Ukrainian children stuck in Mexico after visa issues will be able to return to Canada soon, guardian says
The legal guardian of three Ukrainian children who became stuck in Mexico during a trip learned Thursday she will be able to get the kids back to Canada where they fled during the war, after CBC News made multiple inquiries with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC).
The children — a nine-year-old boy and two 12-year-old girls — have been in Mexico since Dec. 11, when they arrived in Puerto Vallarta with their Canadian guardian, Olga Ostapiv, for what was supposed to be a week-long vacation.
After two months of fighting to bring them back to Canada, Ostapiv said immigration officials instructed her Thursday to take the children and their passports to Mexico City, where the paperwork will be processed to finally get the children home. She said she hopes to have the children back in Edmonton early next week.
Ostapiv, who is Ukrainian, originally took in the children and became their legal guardian because she wanted to help people from her homeland, which she left in 2009. One of the girls is her sister’s granddaughter, while the other two are the children of family friends.
The children arrived in Canada in May and Ostapiv said they had been adjusting to their new lives in Edmonton.
“They are very sweet, good behaviour kids,” she said.
Her family was slated to take the trip to Mexico, which had been postponed because of the pandemic, and Ostapiv said she couldn’t bear to leave the kids behind, so she decided to take them along.
Visas only allowed one-time entry to Canada
But when they tried to board the flight home on Dec. 18, Ostapiv said she was told they could not return to Canada.
The children originally arrived in Canada on emergency travel visas, which Ostapiv did not realize only allowed for one-time entry into the country.
When she realized the mistake, Ostapiv set about submitting new via applications for the three children, which she filed on Dec. 22, but there was no response.
“Every day, twice a day, I’m going to my computer. I’m checking. Maybe it’s some news,” she said Wednesday, recalling how they became stuck in Mexico, moving from hotel to hotel as they awaited word on their fate.
Ostapiv stayed there with them until the beginning of January, when she had to return to Edmonton for work. Another relative is now in Mexico with the children.
As the issue dragged on, Ostapiv became desperate and says she even considered sending them back to Ukraine.
“When I told this [to] the kids, they [were] looking at me, ‘Please don’t send us back home,'” she said.
“I’m doing my best to bring them home … to fix my mistake,” Ostapiv said, with tears in her eyes. “It’s not anyone’s fault. It’s only my fault.”
CBC News spoke with the children over video chat in Puerto Vallarta earlier this week.
“We really want to return to Canada because it is very difficult for us,” said 12-year-old Yuliia.
“We miss our friends and family,” said 12-year-old Anastasiia.
Frustration from those helping
Mike Thomas, a Ukrainian relief organizer who has been helping Ostapiv with the situation, said he’s been talking to MPs and reaching out to Immigration Minister Sean Fraser on the family’s behalf.
“Enough is enough, you know? We realize there’s a mistake made and everybody understands that,” Thomas said Wednesday, before receiving news that the children could return to Canada.
“But we have a five-minute solution to this problem … The minister signs a letter, they can issue a travel document instantaneously and [the kids] could be on the next flight home.”
CBC News requested an interview with Fraser while Ostapiv was still awaiting a decision, but Fraser’s spokesperson said the minister was not able to speak to specific cases.
In a statement, the IRCC said it processes applications as quickly as possible, but complex applications may take longer.
Liberal MP Han Dong leaving caucus amid foreign interference allegations
Han Dong, the Toronto-area MP at the centre of allegations that his election campaign benefited from Beijing’s meddling, says he is leaving the Liberal caucus and will sit as an Independent.
“I’m taking this extraordinary step because to [sit] in the government caucus is a privilege and my presence there may be seen by some as a conflict of duty and the wrong place to be as an independent investigation pursues the facts in this matter,” he said , reading a statement in the House of Commons on Wednesday night.
“I will be sitting as the Independent so that business of government and indeed the bills of Parliament is not interrupted as I work to clear my name and the truth is presented to Parliament and to Canadian people.”
His comments follow a story from Global News, alleging Dong advised a senior Chinese diplomat in February 2021 that Beijing should hold off on freeing Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor — the two Canadians being held by China at the time.
The Global story cited two unnamed national security sources who said Dong made the suggestion because their release would be helpful to the Conservatives. CBC News has not verified the allegations.
Dong confirmed to Global that he had a discussion with Consul General Han Tao, but denied that he advised Beijing to delay releasing Kovrig and Spavor.
“Let me be clear. What has been reported is false, and I will defend myself against these absolutely untrue claims,” said the Don Valley North representative in his remarks to Parliament.
“But let me assure you as a parliamentarian and as a person, I have never and I will never, and would never advocate or support the violation of the basic human rights of any Canadian, of anyone, anywhere, period.”
A spokesperson for the Prime Minister’s Office said the office “only became aware that a conversation took place after Mr. Dong told us, following recent media questions.”
“I am a proud Liberal,” said Dong, his voice breaking during his remarks.
“Before concluding, I want to assure Mr. Michael Spavor and Mr. Michael Kovrig and their families that I did nothing to cause them any harm.”
