our sole obsession. Whether we like it or not, Canada’s interests are tied up in what happens abroad. If we want to have politics for the Left, Right, and Centre at home, then doing all we can to support Ukraine’s cause is fundamentally the right choice.

Michael Kempa: The only clear lesson of the Emergencies Act mess? Reform is needed

Commentary

Last week, the Trudeau government missed its one-year February 17 deadline to respond to the findings and recommendations of Justice Paul Rouleau’s inquiry into the 2022 invocation of the Emergencies Act.

Rouleau’s final recommendations were for the government to clearly indicate within one year of his report which of his proposed reforms they would accept and what their detailed timeline would be to implement them. The government was also supposed to include clear explanations for any recommendations they rejected.  

By ignoring the deadline set by a report that actually supported their decision to invoke the Emergencies Act, the government risks squandering an opportunity to help themselves and prepare Canada for our emergent age of mass protest.

Government inaction on Rouleau’s key recommendations to reform policing and intelligence frameworks—and, critically, the Emergencies Act itself—is starkly contrasted with their immediate decision to appeal Justice Richard Mosley of the Federal Court’s more recent ruling that their use of the Act was illegal.

Silence on the inquiry report that was, on its surface, favourable to the government—while actively fighting the legal decision that seems to go against them—is a baffling move. 

But, trawling through the public record of government communications on matters related to the Act over the past two years, it is possible to offer fair and founded interpretations of what the government’s strategy seems to be, and what it reflects.

At present, all interpretations are unflattering to the government—which calls for their clarification. 

Most charitably, we can hypothesize that the government has misread the many commonalities within the analyses that lead each judge to contrasting final appraisals of whether the federal government was justified in invoking the Act.

Simply put, Rouleau says the government had just barely met the famous Section 2 standards of the CSIS Act for mobilising the Emergencies Act, accepting the government’s argument that the “Freedom Convoy’s” threats to economic stability constituted a form of “serious violence” for a political purpose.

However, Rouleau concedes that “reasonable and informed people could reach a different conclusion.”

Hardly a ringing endorsement.

In apparent contrast, Mosley echoes Rouleau’s assessment that the Freedom Convoy devolved from a set of legal protests across the country into illegal occupation, but he rejects the government’s argument about economic harms constituting serious violence by the letter of the Section 2 standards. As such, he ruled the government’s actions were illegal and are not saved by the Section 1 safety valves of the Charter.

Mosley concedes, however, that had he “been at (the government’s) tables at that time, I may have agreed that it was necessary to invoke the Act.” 

Hardly a damning condemnation.

Justice Paul Rouleau releases his report on the Liberal government’s use of the Emergencies Act, in Ottawa, Friday, Feb.17, 2023. Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press.
Reform is crucial

What is key—and can be charitably interpreted as being missed by the government—is that both judges agree on the deficiencies of Canada’s policing and intelligence frameworks, and of the Emergencies Act itself, actively calling for its reform.

In keeping with his mandate, Rouleau goes much further than Mosely to make specific recommendations for reform, but the Federal Court judge is not particularly subtle in his calls for legislative action that echo the commissioner’s.

Rouleau follows the advice of the bulk of security experts who provided evidence at his inquiry in calling for the decoupling of the Emergencies Act and the Section 2 standards of the CSIS Act. This is in keeping with the logic that the thresholds constraining CSIS as a covert and secretive domestic intelligence agency ought to be higher than those constraining elected governments who must answer to both houses of the legislature and directly to the electorate. 

Further, while CSIS obtaining warrants to essentially spy on Canadian citizens must always be a strictly legal process, government decisions about acting in times of emergency are both legal and political and thereby require different sets of standards. 

Can economic damage that threatens the ability of large groups of citizens to secure their livelihoods constitute a form of “serious violence” for a political purpose? Rouleau says yes because this is not only a technical legal call but also a political one for which the government must answer: how much economic damage and how many people must lose their livelihoods before we cross over from simple labour protest to arrive at emergency is not easily defined by any purely legal formula.

