A Canadian veterans group is giving up its efforts to evacuate Afghans who supported Ottawa’s military and diplomatic mission in the country, citing staff burnout and a federal immigration system that is overburdened with red tape.
The Veterans Transition Network, which says it raised $3.6-million and helped rescue 2,061 Afghans since the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in August, 2021, is refocusing on its main priority of helping Canadian veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental-health problems.
Oliver Thorne, VTN executive director, said onerous government paperwork, lack of federal funding and the difficulty of finding safe routes out of Afghanistan forced the charitable organization to give up its evacuation work.
Mr. Thorne said VTN staff are exhausted from performing double duty, especially the additional workload of handling the complicated application process put in place by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. The paperwork and security vetting causes significant delays in approvals of special visas for Canada’s Afghan allies, he said.
Canada committed to resettling 40,000 Afghan refugees. Learn more about why thousands are still stuck overseas here.
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RCMP TO RECEIVE $5.1-MILLION TO AID COMMUNITY RESPONSES TO UNMARKED BURIAL SITES AT FORMER RESIDENTIAL SCHOOLS - The RCMP, who have long faced criticism over their troubled relationship with Indigenous people in Canada, are poised to receive $5.1-million over five years, beginning this fiscal year, to support community-led responses to unmarked burial sites at former residential schools. Story here.
AN INSIDE LOOK AT PATRICK BROWN’S PITCH FOR SELLING CONSERVATIVE PARTY MEMBERSHIPS - An apology to the Tamil community, improving cricket infrastructure, and putting a visa office in Kathmandu are just some of the promises Patrick Brown has made in hopes of becoming the next leader of the Conservative Party of Canada. Story here from The Canadian Press.
CANADA PREPPING MORE AID AS UKRAINE WAR ENTERS WHAT FORMER U.S. DEFENCE SECRETARY CALLS ‘CRITICAL’ PHASE - International Development Minister Harjit Sajjan says Canada is looking at more ways to help humanitarian crisis in eastern Europe as about 100 troops deploy to Poland to help with refugees fleeing war in Ukraine. Story here from CBC.
‘STRONG ARGUMENT’ TO BE MADE WHAT’S HAPPENING IN UKRAINE IS A GENOCIDE, SAYS DEFENCE MINISTER - Canada’s Defence Minister Anita Anand says that there’s a “strong argument” to be made that the “atrocities” in Ukraine occurring at the hands of the Russians amount to genocide. Story here from CTVNews.ca.
POPE FRANCIS TO MAKE THREE CANADIAN STOPS IN JULY TO MEET RESIDENTIAL SCHOOL SURVIVORS, SOURCES SAY - Pope Francis is expected to visit at least three cities during a late July trip to Canada, according to a new report from CBC. Sources involved in the planning of the trip told CBC the Pope will likely make stops in Edmonton, Quebec City and Iqaluit during what is scheduled to be about a four-day trip to the country. Story here from CBC.
RCMP REVIEW OF OLD SEXUAL ASSAULT FILES SENDS MORE THAN 200 BACK TO INVESTIGATORS - The RCMP has reviewed more than 30,000 of its previous sexual assault investigations and has found “consistent deficiencies” in how they were handled. The review, which looked at sexual assault investigations that took place between 2015 and 2017 and did not result in charges, sent 327 files for further investigation — about 1 per cent of all the files. Of those, 242 were reopened, resulting in 26 charges being sworn. Story here from CBC.
THIS AND THAT
TODAY IN THE COMMONS – The House is adjourned until Monday, April 25, 2022 at 11:00 a.m. (EDT).
SUMMIT SERIES LESSONS ON DEALING WITH RUSSIA - In his newly published book, Ice War Diplomat, former Canadian diplomat Gary J Smith takes readers back to the 1972 Summit Series. Mr. Smith was sent to Moscow in 1971 as the second secretary and vice counsel, arriving in February of that year. As the 1972 Summit Series began in Montreal, he was named the Canadian government’s official escort and liaison officer to the Soviet team, and, later, the Canadian embassy point man in Moscow for Team Canada.