“Mr. Speaker, I am in your hands as to what happens next.”
Dong spoke to reporters Tuesday
Alison Murphy, a spokesperson for Prime Minster Justin Trudeau, gave no other comment Wednesday night.
“I’ll refer you to Mr. Dong’s statement in the House tonight,” she wrote in an email.
An earlier Global News story, also citing anonymous sources, alleged national security officials gave an urgent briefing to senior aides from Trudeau’s office in 2019 “warning them that one of their candidates was part of a Chinese foreign interference network.”
Global’s sources allege the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) believed Dong, who was re-elected in 2021, was a “witting affiliate” of China’s election interference networks.
Dong spoke to reporters for the first time Tuesday since that story broke in February.
“I was not offered, I was not told, I was not informed, nor would I accept any help from a foreign country, whether during my nomination or during my election campaign,” he said.
Dong also said Tuesday he had not been contacted by either CSIS, the RCMP or Elections Canada.
A CSIS spokesperson would not comment on whether the lack of contact with Dong was unusual.
“There are important limits to what I can publicly discuss, given the need to protect sensitive activities, techniques, methods and sources of intelligence,” Eric Balsam said in an email to CBC News on Wednesday.
“Disclosure could allow our adversaries to interrupt or harm our operations, techniques, methods and sources of intelligence. These limitations are therefore essential to ensure the safety, security and prosperity of Canada.”
Dong’s comments come as opposition MPs try to uncover what the Liberal Party knew, or didn’t know, about Beijing’s alleged attempts to meddle in Canada’s elections.
An independent panel tasked with overseeing the 2021 election concluded that foreign meddling did not affect the outcome.
CSIS calls foreign interference activities by China’s government the “greatest strategic threat to national security.”
Biden coming to Canada to visit Trudeau: What we know
U.S. President Joe Biden is coming to Canada Thursday evening, kicking off his short but long-awaited overnight official visit to Canada.
During his stay in the nation’s capital, Biden will meet with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and deliver an address to Parliament on Friday. But, he and first lady of the United States Jill Biden have some other events on their itineraries, where key Canada-U.S. issues and shared priorities will be discussed.
With many layers of preparation underway—from major security precautions and an increased presence of police, including U.S. Secret Service, RCMP, and provincial and local officers, as well as military aircraft in the skies,, to extensive road closures—Biden’s brief trip will be a significant event in the cross-border relationship.
U.S. flags have been hung up throughout downtown, manhole covers have been forced shut, and the city is bracing for an influx of high-profile visitors.
“It’s quite a packed schedule for a short trip,” said White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby on Wednesday. “This is a meaningful visit. Canada is one of the United States’ closest allies and friends, and has been now for more than 150 years. This will be the first true in-person bilateral meeting between the two leaders in Canada since 2009.”
Here’s what we’ve confirmed with senior government officials about what will be on the agenda, and what key players are saying about the upcoming visit.
THURSDAY, MARCH 23: BIDEN ARRIVES
The Bidens and the delegation travelling with the president will be landing in Ottawa on Air Force One on Thursday evening, currently scheduled for around 6:25 p.m.
There, Biden will be greeted by a welcoming delegation of Canadian officials:
- Gov. Gen. Mary Simon
- Canada’s Ambassador to the U.S. Kirsten Hillman
- Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland
- Treasury Board President Mona Fortier
- Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly
- And, foreign affairs parliamentary secretaries, Liberal MPs Rob Oliphant and Maninder Sidhu
Upon his arrival, Biden will meet with the governor general inside the Canada Reception Centre at the Ottawa Airport. Simon’s husband Whit Fraser and the first lady will be part of this meeting.
Then, Biden will be taken—likely in his infamous armoured limousine known as ‘The Beast’—to Rideau Cottage to meet with Trudeau and his wife, Sophie Gregoire Trudeau. Rideau Cottage is the prime minister’s current residence, located on the grounds at Rideau Hall, approximately seven kilometres northeast of Parliament Hill.
There, according to a senior Canadian government source, the two couples will “have an informal meeting.” Kirby called this an “intimate gathering.”
FRIDAY, MARCH 24: BIDEN’S BIG DAY
Friday is the main day of Biden’s visit, and it’s largely going to be spent on Parliament Hill.
Before diving into that, just a note: The first lady is going to have her own itinerary on Friday. While she will attend the address to Parliament, she is expected to participate in other events during the day, potentially alongside Gregoire-Trudeau, but the details of what they’ll get up to have yet to be shared.
According to Kirby, the two will use their time together to build on their friendship and “participate in a spousal program that’s focused on our shared cultural connections, and of course empowering young people.”
Kicking off with a welcoming ceremony inside West Block, the temporary home of the House of Commons, Biden will be greeted by a welcoming party that includes the speakers of the House and Senate, and representatives from the opposition parties.
He will then have a bilateral meeting with Trudeau, followed by an extended meeting with ministers, expected to take place in the room where cabinet usually meets.
It’s likely that whomever is travelling with Biden, officials-wise, would likely also take part.
