Canada's NDP


March 11th, 2022

Letter to Ministers Joly & Sajjan

Regarding Canada's Role in Ukraine

Dear Ministers Joly and Sajjan,

I write to you today on behalf of New Democrats concerning the devastating situation in Ukraine. As you know, over the past weeks New Democrats have asked your government to increase sanctions on Putin’s closest oligarchs who are still not targeted by Canadian sanctions and expedite processing for Ukrainians seeking to come to Canada, including through the introduction of visa-free travel. While Canada has sanctioned prominent oligarchs in recent days, we remain concerned that your government’s delayed approach has given oligarchs significant time to move and protect their wealth elsewhere.

This letter builds on our previous calls to your government by proposing a number of actions the Government of Canada could implement moving forward. Many of these suggestions have been proposed by stakeholders over the course of the past few weeks, including in discussions I personally held while in Europe with Minister Joly. We would appreciate your consideration of the following.

First, on Humanitarian Assistance:

While we welcome Canada’s initial pledge of $100 million to the UN Appeal for Ukraine, we note that Canada has, in the past, contributed a disproportionate amount of funding to multilateral organizations rather than to Canadian partners. It is critically important for the government to support and work through Canadian partners. Canada has a special relationship with Ukraine and Canadian organizations are well placed to provide humanitarian aid effectively.

Canada must also guarantee that the $100 million, and much-needed further funding to this crisis, will be over and above the existing humanitarian funding envelope, which is already stretched thin from the many other humanitarian crises around the world. We ask Canada to increase its overall humanitarian funding envelope, as well as increase its Official Development Assistance, which stands at a far-too-low 0.31% of GNI.

Canada should be engaging on a bilateral level with host countries, including Poland, Romania, and Moldova, who have opened their doors to Ukrainian refugees. Those countries, in particular the smaller countries, will need financial support from the international community to ensure their health, education and social systems can accommodate the additional needs presented by an unprecedented number of refugees. We have seen in other crises, including the Syrian crisis and the Rohingya crisis, that donor support for host communities is crucial to ensuring the well-being of refugees. Further, Canada must support efforts to ensure Ukrainian refugee children have access to safe schools, child-friendly spaces, and psycho-social support.

Finally, Canada must ensure that any sanctions include comprehensive humanitarian carve-outs from the outset. Humanitarian access must be assured.

Second, on the Rights of Women and Girls:

We ask you to provide more information on how your government will be ensuring feminist foreign policy, in particular the FIAP, will determine how humanitarian funds are disbursed. The gendered implications of this conflict should inform Canada’s response.

We have heard concerns about sexual exploitation and abuse and human trafficking at Ukraine’s borders. As we know from so many other conflicts, women and children fleeing this war are especially vulnerable. I would appreciate an update on Canada’s actions to combat SEA and human trafficking in the context of this conflict.

We ask that Canada stress, in all its interactions with Ukraine and with other states, the importance of ensuring women have a voice in all negotiations, including those between Ukraine and Russia. We were struck by the images from talks in the past weeks, in which no women were present. Canada must insist on gender equality at any future negotiating tables. The voices of those most directly affected by this conflict must be heard.

We would appreciate an update on Canada’s support for Ukrainian women’s organizations, including the Ukrainian Women’s Fund in Kyiv. How is Canada continuing to support these organizations as war continues?

Third, on Food Security:

Ukraine is one of the largest grain producers in the world and known as “Europe’s bread basket”. Crucially, Ukraine provides much of the grain to the Middle East and North Africa region. The World Food Programme has warned that the war in Ukraine will disrupt the global wheat trade and will impact food prices and food security globally. We are particularly concerned that countries like Lebanon, already experiencing crisis, will be seriously affected by the shortage of wheat from Ukraine.

Canada’s current commitments to food security stands at $250 million a year, as it has for many years, while some other countries have increased their commitments. We ask that Canada increase this commitment in light of the anticipated challenges to global food security as a result of the war in Ukraine. Canada should index its commitments to the price of food, which rose to an all-time high in February according to the FAO.

Fourth, on War Crimes:

We are horrified by reports of war crimes, such as the targeting of hospitals and other civilian infrastructure, by Russian forces in Ukraine. We welcome your government’s decision to refer the situation in Ukraine to the International Criminal Court. We note that Canada committed funding to the investigation of war crimes in Syria through the United Nations’ International Impartial and Independent Mechanism, as well as to the Independent Investigative mechanism for the Rohingya Crisis established by the UN Human Rights Council. We welcome the establishment last week of an independent international commission of inquiry for Ukraine at the UN Human Rights Council, and we ask that your government commit significant funding to ensure its success. Canada must do everything possible to ensure justice for the victims of Russia’s war crimes.

Fifth, on Arms Transfers:

Ministers, as you know, all Canadian arms exports must be subject to Canada’s Arms Trade Treaty obligations, which includes a standardized risk assessment. They should also be authorized through the issuance of an export permit. However, the Department of National Defence has suggested it is not subject to the same rigour as other government bodies authorizing arms exports. We do not know how DND is assessing the risk of arms transfers to Ukraine.

You will, of course, be aware of concerns of diversion of weapons, as we have seen in all conflicts. In light of your announcements of transfers of lethal aid to Ukraine, we ask to see the risk assessments conducted by Canada prior to making these transfers. It is essential that Canadians know whether Canada is upholding its obligations under the Arms Trade Treaty and ensure proper due diligence in ensuring that these arms do not get diverted.

Sixth, on Nuclear Weapons:

While in Geneva last week, I met with Beatrice Fihn of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), who accepted the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize alongside Canadian survivor of Hiroshima, Setsuko Thurlow. With the growing nuclear threat, and Russian attacks on nuclear infrastructure in Ukraine, this is a pivotal moment in time. We ask that Canada attend the next meeting of states parties to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons as an observer. Canadians Parliamentarians from several parties will be attending. Now is the time for the Liberal government to work with allies and act on this disastrous threat.

Ministers, New Democrats reiterate our support for the people of Ukraine. We ask your government to do everything it can to support Ukrainians in this most desperate hour. We look forward to your response and to our continued collaboration on helping Ukrainians flee this horrendous war.


Heather McPherson
Member of Parliament for Edmonton-Strathcona
NDP Critic for Foreign Affairs and International Development