On this, Mosely says that he can also fully understand why the government might require emergency powers to respond to mass forms of economic disruption, but that the Emergencies Act as it is currently written does not include such powers. He goes on to state that, as a judge, it is not his job to create new powers or write legislation, but to ensure that the “court…only apply the law as it finds it.”

Like Rouleau, Mosley goes on to invite the government to take on its responsibility to undertake the necessary legislative reform.

The government’s muddled response

This brings us to today. By failing to respond to Rouleau and charging off in the direction of appealing Mosley’s ruling, the Trudeau government is either inadvertently or willingly avoiding precisely what both judges have called upon them to do: take leadership responsibility for preparing Canada’s policing, intelligence, and emergencies frameworks for a future that is certain to be marked by mass protest. Political, economic, climate and pandemic disruption are only going to accelerate. 

By appealing Mosely’s verdict, the government is asking the courts to do what Mosely says he could not, and most Canadians would agree he should not: legislate for them.

And it is here that interpretations of the government’s apparent mishandling of the situation become less charitable.

Marco Mendicino, Chrystia Freeland, Justin Trudeau, David Lametti, and Bill Blair listen to a reporters’ question, in Ottawa, Friday, Feb.17, 2023. Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press.

The first is conceptual blindness (uncharitably, driven by arrogance). In other words, the need to always be right.

Perhaps the government has been stung by the federal court’s unfavourable ruling in a manner similar to the kick to their pride delivered by mass protests that coalesced around the government’s confused and haughty messaging around vaccine mandates and other pandemic measures.

Trudeau had to walk back his assessment of protestors as representing the “fringe minority” of racists, anti-experts, and violent provocateurs when their numbers swelled into the tens of thousands and all security agencies began speaking of “layers of protestors.”

Part of the government’s response can be seen as similar and immediate lashing out against a court ruling that they view as a stinging and inferior rebuke of their own views and logic.

The second concerns the lack of will and available political capital to undertake much in the way of reform in the difficult and fraught policy dimensions of policing, intelligence, federalism, and emergency preparedness. Uncharitably we can call this political cowardice.

Simply stated, the government is polling abysmally coming up on an election year and has little powder to burn on risky policy initiatives that could backfire. As Richard Fadden, former director of CSIS, has put it on numerous occasions, “There ain’t no votes in security and intelligence reform,” even if you get it right.

And if you get it wrong you can be politically obliviated.

Certainly, it is not difficult to imagine the Opposition taking the Trudeau government apart at the joints for trying to “change the laws that they have been judged legally guilty of breaking” in the lead-up to the election.

The third interpretation centres on manipulation, in the sense that delaying action can sometimes be a good tactic to invite and gauge response and calibrate the need to take initiative. Uncharitably, this could be seen as a cynical way to conduct a particularly effective form of free polling.

In other words, the Trudeau government may simply be waiting to see if the public begins jumping up and down to demand action on anything related to the Rouleau Commission and mass protest before they stick their necks out on the policy side of things. 

It is important to stress that these unflattering interpretations of the government’s blend of defensive silence on Rouleau with legal aggression on Mosley are not mutually exclusive. Rather, they appear in the current silence as the main features—arrogance, cowardice, and cynicism—of an unflattering portrait of a government beset by cratering public support.

What’s next?

There will be disagreement about the reform road ahead for policing, intelligence, federalism, and the content of the Emergencies Act.

Some will be very wary of any effort to relax the standards constraining the government in invoking it. Others will not want any aspect of economic threat added to the list of things considered to be violence for a political purpose.

But government silence only delays a public debate we cannot avoid on these difficult matters, if we are to be prepared for a generation of polarization and disruption. 

All political parties should place their plans for promoting national unity, inclusion, and security preparedness at the centre of their election campaigns to earn a mandate to fix the alienating messes driving social unrest and mass protest that Rouleau and Mosley have diagnosed.