Ukraine seeking Canada's help to set up high-level corruption court

Ukraine is looking for Canada's backing as the embattled eastern European country establishes a special court to deal with anti-corruption cases.

Ukrainians 'just don't have trust in the justice system,' the country's deputy Speaker says

Ukrainian former lawmaker Mykola Martynenko, who is under investigation over suspected embezzlement, speaks inside the defendant's cage before being bailed, as he attends a court hearing in Kyiv. Ukraine's deputy Speaker says her government needs other nations to help select independent-minded judges. (Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters)

Ukraine is looking for Canada's backing as the embattled eastern European country establishes a special court to deal with anti-corruption cases.

Legislation to set up the separate judicial framework is still making its way through the Ukrainian parliament, but the country's deputy Speaker Oksana Syroyid said her government needs other nations to help select independent-minded judges.

Syroyid is in Ottawa for three days of meetings with Canadian officials, where she is pressing the case for judicial reform, but also explaining the growing complexities of the war with Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Faith in the justice system has been sorely tested in two recent cases, one of them involving a powerful ex-lawmaker, Mykola Martynenko, who is accused of widespread corruption.

He was arrested April 21 on a series of charges.

Judiciary modelled on Soviet system

But he was granted bail under a judiciary which is still largely modelled on the old Soviet system and populated with appointees of ousted former president Viktor Yanukovych.

Syroyid said the dismay of ordinary people is understandable.

"They just don't have trust in the justice system," said Syroyid, who received a master's degree in law from the University of Ottawa in 2003.

"Trust has been lost, unfortunately, a long time ago. People of Ukraine are frustrated by state institutions in general. For decades, Ukrainian state institutions were working not for the people of Ukraine but for the interests of seven specific persons," she said, referencing powerful oligarchs who have — and in some cases continue — to control vast swaths of the country's economy.

Oksana Syroyid, deputy Speaker of Ukraine's parliament, was in Ottawa and Washington pressing the case for judicial reform. (Murray Brewster/CBC)

Both the Canadian and American embassies were consulted in the development of the legislation for the anti-corruption court, and Syroyid said she believes Canada would have several good candidates to help in the selection of judges.

A separate court is also one of the benchmarks established by the International Monetary Fund, which is pressuring the current government of Petro Poroshenko to clean up the economy.

The country recently established a separate prosecution wing for high-level official corruption.

Syroyid said overhauling the existing justice system is a going to be a decade-long process that will require training lawyers and judges in a completely new way of thinking.

Obstructing justice

Ukraine's issues were underlined recently when four former Berkut riot police officers were granted bail after being charged with murder and torture related to the 2014 Maidan protests that brought down the Yanukovych government.

Each of the former, highly trained cops promptly fled to Russia, claiming in local media reports that it was "too dangerous" for them to remain in Ukraine.

The country's interior minister has been accused of obstructing the prosecution. The department oversaw the officers, who were accused of firing into protesters during the uprising, killing as many as 100 people.

At least six other members of the same unit, including one commander, fled the country in 2014 to avoid prosecution.

Canada has been involved in helping Ukraine overhaul its traffic police, training and equipping new officers.

The Trudeau government also committed to helping with judicial reform and pledged funding to develop a modern legal aid system, which Syroyid said will go a long way to restoring faith in the justice system for ordinary people.


Murray Brewster

Defence and security

Murray Brewster is senior defence writer for CBC News, based in Ottawa. He has covered the Canadian military and foreign policy from Parliament Hill for over a decade. Among other assignments, he spent a total of 15 months on the ground covering the Afghan war for The Canadian Press. Prior to that, he covered defence issues and politics for CP in Nova Scotia for 11 years and was bureau chief for Standard Broadcast News in Ottawa.