John Baird in Ukraine while Ottawa holds off on sanctions
Foreign Affairs Minister in Kyiv to meet with newly formed Ukrainian government
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird has arrived in Kyiv Thursday ahead of meetings with officials from the newly appointed Ukraine government.
Baird is leading a delegation of Canadian government MPs, officials and leaders from the Ukrainian-Canadian community.
In a statement released shortly after his arrival, Baird welcomed the appointment of the new government.
"After the trauma of the past three months and the loss of so many lives, the appointment of a legitimate government is a vital step forward in restoring democracy and normalcy to Ukraine," he said.
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The visit comes as the Canadian government has put on hold planned sanctions against individuals associated with the former regime of Viktor Yanukovych.
David Anderson, parliamentary secretary to the minister of foreign affairs, told the House of Commons the government is waiting to see what happens before taking the next step.
"Events in Ukraine have moved extremely quickly," Anderson read from a prepared statement. "Because of the actions taken by this government, Canada is ready to freeze the assets or seize the property of those responsible for the violence in Ukraine if and when the new Ukrainian authorities make such a request."
Opposition calls it a 'mistake'
Liberal foreign affairs critic Marc Garneau believes the delay is a mistake.
"Sanctions shouldn't be removed until a long way down the line, when we've found out if some of the people in the Yanukovych regime are going to have to stand for criminal trial," Garneau told reporters.
NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair pointed out Canada has done this in the cases of Tunisia and Libya when those regimes toppled and said the government has failed to explain why it isn't acting this time.
"Canada could make life harder for the former, very corrupt regime by simply freezing assets; it's billions of dollars that Ukrainians could use," he said.
Travel ban still in place
While economic sanctions are on hold, a travel ban is in place barring those associated with the former Yanukovych from travel to Canada, though the Department of Foreign Affairs hasn't yet released the names of the people banned.
That makes Garneau wonder if the whole talk of sanctions is a "bluff" by the Canadian government.
"When the government announces that it is going to put this sanction on the personal assets of president Yanukovych and his inner circle, one presumes they know who those people are — otherwise you don't make that kind of a statement," Garneau said.
Baird's schedule in Ukraine is a busy one. He will only spend one day there and will meet officials of the new government, opposition representatives and other leaders.
Canadian opposition members were not allowed to join the Canadian delegation.
A spokesperson for the prime minister indicated the snub was punishment for the actions of Liberal and NDPMPs.
"This is not a laughing matter," said PMO director of communications Jason MacDonald in a written response to questions about the composition of the Canadian delegation.
MacDonald went on to cite Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau's recent comments about Ukraine, for which Trudeau later apologized, as the reason "there's no role for the Liberals in this government mission."
As for the exclusion of the Official Opposition NDP, MacDonald said, "The NDP wouldn't pick a side, unlike our government," and therefore would be excluded from the trip, he continued, "like the Liberals."