The Canadian embassy in Ukraine’s capital doubled as a place of refuge on a particularly bloody day of police clashes, with about a dozen anti-government protesters entering the reception area and seeking shelter at the mission.
The surge of violence in Kiev, which reportedly saw both police and demonstrators dead and injured, prompted action and swift rebuke from Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird and Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who addressed the situation Tuesday while in Mexico City for bilateral talks.
“We’re obviously very troubled by reports of renewed violence and deaths,” Mr. Harper said. “Canada continues to call on the government of Ukraine to work with the opposition and achieve a peaceful solution.”
The Prime Minister said all Canadian embassy personnel were safe and accounted for, and said he hopes the “peaceful” protesters can leave the mission as soon as possible. “I do want to be clear that we expect these individuals to be able to leave the embassy safely and free from intimidation, violence or harassment,” he said.
The crisis in Ukraine began last fall, after President Viktor Yanukovych shunned deeper association with the European Union in favour of closer ties with Russia, which had promised a $15-billion bailout for the recession-hit economy.
Mr. Baird, who has been under pressure from the opposition parties and Canada’s sizeable Ukrainian-Canadian community to take more action in Ukraine, issued some of his firmest language yet late Tuesday evening on the government’s possible next steps. He said in a statement he will consult with allies to “build a coordinated path forward in the coming days.”
“All options remain available, including through the deployment of targeted sanctions against those responsible,” said Mr. Baird, who alongside Immigration Minister Chris Alexander last month announced travel restrictions for key Ukrainian officials responsible for “silencing” opposition voices.
He also announced further assistance for the provision of medical care – including first aid kits and training – for Ukrainian activists, via a non-governmental organization.
"This urgent medical relief will ensure that treatment is provided to the courageous activists injured while speaking out peacefully in support of democracy,” he said.
Just days earlier, on Feb. 15, the minister welcomed the release of opposition detainees and commended protesters who had vacated several buildings they had been occupying – evidence of how fluid the situation in Ukraine has been.
The NDP also expressed outrage at the escalating violence Tuesday, with Foreign Affairs Critic Paul Dewar deeming the use of force by Ukrainian police “unacceptable” and reiterating his party’s call for targeted financial sanctions.
Adam Hodge, a spokesman for Mr. Baird, said protesters had entered the embassy’s reception area to escape the government’s violence, but he wouldn’t discuss security specifics at the Kiev mission.
Echoing Mr. Harper, he said the protesters “are peaceful and have not caused any damage to the premises or harmed staff.”
With a report from Kim Mackrael in Mexico