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Russia-Ukraine conflict to be central focus of Justin Trudeau’s summit tour

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OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is on his way to Rwanda for the first leg of a 10-day trip to confer with other world leaders as the war in Ukraine is expected to loom large over nearly all his discussions.

Trudeau is expected to arrive in Kigali, the capital, on Wednesday evening, where he will gather with the heads of government from the other 53 countries in the Commonwealth for the first time since 2018.

The original meeting, planned for 2020, was like so much else put off by the COVID-19 pandemic that is still an important backdrop to the talks.

He will then depart for Schloss Elmau, a resort in the Bavarian Alps of Germany, for the G7 leaders’ summit before heading to a NATO meeting in Madrid. He will also meet Pedro Sánchez, the prime minister of Spain.

The consequences of Russia’s large-scale invasion of Ukraine, which began on Feb. 24, have been felt around the globe — particularly in some of the smaller nations whose leaders Trudeau will meet in Kigali.

The conflict sparked a massive refugee crisis. It also limited other countries’ access to wheat from Ukraine, often referred to as the breadbasket of Europe because of its significant food production.

African countries, 19 of which are Commonwealth members, have faced especially severe food insecurity as a result. The UN World Food Program has warned that millions of people in the developing world and conflict zones are in danger of starvation.

Before the war, Russia and Ukraine produced about 30 per cent of the world’s exported grain. The closure of key ports in the Black Sea has made it difficult to ship those goods to the countries that need them.

Canada will work along several lines to alleviate the food crisis that has been sparked by the war, said government officials who provided media with a briefing ahead of the trip on the condition they not be identified.

Canada has already extended humanitarian support to Ukraine and elsewhere, officials said, and can draw on Canadian farmers’ expertise in storing and shipping crops in difficult situations to help Ukrainian grain reach those who need it.

They also noted Canada grows a significant amount of grain.

Trudeau spoke about potential measures during a phone call last week with Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame, who will be hosting the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting.

Canada will also be rallying support for Ukraine among Commonwealth members and attempt to win over any leaders who may be on the fence about condemning Russia.

When the United Nations voted to suspend Russia from the human rights council in April, 58 countries abstained from the vote. Of those, 29 were Commonwealth countries.

Still, the Ukrainian Canadian Congress said they expect Trudeau to spur other leads into action when he is in Germany and Spain.

Congress head Ihor Michalchyshyn said he spoke to Ukrainian defence officials in a recent trip to Kyiv, who highlighted the dire situation they’re facing with dwindling military equipment.

“They don’t have enough weapons. They’ve been actually saying that they’re going to run out of ammunition in coming weeks and months,” Michalchyshyn said.

“If there’s nothing of substance announced and operationalized there, the rhetoric is empty.”

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is expected to address the G7 and NATO summits, where the conversation will be largely focused on economic and military support for the embattled country.

Last week in Brussels, Defence Minister Anita Annand, who will join Trudeau at the NATO summit, announced Canada would deliver 10 replacement artillery barrels, worth $9 million, to support the M777 howitzer artillery guns already provided.

Several world leaders have met with Zelenskyy in the lead-up to the string of summits, including British Prime Minister Boris Johnson who made a surprise visit to Kyiv last week.

Johnson promised more British military training for Ukrainian troops, which is something Michalchyshyn said Canada could do more on too.

Trudeau made his own unannounced trip to Ukraine last month.

As of the end of January, 33,346 candidates for the Security Forces of Ukraine have participated in Canada’s training program, called Operation Unifier, since Sept. 2015.

“Operation Unifier was something that had been one of Canada’s biggest contributions to Ukrainian defence over the past number of years,” Michalchyshyn said. “Canada should be, at this point, following the lead to work on the areas where we are the strongest.”

Latvian Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins pressed Trudeau during his visit to Canada last month for a more permanent military presence in the Baltics to counter any Russian perceptions of NATO weakness in the area.

Canada currently has nearly 700 troops leading a NATO battlegroup in Latvia, one of several in the region. At a joint news conference with Karins in Ottawa, Trudeau announced one general and six staff officers from the Canadian Armed Forces would be deployed to a NATO headquarters in Adazi near the Latvian capital of Riga, but deferred any major decisions to the NATO talks.

