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In his July 2021 essay “On the Historical Unity of the Russians and Ukrainians”’ Vladimir Putin asked “Why … can’t relations between Russia and Ukraine be like the United States and Canada, or Germany and Austria?”

The British journalist James Meek has suggested: “One answer might be that the United States and Germany don’t question their neighbour’s existence.” Some Canadians, however, might at least somewhat question Mr. Meek’s answer.

In the second volume of his Jean Chrétien biography Lawrence Martin reports on a 1980s meeting between Brian Mulroney’s disarmament ambassador, Douglas Roche, and Ronald Reagan’s Republican secretary of state, George Shultz.

Shultz advised Roche: “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.”

Much more recently Lauren Boebert, Republican member for the third congressional district of Colorado, has told Fox News: “I pray for Ukraine, I wish them the best … but we have neighbours to the north who need freedom and need to be liberated.”

US conservative talk show host Candace Owens has also tweeted: “STOP talking about Russia. Send American troops to Canada to deal with the tyrannical reign of Justin Trudeau Castro.”

Even in the midst of the current Russian invasion of Ukraine none of this may be judged altogether serious. The War of 1812 was the last time the USA actually tried to invade Canada.

On the other hand, the US journal Foreign Policy has recently reported on “How Russia’s Future with NATO Will Impact the Arctic,” arguing that there are “critical ways the crisis in Ukraine will determine the region’s future.”

Since 1996 there have been “coordinated efforts … among the Arctic states (Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, and the US)” to deal with emerging issues in the region.

And thinking about the Canadian Arctic in 2022 may remind us that the pride we sometimes take in how little Canada spends on the Canadian Armed Forces is increasingly misplaced.

Canada is not now spending at all enough on national defence to seriously defend its claims to sovereignty in its far north. And these claims are often enough questioned by US observers.

Ottawa has been increasing defence spending lately. But in a review of the 2021 federal budget the Canadian International Council noted that: “Despite this additional funding, Canada will not meet the two per cent of GDP target for defence spending set by NATO.”

According to World Bank numbers, military expenditure in Canada accounted for 1.4% of GDP in 2020.  This was the same as Germany — but lower than France (2.1%), or Australia (2.1%), the United Kingdom (2.2%), India (2.9%), the United States (3.7%), or Russia (4.3%).

Early in March 2022 Prime Minister Trudeau, in the careful words of The Canadian Press, at least “opened the door … to spending more on Canada’s military.”

Focusing on the prospect that Russia’s current anti-NATO mood could spillover into the Arctic may add urgency to Canada’s military spending calculations.

Some might see the most impressive military presence in the three northern territories right now as the “2000 Canadian Rangers in 61 patrols and more than 1,400 Junior Canadian Rangers (JCRs) in 44 patrols located in 65 communities across the north.”

As officially explained : “The Canadian Rangers are a part of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) Reserves working in remote, isolated and coastal regions of Canada. They provide lightly-equipped, self-sufficient mobile forces to support CAF national security and public safety operations.” (Note as well: many Rangers are Indigenous Canadians.)

Canada has been trying to strengthen its northern military presence since the late 20th century. But progress has been slow. The Canadian Rangers and the broader Canadian Armed Forces in the north could be much more impressive if they had much more money.

Growing Russian scepticism about NATO could similarly bring new national security pressures to the Canadian Arctic. If Canada won’t spend more to meet these pressures, the United States could decide to meet them itself, on grounds the late George Schultz would understand..

Already, the Department of National Defence in Ottawa has told us: “In February and March 2022, the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) is participating in several recurring joint Arctic exercises alongside the United States (US) military in Alaska and other locations across North America.”

Here as elsewhere there are growing arguments for a sovereign and independent Canada to start spending significantly more public money on national defence.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.



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“I know that I speak for Members on all sides of the House today in offering to Japanese Canadians the formal and sincere apology of this Parliament for those past injustices against them, against their families, and against their heritage, and our solemn commitment and undertaking to Canadians of every origin that such violations will never again in this country be countenanced or repeated.”

—part of a speech by Prime Minister Brian Mulroney to the House of Commons in 1988

Vladimir Putin’s brazen war of conquest against Ukraine has conjured a visceral response from many Canadians. But obscured among our support for Ukrainians’ plight stirs a more sinister force: Russophobia. Numerous incidents of harassment against Canadians of Russian descent have been reported over the past fortnight. If the war continues to intensify, so too will torment against Russian Canadians. Keeping in mind the historical injustice of the internment of Japanese Canadians, we must not allow Putin’s despicable war to sow xenophobic division here in Canada, and should take proactive actions to halt such trends.

