James Bezan, Conservative MP, personally delivers army relief supplies to Ukraine - twice
'The military welcomed Mr. Bezan's attendance': Defence minister's spokeswoman
Canada's junior defence minister has twice accompanied the delivery of non-lethal military aid to Ukraine in photo-friendly events which initially caught the air force off guard.
- Ukraine getting $11M more in non-lethal support from Canada
- CBC News's ongoing coverage of the conflict in Ukraine
A series of documents released under the Access to Information Act show Conservative MP James Bezan and a staffer were last minute additions to a C-130J relief flight that shipped helmets, protective vests, tents and sleeping bags to beleaguered Ukrainian forces.
Bezan, whose Manitoba riding of Selkirk-Interlake is home to a large eastern European population, also tagged along for the latest delivery run, which left Thursday.
A spokeswoman for Defence Minister Rob Nicholson says the government in Kyiv requested Bezan's presence.
"Mr. Bezan was invited by the Ukrainian government to participate in a ceremony to thank Canada for its support upon the arrival of equipment to the country," Johanna Quinney said in an email.
No one at the Ukrainian embassy was immediately available to comment Monday.
Initial Ukraine flight pushed back
The Harper government announced last week that it was shipping millions of dollars worth of surplus cold weather gear, including jackets, boots and gloves to hard-pressed forces battling pro-Russian separatists.
Bezan's first trip on Aug.7 generated a flurry of emails among senior military communications staff and planners, who were only given about 36 hours notice that the MP would be on the flight.
The flight had initially been slated to depart the day before, but was inexplicably pushed back, according to emails obtained by The Canadian Press.
The request was made by Nicholson's senior military assistant, according to an email chain, which made no mention of the invitation from President Petro Poroshenko's government.
"The parliamentary secretary for defence, James Bezan, will travel to the Ukraine along with one staff member on board the C130 that is leaving Trenton tomorrow," Lt.-Col. Peter Earle wrote on Aug. 6.
"Please staff check this to let me know if there are any roadblocks to this occurring."
'No involvement' from minister's office
A separate memo, written the day before, shows that there had been contact with the Privy Council Office, the bureaucratic wing of the Prime Minister's Office, which was informed by the military's strategic joint staff that the plane would be needed elsewhere once the supplies were delivered.
"Regarding the two members of Parliament, we will advise PCO that the flight will continue on various other tasks after the delivery of cargo in Ukraine and they should therefore return to Canada by (commercial airline)," wrote the military's movements co-ordinator.
Quinney didn't indicate whether the cost of the return flight came out of Bezan's travel budget.
She also tried to put some distance between the minister and the details of how the trip unfolded.
"Flight plans are managed by the military with no involvement from the minister's office," Quinney wrote.
"The military welcomed Mr. Bezan's attendance."
Photos posted to Ukraine embassy website
The Foreign Affairs Department put out a press release and photo on Aug. 8 showing Bezan patting a Ukrainian soldier on the sleeve while another Ukrainian officer reaches out to shake his hand.
Such photos are coveted by MPs, considering their political value during federal election campaigns.
A picture from Bezan's most recent trip is featured on the Ukrainian embassy's website in Ottawa, along with the country's ambassador.
During Stephen Harper's historic visit to Israel last January, Conservative MP Mark Adler caused a stir by pushing for a "million-dollar shot" with the prime minister at Old Jerusalem's Western Wall.
The notion that Bezan's trip was important to get on the record was noted by the military, which advised its photography arm, known as Combat Camera, that there would be "an event on arrival in Ukraine" and a need to transmit photos and video back to Canada.