The 50th anniversary of the legendary contest saw national hockey teams from Canada and the USSR face off in the eight-game series. Four games were played in Canada and four in Moscow. The final moment of the final game is considered one of the greatest moments in Canadian sporting history.
Mr. Smith was along for the ride as a diplomat working at the Canadian embassy in Moscow, early on in a career that would later take him to postings in such countries as Belgium, Israel and India. (He retired in 1998.) The hockey initiative was part of the foreign policy agenda of prime minister Pierre Trudeau, seeking common ground with the Soviet Union.
Ice War Diplomat (published by Douglas & MacIntyre) tells the story from Mr. Smith’s perspective, and comes amid the turmoil caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine - a point that Mr. Smith, who now lives in the eastern Ontario town of Perth, was well aware of in an interview with the Politics Briefing newsletter.
Q-How will Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine affect the way your book, Ice War Diplomat, is received?
A- Is this book relevant to what’s happening now in Ukraine? I would say it is because the book tells us a lot about Russia, Russia’s history, Russia’s motivations. People who want to know some more about Russia can find it in the book. In 1972 we were having to deal with the Soviet Union at the time, which was a nuclear state, which was an expansionist power, and had a history of invading its neighbours, Hungary and Czechoslovakia being a couple, and East Germany as well. We had more troops in Europe than we do today. We had more aircraft on the ground We had to deal with the Soviet Union. So I think there are lessons in what we did in 1972 that are applicable to today. Since this is the 50th anniversary of the series, hockey fans will continue to be interested in what happened off the ice and how that legendary series really got going.
Q-What are the lessons in 1972 that are applicable to what we have to do today?
A-I think it’s important that we know that hard power is still here, that you have to have a strong defensive position. I think we were able to deal with the Soviet Union from a position of strength. We had a way to go forward with diplomacy, and to find some common ground. So those are all basic elements of foreign policy. Strong defense, effective diplomacy, and looking for for common ground to reduce the risk of a major war and to see if we can find ways to reach arms control agreements that limit the number of threatening actions.
Q-Why was it important for you to write this book and tell this story?
A-There were 40 to 50 books being written about the Summit Series. None of them really got into the the political and diplomatic side of it. They largely focused on what happened on the ice, and the immediate surroundings of it, but they didn’t have the long view. I had a unique perspective. Instead of letting other people tell my story.
Q-You were in the Canadian diplomatic ranks that offered advice, on Russia, to former prime minister Pierre Trudeau. What advice would you offer the current Prime Minister Trudeau on dealing with Russia given the climate we’re in vis-à-vis the Ukraine?
A-Well, I think [the Canadian government] are pretty much on track right now. We know that Russia is an expansionist power; that they have a proclivity to use military force for their foreign policy. So supporting Ukraine right now is extremely important, not only diplomatically and dealing with refugees, great humanitarian assistance, and reconstruction being needed at some point. But we also need to provide lethal weaponry. Perhaps we could have provided that earlier, but we’re doing it now. I think we need to look at our own defence policy. Are we ready to deal with a hard-power world? Because we have to think not only about Russia, but about China. There are other threats around the world to the security of Canada and Canadians so I think we have to look at how much money we put into defence, and how we put it into defence. The Arctic has been mentioned by many people as an area where the Russians are building up with their Arctic bases and China is declaring itself now an Arctic player. You need military forces to try and stabilize the world. There is the old Roman expression that if you want peace, you need to prepare for war.
The other thing I would say, and I am very happy to see is that we’re continuing to keep our embassy in Moscow, to keep our ambassador there. We need ears, and eyes and a voice at this particular time. It’s easy to say, `Close off the embassies,’ but what you’re doing [if you do that] is closing off your lines of communication and falling back onto megaphone diplomacy where you may feel good about making a statement, but it doesn’t have much impact on the actual face-to-face, and on-the-ground diplomatic work required.
Q-You have referred to hockey as a diplomatic bridge between Canada and Russia. Is hockey finished as a diplomatic bridge given the invasion of Ukraine?