As a megalomaniac intent on empire-building, Putin has illustrated wanton disregard for national sovereignty and international law. But far worse is his callous indifference to human life, indiscriminately bombing Ukrainian residences simply to propagate terror among the population, an action that undoubtedly constitutes a war crime.

No surprise, then, that Canadians and much of the international community are expressing empathy for Ukrainians, along with outrage at the Russian state for such heinous atrocities.

Unfortunately, anger at Russia’s despot-led government often manifests itself abroad as harassment of the Russian diaspora. Here in Canada, Russian churches have been vandalized, while Russian businesses such as restaurants are targeted with threatening phone calls or adverse online reviews. A teenage hockey player was also allegedly the victim of a racial slur from an opposing player.

It’s worth emphasizing that many Canadians of Russian descent were born here. Of those who emigrated, plenty of them fled repression – either Soviet or Putin’s modern variety. Russo-Canadians are much more likely to have been victims of the Russian state rather than its overseas cheerleaders. The thought of re-victimizing these people is repugnant. And numerous Russian-themed businesses here in Canada have gone out of their way to express support for Ukraine – including actively fundraising – while denouncing Putin.

Attempting to categorize Canadian immigrants and their descendants as having either a “Ukrainian” or “Russian” identity – as if it were a simplistic binary – is often a futile task, as many Canadians share ancestry from both countries. Several of the “Russians” in Canada who have been targeted for abuse are also of Ukrainian lineage. How is harassing them meant to help war-torn families in Kyiv? When we seek convenient scapegoats, we quickly appreciate the world is a complex tapestry. Only one person deserves our scorn for the war, and he certainly doesn’t live in Canada.

Thus far, most incidents of harassment against Russo-Canadians have been typically Canadian: that is, passive-aggressive. Thankfully there have not yet been any reported physical assaults. But if the war escalates – and it almost certainly will – it’s likely that violence will become a weapon brandished by xenophobic Canadians. We may even witness demagogic politicians attempt to exploit the division for their selfish ends.

The Russophobia fomenting over the past two weeks serves as a disturbing reminder of a dark chapter from Canada’s history: the forcible internment of British Columbians of Japanese descent during the Second World War. 22,000 such people – most of whom were born in Canada and thus Canadian citizens – were detained and relocated to British Columbia’s Interior, accused of being a threat to national security. In Vancouver, 8,000 women and children were temporarily sent to live in livestock pens – among animal feces and bugs, and without toilets – before being relocated away from the Pacific coast. Men were compelled to labour in road camps. Property and possessions of these Japanese Canadians were sold without their consent, purportedly to pay for the costs of internment.

War brings out the worst in human beings. Our nature is instinctively tribal, and during difficult times, good-versus-evil caricatures of “others” are often readily accepted without adequate scrutiny or critical thinking. This, of course, plays into Putin’s attempts to sow social division in the West, every bit as effective as his army of Twitter bots and trolls that aim to ruffle political feathers.

As citizens of a country that has formally embraced multiculturalism, It’s important that Canadians are regularly reminded that an entire ethnicity cannot be “bad” or “good”, as well as of the consequences of demonizing groups of people, especially during wartime. Education is perhaps the best long-term solution, ideally beginning at a young age. British Columbia and Ontario include Japanese Canadian internment in their elementary school curricula, but unfortunately many other provinces – including Alberta – do not.

With a war unfolding abroad and xenophobia against Russian Canadians currently increasing, we also need immediate remedies.

Just as Canada possesses a moral obligation to assist Ukrainians being attacked by a baleful dictator, so too must we protect our fellow Canadians from any harm arising from wartime xenophobia. We shouldn’t merely scold and tut after incidents come to light – instead, we must proactively remind Canadians of the harm caused by racism. The Canadian government should run advertisements stressing the need to be extra kind to Russo-Canadians during this conflict, and that if we turn against each other, Putin ultimately wins.

“We must make these people feel at home among us. We will secure their loyalty by fairness and kindness …”

—part of a speech by Angus MacInnis, Vancouver-Kingsway MP, to the House of Commons in 1941

 

Resources for learning about the historical internment of Japanese Canadians:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fxVZtQULIMQ

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xUGM7EfwwU8

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C8TQTuMqM9g

Obasan (by Joy Kogawa; Penguin Random House Canada, 2017 [originally published in 1981])

The Three Pleasures (by Terry Watada; Anvil Press, 2017)

Naomi’s Road (by Joy Kogawa, illustrated by Ruth Ohi; Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2005 [originally published in 1986])

On Being Yukiko (by Jeff Chiba Stearns and Lillian Michiko Blakey; Sandhill Book Marketing Ltd., 2021)

Stealing Home (by J. Torres, illustrated by David Namisato; Kids Can Press, 2021)

Toshiko (by Michael Kluckner; Midtown Press, 2015)

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.



