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Speech - Official Visit to Ukraine

Honourable senators, Martin Luther King taught us that the arc of history is long but it does bend towards justice. With that analogy in mind, I would like to report to this chamber on a visit that Senator Plett and I paid last week to Ukraine, where we saw Canadians, Ukrainians and indeed people from many other countries holding on to that arc of history and trying their best to bend it towards justice more quickly than otherwise.

The soil of Ukraine offered refuge to my ancestors in the late 18th century. A century and a quarter later, in 1924, it was Canada that accepted my parents as refugees from the Soviet Union, due to persecution in that homeland.

Our visit was to represent the Government of Canada at the fifteenth anniversary celebration of the Mennonite Centre in Molochansk, the former Halbstadt, which was the centre of an historic Mennonite settlement in the Molochna River valley, which was virtually wiped out in the 1930s during the Stalin purges and earlier in the revolution.

But before I report on that segment of our visit, I want to refer to some of the people that we were able to meet with who on that arc of history are seeking to bend the arc more firmly towards justice.

As it was an official visit, I was able to be briefed by Lieutenant-Colonel Niven of the Joint Task Force-Ukraine from Canada's Department of National Defence, providing support to Ukraine in the area of military training. I was able to visit the police force in Kiev, where a program provided through international assistance from Canada is literally reforming the police effort of that city with a young, 28-year-old chief of police who is determined to deal with the issues of corruption that have been endemic to the police force there and otherwise.

The Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs spoke about the Ukrainian views on the process of engaging the international community with respect to the East, but I was particularly impressed in meeting with the Acting Minister of Health, Uliana Suprun, who is a doctor and a returned member of the diaspora seeking to make the Department of Health more relevant to the basic health needs of Ukrainians. I had the pleasure of assisting at the signing with the Minister of Ecology and Natural Resources of an agreement with Natural Resources Canada to provide geological survey support to Ukraine as it seeks to build the capacity for mining and natural resource development in that country. Both governments are working as best they can to move that arc.

International organizations, whether it was the OSCE, the Council of Europe, the International Republican Institute, NATO as well as various UN human rights and humanitarian organizations, all spoke of the desire to build capacity for civil society.

I want to briefly mention civil society, if I could, and Senator Plett will continue with respect to the celebrations that we participated in. It is civil society that will actually strengthen the capacity of good governance in Ukraine, and it is civil society that we must, in our attention, develop a keener interest in.

I will close by simply referencing my favourite theologian and public thinker, Reinhold Niebuhr, who said: "Man's capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man's inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary." Nothing could be more apt in a setting for our visit to Ukraine, and I thank Senator Plett for his company.