A-The tanks have gone over the hockey bridge, no doubt. What I am watching is whether or not all hockey relations are cut off with Russia. I am looking primarily at the 50 or so Russian players who are in the NHL, playing for Canadian and American teams. Those players are still playing. Fans are still applauding them. As long as the Russian players continue to play in the NHL, I think the possibility of using a diplomatic bridge still exists. The International Ice Hockey Federation world championships are still scheduled for St. Petersburg in the spring of next year. We’ll see whether that’s cancelled like other tournaments have been. But I think hockey, at the moment, still offers a bridge to Russia. But tanks rolling across all bridges can cause them to collapse.
Q-You tell the story in the book about you and your wife learning Russian in a year before you went to Russia as a diplomat. What was that like and did it work?
A-It was a very, very hard grind. You weren’t sitting in a class of 20 or 30 students. It was just the two of us together with a teacher so you couldn’t look out the window, or drift off to sleep. You had to keep at it every hour, every day, every week. For months and months and months. Sometimes my wife would be ahead of me and sometimes I would be picking things up more quickly. It can create tensions in a marriage that way when you’re both learning at the same time, but I think we realized that if she didn’t have the Russian when we went to Moscow, it would make her situation very difficult. We were very, very happy and pleased that we both learned Russian at the same time. She had to take a year off work to do it, but it made all the difference in the world because we could understand what was being said. We could communicate to people, on the streets, in the stores. You could read newspapers and it made me a much more effective diplomat, being able to understand the culture first-hand being able to communicate to the extent you could with anyone in the Soviet population. So it’s something that I think is very, very important in diplomacy, that you engage in a foreign culture and particularly in countries where they are adversaries like Russia, like China, like Iran and so on, that we have diplomats who are professionals, and well-schooled in the language and the culture because that can really provide the eyes, ears and voice to Canadian policymakers, ministers and prime ministers, coming up with what’s the most effective way to go forward.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
On Monday’s edition of the Globe and Mail podcast, Natalie Slyusar recounts what it’s like for a family to cope with the Russian invasion in Ukraine. When your country is invaded, how do you keep your family’s spirits up? In besieged Kharkiv, Ukraine, Ms. Slyusar focused on trying to give her son a regular 16th birthday – complete with a homemade chocolate cake. But baking’s a lot easier said than done while a war rages around you. This beguilingly simple story reveals a lot about how we get ourselves and our loved ones through the hardest parts of life. The Decibel is here.
PRIME MINISTER'S DAY
The Prime Minister is on a “personal” day in Whistler, B.C., according to the itinerary advisory from his office.
No other schedules released for party leaders.
Andrew Coyne (The Globe and Mail) on the tangled Web the Trudeau government is weaving: “The Trudeau government, in particular, seems to see the internet not as an opportunity, a chance to stand down the immense regulatory army that has hitherto stood watch over the Canadian media, but as a challenge. Far from packing it in, it is resolved to do more; and the more manifest the flaws in that approach have become, the more its resolve seems to have grown.”
The Globe and Mail Editorial Board on how Canadian health care needs a lot of reform, and (at most) a little more money: “But Canada also has to recognize that the world’s best health care systems cost less than ours, yet deliver more – shorter waiting lists, quicker access to a doctor when you’re sick, fewer emergency room visits, and fewer appointments cancelled during the pandemic. What can we learn from them, and copy?
Keep universal health insurance. Expand it. But rethink how it’s organized, incentivized and delivered. That’s what our more successful peers did.”
Campbell Clark (The Globe and Mail) on how Canada’s stretched health care systems wait for another year of federal-provincial runaround: “A strange thing happened in the federal budget this month. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government, still in charge of a country in a pandemic, devoted less money to health care, billions less, than they promised in an election campaign just seven months ago.
They say it’s coming, one day soon. Both Mr. Trudeau and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland suggested there will be more money when the provinces negotiate a deal. The federal-provincial health care runaround continues.”
Alan Williams (contributed to The Globe and Mail) on whether Canada can really afford the ships and jets that the military has bought: “If insufficient funding is provided to the DND to support the government’s defence policy, the solution is to reflect that reality to Ottawa and force it to modify its strategy – not to understate costs and acquiesce to an unaffordable policy.”