Michael MacKay, Radio Lemberg, 01.11.2017
Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman is visiting Canada. On October 31 he held talks with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Ottawa. There was some gentle banter in the press about the youthful Trudeau – he’s 45 years old – being the elder statesman: Groysman is 39. But serious matters are on the agenda, and the main one is trade. In the summer of this year, Canada and Ukraine finally ratified a free trade agreement that has been 20 long years in the making. It is urgent that Canada and Ukraine use the opportunity of formal free trade to expand the miniscule economic ties they have now to the substantial ties they ought to be.
Canada and Ukraine want to talk about trade, because both countries have the political will at the moment to make real progress building economic ties. But there are two issues that Ukraine wants to talk about that Canada doesn’t: lethal weapons for Ukraine from Canada, and visa-free travel reciprocity for Canadians and Ukrainians to enjoy. The reason the Government of Canada doesn’t want to talk about these things is that it doesn’t have any reason to say “no” and it is paralyzed by bureaucratic inertia making it unable to say “yes.”
Canada should give lethal weapons to Ukraine. First, Ukraine needs armaments of all kinds because it is defending Europe against invasion by Russia on its territory of Crimea and Donbas. It is important that Ukraine defend itself – and by extension Europe and the civilized West – well. There is some advanced or specialized weaponry which Ukraine does not have and which the Canadian defence industry produces. These weapons would benefit Ukraine’s self-defence and Canada’s national security. Second, Ukraine is a democracy and not an autocracy, and merits being placed on Canada’s “Automatic Firearms Country Control List.” The Canadian government says that a process is underway to place Ukraine on this list, which would allow arms exports to Ukraine. It says that this process is lengthy, but doesn’t say why this process is lengthy. Saudi Arabia was easily placed on this list, even though it is an autocracy and not a democracy. Saudi Arabia is accused of grave violations of human rights against its own people and against the people of Yemen. Canada allows lethal weapons to be sold to autocratic Saudi Arabia and gives no good reason why it isn’t allowing democratic Ukraine to have the weapons it needs to defend itself and the West – Canada included – from Russian aggression.
Canadians and Ukrainians should enjoy the opportunity to visit each others countries visa-free. Ukraine allowed Canadians to visit visa-free starting in 2005, after the Orange Revolution. Canada hasn’t made any bureaucratic moves to allow Ukrainians to visit Canada visa-free, and the government won’t explain its inertia. This past summer, the European Union and Schengen Zone associate nations made visa-free travel a reality for Ukrainians to 30 countries. The visa-waiver program has been a stunning success. By the end of 2017, about 5 million Ukrainian citizens (11% of the population) will have biometric passports, which are a requirement for visa-free travel. Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians have visited EU countries under the new procedure. A Ukrainian passport is more valuable because of the increase in the number of countries Ukrainians can now visit visa-free. The Ukrainian passport jumped 15 places in the “power ranking” of the world’s passports to position number 32. A Russian passport is lower in the power ranking, at position number 41. This means that the sinister practice of the Russian invaders of “passportization” – handing out Russian passports to the captive population of Crimea and Donbas – is less effective. The ties to Ukraine are now stronger for residents of Crimea and Donbas than they are to Russia, when it comes to passports.
Canada says many times that it is a “true friend of Ukraine.” If that is true, then prove it. Bring in visa-free travel for Ukrainians to Canada. There is no reason not to. The European Union made Ukraine satisfy over 400 procedural conditions to gain the visa-free regime. And it has worked out extremely well. The EU-Ukraine Deep and Comprensive Free Trade Agreement will be more powerful than the Canada-Ukraine Free Trade Agreement because the EU enjoys visa-free reciprocity with Ukraine and Canada negligently denies itself visa-free reciprocity with Ukraine. Free trade in goods and services is all well and good. But free movement of people is what truly liberates economies. Canada-Ukraine economic ties have the potential to boom, and improve the standard of living for many people. But Canada-Ukraine free trade will go nowhere until the Government of Canada overcomes its bureaucratic inertia and brings in visa-free travel reciprocity for Canadians and Ukrainians.
Canada and Ukraine just announced that there will be a direct air link (again), between Toronto and Kyiv. It makes no sense that the Canadians getting off the aircraft in Kyiv will enter Ukraine visa-free, but that Ukrainians who want to board the plane for Toronto at Boryspil airport will have to have gone through the bureaucratic nightmare of obtaining a visa. It is reported that Canada already turns down one-third of Ukrainians applying for a visa to visit Canada. At a time when the European Union is enjoying hundreds of thousands of visa-free visits by Ukrainians, nearly trouble-free, the position of Canada is inexplicable and indefensible. Ukraine did its part for Canada in 2005. Now’s the time for Mr. Trudeau to shake Mr. Groysman’s hand and say, “We’re sorry for the 12 year delay – Canada is bringing in visa-free travel for Ukrainians now.”