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The Problem With The Ukrainian Identity Of Canada’s Most Powerful Woman

Canada’s Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, like many others, is rightly outraged at Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Yet her emotional attachment to Ukraine, where she has family roots, risk undermining what should be her priority: the interests of Canada.

The Problem With The Ukrainian Identity Of Canada’s Most Powerful Woman

Freeland holds the hand of an infant as she speaks with Ukrainian refugees in Warsaw last week.

Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press via ZUMA
Ranjani Iyer Mohanty

-OpEd-

CALGARY — The number of hyphenated Canadians continues to grow. More than seven million of us were born outside Canada, and a further 2.5 million were born in Canada to two parents born outside the country. Many of us feel a strong sense of attachment to the place of our birth or the place our parents came from. It’s only natural.


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But having moved to and now living in Canada, we have physically – and in some sense, also mentally – made a break from the home of our ancestors. This break is necessary for us to adapt to, focus on, and find peace in our private lives and our professional lives in Canada. This is especially true if you hold public office.

Chrystia Freeland, though, does not seem to have made that break. Her maternal grandparents were born in Ukraine, and her mother is said to have helped draft the country’s post-Soviet constitution.

Chrystia Freeland is a proud Ukrainian-Canadian

Over the years, Freeland’s deep attachment to that country has been obvious – and that’s wonderful. In fact, as Ukrainians are now facing such hardships, with heartrending images repeatedly filling our screens, we’re all thinking of them and praying for their safe passage out of this crisis.

Are these the personal thoughts of a deeply incensed Ukrainian-Canadian?

But as Deputy Prime Minister of Canada, Freeland’s first priority should be the welfare of Canada – yes, even to the extent of putting its welfare over the welfare of Ukraine. As Deputy Prime Minister of Canada — the second most powerful position in the government — she cannot allow her emotional attachment to Ukraine guide her behavior and her decisions.

In her impassioned speeches of the previous weeks, she has called Russian President Vladimir Putin a “reviled European dictator” and an “international pariah.”

Are these the words of a national political leader — who's also Canada's finance minister and former foreign minister — or the personal thoughts of a deeply incensed Ukrainian-Canadian?

Where were sanctions for the Iraq invasion?

Freeland’s imposition of strong sanctions against Russia and her encouraging other countries to also do so are, in themselves, admirable stances to take. Putin claims falsely that he’s invading Ukraine to protect its people against their own ‘Nazi’ leaders and for the presence of dangerous biochemical sites.

But where, many ask, were Canadian sanctions against Washington when the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003 for equally fabricated reasons — in that case, Weapons of Mass Destruction that didn’t exist)?

Disconcertingly, Freeland and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau were both out of the country last week to help lead the diplomatic battle on Ukraine’s behalf – leaving Canada to look after itself.

Are all of Canada’s usual problems and threats taking a holiday during the Ukraine-Russian war?

Freeland tweeted from the Brandenburg Gate “a symbol of freedom and a reminder, particularly today, that peace and democracy in Europe have been hard won.”

Two things to remember. First, that gate has served varied roles in its over 200-year history – as a celebratory icon for both democratic and non-democratic victories. Second, in World War II, the Russians fought on the side of the Allies. In fact, they fought almost single-handedly against the Nazis on the Eastern Front, waiting for UK and the U.S. to belatedly open the Western Front. In the process the Soviets, suffered an astounding 27 million casualties.

With Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly looking on, Freeland speaks in Ottawa just after Russia launched its invasion.

Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press via ZUMA

Avoid World War III

Granted, the 1.3 million Ukrainian-Canadians form the world’s third largest Ukrainian population, after Ukraine and interestingly, Russia. But just as there are Ukrainian-Canadians, there are also some 600,000 Russian-Canadians. (The top hyphenated populations are Indian-Canadians (1.3 million) and Chinese-Canadians (1.7 million).

Then there are other wars currently going on in the world – in Ethiopia, Yemen, and of course, Israel/Palestine. But watching the Canadian news channels and hearing the Canadian political leadership talk, there is only one: the Russia-Ukraine war.

Her desire to help Ukraine at all cost is dangerous.

There’s no doubt that Freeland’s in-depth knowledge of Ukraine and Russia makes her invaluable at the decision table as Canada decides how to best help the Ukrainians.

But her skewed perspective of the situation, her singular focus on Ukraine, and her desire to help Ukraine at all cost makes it dangerous to let her lead the Canadian response.

The global situation is currently risky and fragile; we cannot afford a third world war. Canada’s response to the Ukraine-Russia war needs to be calculated and measured. It cannot be an instinctive gut response with scant regard for the consequences.

National interests

As much as we sympathize with Ukraine, we are not Ukraine. And when Freeland speaks, she needs to keep in mind that she is speaking for Canada, not Ukraine.

Once, when Henry Kissinger – the German-born former U.S. Secretary of State – came to India, he was questioned as to why the United States had not done this, that and the other to help India. He leaned forward slowly toward the microphone and softly said, “Because American foreign policy is for Americans.”

Likewise today, Canadian foreign policy — even as we focus on saving Ukrainian lives — must ultimately be about Canadian interests.

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In The News

War In Ukraine, Day 126: Russia Watching NATO, As Path Cleared For Finland And Sweden To Join

As NATO leaders meet in Madrid, Finland and Sweden look much closer to joining the alliance after Turkey dropped its objections to their membership. It's yet another momentous change underway since Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

International leaders after having their photograph taken before the start of the NATO 2022

Anna Akage, Shaun Lavelle, and Emma Albright

A high-stakes NATO summit has kicked off in Madrid, as leaders of the world’s largest defense alliance discuss the war in Ukraine and key decisions that will shape the organization’s future direction. NATO Secretary-GeneralJens Stoltenberg said the Russian invasion of its neighbor had prompted a fundamental shift in its approach to defense.

Stay up-to-date with the latest on the Russia-Ukraine war, with our exclusive international coverage.

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Finland and Sweden look much closer to joining the alliance after Turkey dropped its objections to their membership. The three countries released a joint memorandum that “extend[ed] their full support against threats to each other's security," FinnishPresident Sauli Niinistö said.

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