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Several major U.S. corporations announced on Tuesday they would be temporarily closing locations and suspending operations in Russia. The list included Coca-Cola, Starbucks and McDonald’s.

One name on this list particularly stood out for its historical significance: McDonald’s.

The Soviet Union granted permission to McDonald’s in 1988 to open a franchise in Moscow. This was the culmination of 14 years of effort and dogged determination by the American-born Canadian businessman George Cohon.

His family had survived anti-semitic pogroms in Ukraine. They moved to Chicago’s Hyde Park area, where Cohon was born and raised. He worked as a corporate lawyer in his father’s Chicago firm, but moved to Toronto after becoming the licensee of McDonald’s Corporation for Eastern Canada.

That fell into his lap by chance, as it happens. According to his 1999 autobiography To Russia With Fries, the client he represented for the Canadian license passed on this deal. Cohon jumped in and made the arrangement with McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc. His first location opened in London, Ont. on Nov. 11, 1968.

Amusingly, Kroc offered to purchase the Canadian license from Cohon for $1 million that day. He opted against it, and gradually became chairman, president and CEO of McDonald’s Restaurants of Canada. The U.S. parent company ultimately bought him out with stock in 1971 – which has only increased in value – and he presided over 200 McDonald’s locations by 1976.

Cohon’s move into the USSR was a bit serendipitous, too.

A chance meeting with some Soviet delegates at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal led him to take them to a McDonald’s location. They were impressed, and he decided to find a way to bring the famous golden arches under the Iron Curtain. It took many years, and plenty of difficult negotiations, but then-Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev agreed as a means of promoting the twin concepts of perestroika (reconstruction) and glasnost (openness, transparency).

Arlington Heights Daily Herald business writer Dan Culloton had a nice description of Cohon when his book tour reached a Borders Books & Music in Oak Brook, Ill. He said the Canadian CEO “seems affable and jocular enough to charm Karl Marx into thinking like a capitalist, and that’s not far from the truth of what he did.”

The first McDonald’s in the Soviet Union opened its doors on Jan. 31, 1990. It was a difficult task, by all accounts. The Cold War was still ongoing, meaning the parent company kept its involvement to a bare minimum. Rubles was the only form of currency that could be used for payment. A meal could cost half a day’s wages on average. Lineups could be hours long. Supply shortages in the Communist country forced McDonald’s to create its own supply chain. Not every Muscovite face was necessarily as open and friendly as Ronald McDonald’s, either.

Regardless, it was an astonishing moment in history. The first Soviet-based McDonald’s was universally seen as a triumphant moment for capitalism and democracy. It was a hopeful sign that the Soviets were beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel, and would reject Marxism-Leninism before long.

There was also plenty of euphoria on the streets. Ksenia Oskina, one of the first 30,000 customers, told the Washington Post on Jan. 31, 2020 that she saved her Big Mac carton and drinking cup to show her co-workers. “I used that Big Mac box for a long time,” she said, “and put my sandwich in there instead of a lunchbox. I’d clean it, dry it on the heater and then use it again.”

As for Cohon, who served as senior chairman of what became McDonald’s Russia, he was named “Capitalisr Hero of Labor” by Pravda in 1990. Quite an accomplishment, all things considered.

How things have changed in Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

Democracy, liberty and freedom remain foreign concepts. The U.S. think tank Freedom House, for instance, has given Russia an abysmal ranking of 20 out of 100 the past two years. This is due to awful numbers for Political Rights (5/40) and Civil Liberties (15/60). It also ranks low on Global Freedom (19/100) and Internet Freedom (30/100). Hence, Russia is regarded as being “not free.”

In case you’re wondering about Canada’s score the past two years as a point of comparison, Freedom House puts us at 98 out of 100.

What about capitalism? It exists in Russia, but more on the basis of what we would call “state capitalism” or “crony capitalism.” There is private enterprise in fields such as agriculture, mining and retail trade, but the state (along with several oligarchs) controls most major corporations and the levers of power. A free market economy, it isn’t.

With Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the world’s governments and businesses have wisely decided to push back in different ways.

McDonald’s employs “62,000 people who have poured their heart and soul into our…brand to serve their communities,” CEO Chris Kempczinski wrote to his employees and franchisees on March 8. “At the same time, our values mean we cannot ignore the needless human suffering unfolding in Ukraine. Years ago, when confronted with his own difficult decision, Fred Turner explained his approach quite simply: ‘Do the right thing.’ That philosophy is enshrined as one of our five guiding values, and there are countless examples over the years of McDonald’s Corporation living up to Fred’s simple ideal. Today, is also one of those days.”

That’s one good way to take a McBite out of Putin’s Russia.