The serious conflict between Ukraine and Russia has drawn more countries to the coming NATO meeting in Madrid, including Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. He is he first Japanese leader to join a top meeting of the North Atlantic military alliance.

Sweden and Finland, which have applied to join NATO, are sending delegations. South Korea’s new President Yoon Suk-yeol has also signalled his intention to attend.

Trudeau is expected to return to Ottawa on June 30, in time for Canada Day celebrations.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 21, 2022.

 

Laura Osman, The Canadian Press

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UN: Multiple famines might be declared in 2022

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Berlin, Germany- Antonio Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN) has warned of a looming severe global famine if drastic measures are not taken.

Guterres warned that farmers in Asia, Africa and the Americas would be the hardest hit by the rising costs of fertilizer and fuel.

“There is a real risk that multiple famines will be declared in 2022, 2023 could be even worse. This year’s food access issues could become next year’s global food shortage. No country will be immune to the social and economic repercussions of such a catastrophe,” said Guterres.

In addition, the UN Secretary-General said the Russian attack on Ukraine exacerbated pre-existing problems and called for the release of Ukrainian agricultural products onto the world market to ease shortages as well as debt relief for indigent countries.

“The war in Ukraine has compounded problems that have been brewing for years, climate disruption, the COVID-19 pandemic and the deeply unequal recovery,” added Guterres.

However, Russian President, Vladimir Putin, said Western nations are deliberately stirring up tensions regarding Ukrainian grain exports.

Putin said Russia is not impeding exports, and criticized the West for its “cynical attitude” towards the food supply of the developing nations, which have been worst affected by soaring prices. He said rising inflation in the West was “a result of their own irresponsible macroeconomic policies.”

Furthermore, Putin said Russia is ready to provide free passage to international waters for ships carrying grain, adding that Russia had reached an “understanding” on that issue with the UN Secretariat.

Moreso, the Russian President suggested that the Ukrainian military should demine the country’s ports to further facilitate exports, and said “a constructive approach on Kiev’s part” is the only thing that is lacking and cited that Russia itself may be able to export between 37 and 50 tons of grain this year.

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Canada can now seize, sell off Russian assets. What's next? – CBC News

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Selling Russian-owned assets to pay for Ukraine’s reconstruction may sound like a logical approach to restitution, but as the Canadian government gains new powers to begin this process, questions remain about how it will work, and whether some issues are headed to court.

C-19, the budget implementation bill, received Royal Assent last Thursday. Among its many measures are new powers to seize and sell off assets owned by individuals and entities on Canada’s sanctions list. While the new powers could be used in any international conflict, the Liberal government’s current priority is helping victims of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Canada’s stepped-up sanctions powers were discussed with U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen during her visit to Toronto last week.

“We think it’s really important to extend our legal authorities because it’s going to be really, really important to find the money to rebuild Ukraine,” Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland told Canadian and American reporters. “I can think of no more appropriate source of that funding than confiscated Russian assets.”

That sentiment was shared by Ontario Sen. Ratna Omidvar who proposed her own Senate legislation to enable similar asset seizures two years ago. At the time she was motivated to help the displaced Rohingya population by sanctioning corrupt generals in Myanmar.

“Kleptocrats must pay for their crimes, not through simply being sanctioned and their assets being frozen, but by their assets being repurposed and confiscated,” said Omidvar.

Although C-19 will work a bit differently than her bill, Omidvar still calls it a “good start” and supports the government’s move. 

“The question no longer is ‘if we should confiscate,'” the senator said. “The question is: ‘How should we repurpose? … Who’s involved? How do we provide accountability? How do we protect ourselves?'”

Test cases expected

Although some jurisdictions, notably Switzerland, already confiscate and return certain illicit assets, this move by Canada — and potentially other G7 countries meeting in Germany this week — is unprecedented.

Allies agree on the imperative of cranking up more economic pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin, but it’s still a risky play. Other hostile governments could seize Canadian-owned assets abroad in retaliation. It also may violate customary international law, such as the UN Articles on states responsibility.

The new powers target assets in Canada owned by an individual or entity on the federal government’s sanctions list. Previously, authorities could seize the proceeds of crime. With C-19, they can confiscate the assets of sanctioned individuals whether they’re acquired legally or illegally.

