Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly said she would welcome an investigation into whether Ottawa knew before Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine that locally hired staff at its Kyiv embassy might be on Russian target lists but didn’t inform them.
“We need to get to the bottom of this,” she told the House of Commons foreign affairs committee Thursday, after being peppered with questions about a Globe and Mail report on the controversy.
The report said that despite the fact that the department of Global Affairs received intelligence confirming that Russia intended to wage war against its neighbour, and that Ukrainians who worked for the Canadian embassy were likely on lists of people Moscow intended to hunt down, Ottawa told Canadian embassy officials to withhold this information.
In a statement released later via Twitter Thursday, Ms. Joly said she would invite the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians (NSICOP) to study the matter. This organization, that includes MPs from all major parties as well as some senators, is not a committee of Parliament. Its reports are sent to the Prime Minister’s Office and the Prime Minister has the ability to redact information for national-security reasons.
“I understand that Canadians want to shed light on this,” Ms. Joly said. “I want parliamentarians to be informed and should the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians wish to study this matter, they will have my full support and co-operation.”
Stephanie Carvin, an associate professor of international relations at Carleton University’s Norman Paterson School of International Affairs and a former national-security analyst, said she is not sure NSICOP is the right body to look at this. She said the Senate foreign affairs committee, which is currently studying Global Affairs, could probe the matter. “In theory, NSICOP could look at this but it’s a very small particular issue. I’m not sure it’s an issue it would want to issue a report on.”
Ms. Joly was pressed at the Commons foreign affairs committee by Conservative MP Garnett Genuis and NDP foreign affairs critic Heather McPherson about what precisely she knew before Russia’s Feb. 24 military assault on Ukraine.
She said she was aware of intelligence reports that the U.S. made public before the Russian invasion of Ukraine that Moscow had lists of people they intended to detain or kill – but that she did not know of any Ukrainians who worked for the Canadian embassy being named on these lists.
“There were some lists specifically targeting Ukrainian people in Ukraine and of course we were preoccupied with these targetings,” she said.
As to whether local staff at the Canadian embassy were under threat, Ms. Joly told the committee: “I didn’t have that information. My team didn’t have that information. You heard the deputy. The department didn’t have that information.
“We – myself, my political staff, and Global Affairs Canada, according to what the deputy has just mentioned – we had no information regarding the fact there was lists specifically targeting Canadian diplomats and locally engaged staff in Kyiv.”
The Globe and Mail reported earlier this week that, after receiving Five Eyes intelligence that Ukrainian embassy staff might be on Russian lists, Canadian diplomats were given clear instructions from Ottawa on how to proceed: Don’t share any of the information with the Ukrainian staff members, and don’t help them flee. The Five Eyes is an intelligence-sharing alliance including Canada, the United States, Britain, Australia and New Zealand.
In the weeks after receiving the intelligence, according to three diplomatic sources, Canadian staff members at the embassy evacuated first to the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, on Feb. 12, and then to Poland on Feb. 24, hours after the start of the Russian invasion. The Ukrainian staff members were left behind in Kyiv, fearful for their lives and angry at how they had been treated, the sources said. The Globe is not naming the sources because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.
Ms. Joly did not directly answer questions regarding whether she felt The Globe’s reporting is correct in an interview on CBC’s Power and Politics on Aug. 3 or in a heated exchange at the committee meeting on Thursday.
She said in the CBC interview that she visited locally engaged staff in Kyiv in January and then spoke with them again in February as the Russians invaded. She did know that they were in danger, she said.
“The Canadian government was there and was abiding by our moral responsibility to the people that were helping us,” the minister said.
“It was paramount to my team and my department that they would be protected.”
But The Globe’s diplomatic sources said that the Ukrainian staff feared for their lives in January after they heard about the Russian target lists from U.S. embassy staff. The group prepared a presentation for senior Global Affairs staff outlining the risks they felt and asked to be evacuated with the Canadian diplomats and work remotely.
Several Ukrainian staff members have high public profiles, one source said, and would be likely Russian targets. Diplomats interviewed by The Globe say if Ms. Joly spoke to Ukrainian staff in January, she should have been aware of their terror and their request to flee.
Separately, Thursday, Larisa Galadza, Canada’s ambassador to Ukraine said via Twitter that she had met with staff of the Canadian embassy in Kyiv “to assure them that we did not have a list, nor were we aware of any list, targeting the locally engaged staff at our embassy.”
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