Michael Taube, a long-time newspaper columnist and political commentator, was a speechwriter for former Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.



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The Russia-Ukraine conflict is teetering on the brink of a full-scale war. That’s what Russian President Vladimir Putin has long been angling for. It’s part of the tyrant’s master plan to rebuild the old Soviet Union piece by piece – something he hasn’t said out loud, but doesn’t take too much effort to figure out.

How did we get to this point? That’s an interesting story in itself.

Putin’s rise to power has been nothing short of miraculous. He was born a commoner with no political connections or light ties to powerful Communist leaders. His mother was a factory worker, and his father was a conscript in the old Soviet Navy, or Red Fleet, who worked aboard submarines. He studied German in school (he speaks it fluently) and graduated law at Leningrad State University (now Saint Petersburg State University) in 1975.

The 69-year-old Putin had a lengthy career in the KGB as a foreign intelligence officer. He worked there for 16 years, rising to the rank of lieutenant colonel. He left in 1991 to go work for Leningrad mayor Anatoly Sobchak, and started to build up an impressive portfolio of political allies. He became the first deputy chairman of the Government of Saint Petersburg in 1994, and organized the Saint Petersburg branch of the Our Home–Russia political party, founded by then-prime minister Viktor Chernomyrdin. He ran political campaigns, built a strong relationship with then-Russian president Boris Yeltsin, became first deputy chief of the presidential staff in 1997 and director of the Federal Security Service (FSB), the KGB’s successor, the following year.

Yeltsin nominated Putin as prime minister in 1999, and announced he wanted him to become his successor. The next day, Putin announced his own candidacy for the presidency and aligned himself with the Unity Party. They won the second-largest percentage in the Duma, built a coalition with other political parties, and supported Putin. When Yeltsin unexpectedly stepped down on Dec. 31, 1999, Putin became acting president. He won the first round of presidential elections with 53 percent of the vote in March 2000, and took power.

Putin served as president between 1999-2008, heading Unity and later the United Russia party. Barred from running for a third presidential term due to the Russian constitution, he appointed Dmitry Medvedev as his successor and took over the latter’s role as prime minister (2008-2012).

Only the most oblivious of observers wouldn’t have realized who was still in charge.

After four years, Medvedev recommended Putin run for the All-Russia People’s Front, the political coalition that replaced United Russia, as its presidential candidate. He admitted a deal had been cut years ago by both men to switch places. As Time’s Simon Shuster wrote on Mar. 3, 2012, it was a “maneuver that was dubbed by Russian pundits as the rokirovka, or castling, a move in the game of chess in which the king and the rook switch places to protect the king.”

Putin was the real chess master, of course. This political maneuver helped him gain a stranglehold over the Russian presidency, which he’s held since 2012. It also allowed him to shift his loyalists into different strategic posts.

Here’s a simple example. Medvedev was nominated by Putin to become prime minister. He served in this role from 2012-2020, and was replaced by Mikhail Mishustin, former director of the Federal Taxation Service, who was also nominated by Putin. Medvedev has held the prominent role of deputy chairman of the Security Council of the Russian Federation ever since. Would you like to take a wild guess who nominated him?

Through it all, Putin transformed himself into a powerful, populist leader in many Russian eyes. He’s seen as a throwback to the old Communists who ruled the Soviet Union with an iron fist. His tough talk and no-nonsense attitude appeals to Russians looking for someone to idolize and admire, too.

He certainly knows how to play this up. When asked by media outlets in June 2019 who he felt Russia’s national heroes were, he picked two beloved names: poet Alexander Pushkin, and Emperor Peter the Great because “he founded the city where I was born, he was a great reformer who reshaped our country.” The latter historical figure, in fact, is the one he’s most often compared to. He clearly wants to be a 21st century Peter the Great who leads his country back to power and prominence.

Putin’s promised land would be a return of the old Soviet Union in the guise of modern Russia. That’s why he invaded Georgia in support of separatist governments in South Ossetia and Abkhazia. He backed Moldova’s breakaway region of Transnistria. He seized Crimea from Ukraine, although they were willing participants. Now, he’s going for the crown jewel by ordering troops into Ukraine’s separatist territories of Donetsk and Luhansk and beating the war drums for a full-scale invasion.

Western democracies see through Putin’s bravado. They know that he’s a real danger to the cherished principles of democracy, liberty and freedom. Countries like the U.S., Germany, United Kingdom and other NATO allies will oppose Russia. First with economic sanctions, and then with force if they invade Ukraine.

They see through this tyrant. They realize he has to be stopped. And they know exactly what Putin’s end game is, and has always been.

Michael Taube, a long-time newspaper columnist and political commentator, was a speechwriter for former Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.



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The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.