Is that fair? Omidvar anticipates the new powers being challenged in Canadian court. “I keep thinking we need a couple of test cases,” she said.

The senator’s original bill proposed seizing and redistributing assets by court order, with a judge adjudicating concerns.

C-19 puts more power in ministerial hands, something that is “faster and nimbler,” Omidvar acknowledges, but also less transparent.

During debate in the Senate, Omidvar called on the government to take “politics out of the equation” so Canada would not be accused of inappropriate distribution of funds, “or worse, appropriation of funds for its own use.”

When asked about the legality of these new powers earlier this month, Justice Minister David Lametti said “you don’t have an absolute right to own private property in Canada,” and compared it to other processes of government expropriation.

Adrien Blanchard, a spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly, told CBC News that “necessary checks and balances” are provided in C-19, including a formal judicial process to forfeit any asset.

“Procedural fairness was a key consideration in the development of these measures, and forfeiture proceedings before a judge are not automatic,” Joly’s spokesperson said. 

Privacy rules limit disclosure

Omidvar’s bill would have created a registry with the name of any person or entity associated with a seized asset and its value. There’s no such disclosure requirement in C-19, so this could be a difficult process to track once it starts.

One or more court cases could trigger more public disclosure. 

When the RCMP reported earlier this month that Canadian authorities have frozen the equivalent of $124 million in assets so far, it was unable to reveal what these assets are — cash, bonds, cryptocurrency, corporate shares, real estate or other property — because of the Privacy Act.

The minister of foreign affairs may issue permits on a case-by-case basis to authorize activities or transactions that would otherwise be prohibited, but only to people in Canada or Canadians abroad. When asked if any such permits have been issued related to Canada’s sanctions against Russia, Global Affairs Canada would not comment, again citing privacy concerns.

One of the prominent Russian oligarchs on Canada’s sanctions list, Roman Abramovich, holds around 30 per cent of the shares of Evraz, a global steel manufacturer that employs over 1,800 people at its facilities in Western Canada. 

CBC News asked Evraz North America whether any of its shares or business properties were among assets frozen by Canada so far, but the company did not respond. 

Separate from its powers to seize assets, the budget implementation bill also implements a publicly accessible beneficial ownership registry to make it easier to trace the ownership of anonymous shell companies. That could reveal more about Russian assets in Canada.

However, a business that’s registered provincially instead of incorporated federally would only appear in the national registry if provinces and territories agree to participate — if they don’t agree, there is a potential loophole, Omidvar warned her Senate colleagues during debate.

Who gets the proceeds?

Omidvar’s original bill would have required the recipient of redistributed funds to report back to a court on its use.

C-19 puts the minister of foreign affairs in charge of who gets the money and what happens to it.

“Operationalizing this is going to be a little bit of a challenge,” said fellow senator and former G7 sherpa Peter Boehm. “This is all very, very new.”

The former senior Global Affairs official suggests the government needs to get safeguards in place.

“What is the mechanism? To whom should these assets go? Do they go to individuals? Do they go to state actors?” Boehm said, noting that Canada may want to coordinate with other like-minded countries and UN agencies, like the World Food Program. “There are a lot of questions there… we need to know and the Canadian people would want to know where this money is going and if it’s being properly spent.”

The yacht Amore Vero shown here docked in the Mediterranean resort of La Ciotat, in March, was seized by French authorities after being linked to Igor Sechin, a Putin ally who runs Russian oil giant Rosnef. (Bishr Eltoni/The Associated Press)

The G7 considered asset seizures previously, Boehm said. He expects they could feature in at least behind-the-scenes conversations this week, if not the final communiqué.

“The leaders meetings internationally are timed, I think, very well,” he said.

“Ukraine, historically… has struggled with corruption issues,” said Rachel Ziemba, an adjunct senior fellow with the Centre for a New American Security who advises companies and countries on sanctions policy.  “There have been a lot of strides made… but it’s still not at the level of a developed economy.”

Working through the International Monetary Fund, or setting up a trust fund that would vet recipients and add more reporting to the process could add more certainty, she suggested.

