Canada has two particular reasons for particular interest in cause of Ukraine

Mar 1st, 2022 | By | Category: In Brief
Untitled by Michael Seward, February 2022.

ONTARIO TONITE. RANDALL WHITE, FERNWOOD PARK, TORONTO, 1 MARCH 2022. [UPDATED 7 MARCH]. It is of course impossible to say just what is finally going to happen in Ukraine in early March of 2022. Hard-edged realism may well suggest that in the end Russia (population 146 million) just has so many more resources than Ukraine (population 41 million). It is bound to conquer its next-door western neighbour in the end, if that is what Vladimir Putin wants.

(The bravery and resolve shown by Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy and many, many Ukrainian people is inspiring. Like many others outside Ukraine, I certainly hope and pray that they can somehow stop Russian forces from taking over their country. And I warm to reporting from Natasha Bertrand and others that Russian “‘units are surrendering, sometimes without a fight,’ the official said. ‘A lot of these soldiers are conscripts, never been in combat before, some of whom we believe weren’t even told they were going to be in combat.’” But … )

Supporting Ukraine in Toronto, Canada : Bloor Street looking west towards Spadina.

Meanwhile, in Canada we have particular reasons for standing up for the cause of Ukraine. The first is just that : “In 2016, there were an estimated 1,359,655 persons of full or partial Ukrainian origin residing in Canada (the majority being Canadian-born citizens) … giving Canada the world’s third-largest Ukrainian population behind Ukraine itself and Russia.”

A second reason is a rather clear parallel between the general position in the world today of Ukraine (population 41 million) and Canada (population 38 million). As pointed out by the British novelist and journalist James Meek in the 6 January 22 issue of the London Review of Books, no less an authority than Russian President Vladimir Putin himself has remarked on this parallel — and its potential relevance in the contemporary global village.

To quote from James Meek’s LRB piece, “in July 2021, Putin published a long article, almost a dissertation, setting out his position on Ukraine. It’s called ‘On the Historical Unity of the Russians and Ukrainians’. I’d often seen it referenced in the media in a jokey way … I’d imagined something menacing but measured, thoughtful and subtle. I’ve read all five thousand words of it, and it is menacing, but none of the other things … it’s a work of polemic … Putin steers a zig-zag course through Ukraine’s complex history, which is, indeed, one of ever changing borders and evolving identity, but claims throughout that the Ukrainians and Russians are one people. This oneness, he writes, can only be fulfilled under Russian supervision: ‘Genuine sovereignty for Ukraine is possible only in partnership with Russia.’”

Untitled by Michael Seward, February 2022.

It’s at the very end of James Meek’s 6 January article on “Did I invade? Do you exist?” that Canada comes up. His last two concluding sentences are : “Why, Putin asks in his essay [ie ‘On the Historical Unity of the Russians and Ukrainians’], can’t relations between Russia and Ukraine be like the United States and Canada, or Germany and Austria? One answer might be that the United States and Germany don’t question their neighbour’s existence.”

Careful students of Canadian history might want to raise a few doubts about Meek’s very last sentence here. Lawrence Martin’s 2003 book Iron Man: The Defiant Reign of Jean Chrétien, for example, reports on a story told by Brian Mulroney’s disarmament ambassador, Douglas Roche. At a 1980s meeting with Ronald Reagan’s Republican secretary of state, George Shultz, Roche was surprised if not altogether astonished when Shultz became indignant, and advised : “Look, let’s get one thing straight. The land that you people occupy up there, north of the forty-ninth parallel, geographically speaking, is part of the northern United States.”

Supporting Ukraine at Parliament Buildings in Ottawa, capital city of Canada.

The War of 1812, however, was the last time US forces actually tried to invade Canada. (And this finally did not succeed, thanks largely to seasoned red-coated troops of the global British Empire and Canada’s historic Indigenous allies, especially as led by the Shawnee chief Tecumseh, who died fighting at the October 1813 Battle of the Thames River in what is now Southwestern Ontario.)

Canadians who spend any time in the United States (as so many of us of course do) will appreciate that George Schultz’s view about how what maps call Canada is really just “part of the northern United States” is far from unique. But so is American acceptance of Canada’s right to exist as a separate if also very friendly country. (There is a Goldie Hawn movie in which the character she’s playing is asked if she’s ever lived in a foreign country. She replies that she lived in Canada for a while, but that doesn’t count because it’s “like attached.”)

Yet when push comes to shove James Meek is quite right. No government of the United States has seriously questioned Canada’s existence since the War of 1812.

Canada did not join the US War in Vietnam or the more recent US War in Iraq. It has its own (very popular) public health care system — and its own parliamentary democratic form of government (inherited from still another country). It has an official language that is not English (or Spanish). The rights of its Indigenous peoples are acknowledged in its Constitution. And on and on …

At the same time, as official Canadian policy towards the current struggle between Russia and Ukraine takes shape in Ottawa, who can doubt that at the bottom of everything lies an unspoken but nonetheless passionately observed truth?

If Russia can get away with doing to Ukraine what it is doing now, the United States could get away with doing the same sort of thing to Canada.

There is no way the great majority of Canadians would want this. And that seems another thing that President Putin does not quite understand.

UPDATE 7 MARCH 2022 : Steve Burgess in The Tyee has now reported on some actual current US politicians who are proposing that their country invade Canada soon! See “Please Advise! Why Are US Politicians Mad at Canada? … A couple of Republicans say they want to invade us. Should we worry?”!!

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