Russian central bank has reserves in Canada

Taxpayers in Canada, the U.S. or other countries don’t want to bear the full cost of this war, Ziemba said, but as governments embark on asset seizures they also have to be concerned about the message it sends on what jurisdictions are safe for foreign investment.

“There are a lot of legal questions ahead,” she said.

According to recent reporting on Russian Central Bank reserves, about $20 billion might be held in Canada — a far more significant sum in the context of Ukrainian reconstruction than the $124 million in frozen assets disclosed so far.

“The Russian Central Bank and some of its investment funds over the last decade [were] really focused on trying to reduce its exposure to U.S. dollars,” Ziemba explains. Canadian reserve assets and government bonds were attractive because they were both stable and got more yield than comparable investments in Japan or the European Union.

In other words: a small slice of Canada’s debt is held by Russia. “The only saving grace is that the amount they have is not so much they can hold much leverage,” Ziemba said.

Russia’s central bank is on Canada’s sanctions list. Should these reserves be seized and handed over to Ukraine too?

Yellen’s argued against doing this in the U.S., even though it could provide more funds to rebuild Ukraine.

“That might send a message to other countries that are investing in [international currency and bond] markets,” Ziemba said — think of China’s buying power, for example. “That, I think, is why the [U.S.] treasury department and even the [U.S. federal reserve] are wary of these moves.”

Are asset sales imminent?

Earlier this month, CBC News asked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau whether Canada intended to sell the full amount of assets frozen so far. He declined to answer, saying “there are lots of conversations going on” and Canada was “a long way” from deciding how proceeds would be spent.

But when the Senate foreign affairs committee pre-studied C-19 in May, officials said the government will move quickly.

“The intent is definitely to start identifying assets to pursue and to freeze and forfeit them shortly after Royal Assent is received for Bill C-19,” said Alexandre Lévêque, the assistant deputy minister for strategic policy at Global Affairs Canada.

In its report, that Senate committee said the government needs “to monitor on an ongoing basis the ways in which repurposed funds are used and to learn from the early examples of the new powers being implemented.”

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Rodeo group in Alberta sorry for float that critics say was racist

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SUNDRE, Alta. — Organizers of a rodeo in southern Alberta are apologizing for a parade float with a turban-wearing man in a fake beard seated on a manure spreader with the words “The Liberal” painted on the side.

Photos of the float from Saturday’s event in Sundre, Alta., about 80 kilometres northwest of Calgary, circulated on social media. It drew condemnation from a Sikh group in Calgary, which said the float was racist, as well as from some Alberta MPs.

Sundre Pro Rodeo posted a statement from its parade committee on Facebook saying the float had not been approved and had joined the parade without passing through any registration.

The rodeo further offered its deepest apologies, noting the float had been entered as a tractor.

Some people who commented on the apology questioned the accusation of racism, noting the man in the turban and beard, who was not in blackface, was meant to depict federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh as a Liberal lapdog.

Sundre Pro Rodeo said in its posts that it “is committed to ensuring that entries will be reviewed in any future events” to prevent a similar incident from happening again.

“The Sundre Pro Rodeo does not approve the floats for the parade. That is entirely up to the parade committee! If we knew about that float, we would have NEVER approved it!” the organization’s Facebook post read.

“Nobody had a clue that it had such profanity. So we are sorry.”

George Chahal, a Liberal MP representing Calgary Skyview, condemned those responsible for what he called a “despicable display of racism.”

“The Sikh community in Canada, of which I am a proud member, has a wide diversity of political perspectives,” said a post on Chahal’s Twitter account.

“More importantly, Sikhs have been a steadfast force for good in Alberta and across the country.”

Jasraj Singh Hallan, a Conservative MP representing Calgary Forest Lawn, posted the float “should be condemned in strongest terms by all.”

“This is absolutely disgusting. These kinds of acts have no place in Canada,” he said in a Twitter post.

The Dashmesh Culture Centre, a Sikh community group in Calgary, said in a Twitter post that it welcomed representatives from the rodeo and parade committee to visit and learn about Sikhs.

“We need to have serious conversations and actions to stop these forms of racism,” the centre wrote in a social media post.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 26, 2022.

 

The Canadian Press

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