The Canadian ministers accompanying Trudeau on Friday will be Freeland, Joly, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry Francois-Philippe Champagne, Minister of International Trade, Export Promotion Mary Ng, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Steven Guilbeault, Minister of Natural Resources Jonathan Wilkinson, and Defence Minister Anita Anand.
All of this will happen in the morning, before Biden’s speech to Parliament, which is expected to begin mid-afternoon. It’s customary for formal addresses from world leaders to include introductory and concluding remarks from parliamentary officials, and for the chamber to be filled with senators, dignitaries, and other key stakeholders or community members with relevant ties to whomever is speaking.
“In his remarks, the president will underscore how the U.S.-Canada partnership benefits not only our two countries, but the entire world. And, that by working together we can address some of the biggest challenges we face,” Kirby said.
Following his address—we’ll see how long it is, Obama’s in 2016 was approximately 50 minutes—Biden and Trudeau will make their way across the street from Parliament Hill, to the Sir John A Macdonald building, for a joint media availability.
There, reporters from the parliamentary press gallery and those travelling from the White House press pool will be able to ask Biden and Trudeau about what was accomplished by the visit and whether there will be any concrete wins or policy moves made as a result.
At some point during his time on the Hill, Biden will have a pull aside meeting with Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre, and will have an opportunity to meet with opposition leaders and exchange pleasantries in some capacity, according to a senior U.S. official briefing reporters.
Rounding out his day, Biden, the first lady and the American delegation will attend a “gala dinner” hosted by Trudeau and his wife, that “a few hundred” guests are set to attend. That’s happening at the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum, approximately 11 kilometres east of Parliament Hill.
On the invite list: ambassadors past and present, business leaders, members of Parliament, senators, and representatives of Indigenous groups.
“It’ll be a real cross-section of Canada,” said one senior Canadian government official briefing reporters on a not-for-attribution basis about the trip.
So far neither the White House nor the Prime Minister’s Office have confirmed if there will be any impromptu stops during the trip, meaning we’ll all have to wait and see whether there will be another ‘Obama cookie’ moment — when then-U.S. President Barack Obama popped into a bakery in the Byward Market during his 2009 trip.
While the not-quite two-day trip may seem condensed, Trudeau officials told reporters that they are pleased with the amount of time Biden and Trudeau will have together, while noting that on his past trips, Obama did not stay overnight.
“One of our primary goals of the visit was hoping to be able to share as much time as possible between the two leaders. And that’s why we are very happy that president Biden is spending a day and half in Ottawa, which allows three different blocks for the prime minister and the president to spend time together… And that’s actually quite a lot of time, several hours where they can cover all the issues they need to cover,” said one senior government official.
Kirby said there is a lot the two leaders have to talk about.
“Canada, as you know, is not only a neighbour to the north, but a NATO ally. The president and prime minister Trudeau have a terrific relationship. He’s looking forward to getting up there. There are a range of issues that you can imagine they’ll talk about, everything from Norad, and modernization of Norad capabilities… military, and national security issues… Migration concerns, climate change. There’ll be certainly issues of trade to discuss. There’s a lot,” Kirby said on Tuesday.
Offering more details during Wednesday’s briefing on the trip, Kirby said that the two leaders will also talk about stepping up to meet “the challenges of our time,” including “driving a global race to the top on clean energy, and building prosperous and inclusive economies.”
WHAT ARE THE BIG ISSUES SET TO COME UP?
Without diving into the nitty gritty of all the outstanding trade, economic, and cross-border irritants that could come up during the visit, the broad stroke topics that Canadian officials say will be discussed during the visit include:
- North American continental and Arctic defence and related spending
- Trade, supply chains, and the state of CUSMA/USMCA
- Irregular migration and modernizing the Safe Third Country Agreement
- Climate change and investing in the clean automotive sector
- Addressing inflation and driving growth to create jobs
- Threats to democracy such as domestic and foreign interference
- Further support for Haiti and Ukraine
It remains to be seen how substantive of progress will be made on these issues, but typically visits of this sort conclude with some form of joint statement outlining any commitments made.
“The Canada-U.S. partnership is forged by shared geography, similar values, common interests, deep personal connections, and powerful economic ties that are critical for so many jobs and businesses in both of our countries,” said a senior Canadian government official.
“Throughout the day, the prime minister will highlight Canada’s partnership as a source of strength to the United States and our commitment to working closely together on the big serious challenges that we both face, as well as the world faces,” the official said.
WHAT ARE KEY PLAYERS SAYING ABOUT THE TRIP?
Ahead of the visit, Trudeau, federal cabinet ministers and the leaders of the opposition parties have been outlining their expectations for the visit, the state of the Canada-U.S. relationship and what hot issues they want to see addressed. Here’s some of what they’ve had to say.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau:
“We’re going to be talking about a lot of things. We will of course be talking about China, but the centre of our conversations will be about jobs and growth, critical minerals and fighting climate change, and continuing to build an economy across our continent that works for all of our citizens… I think the big message is just going to be how we can, and will be working together,” Trudeau said on his way into a Wednesday caucus meeting.
Canada’s Ambassador to the U.S. Kirsten Hillman:
“In some respects, I think [the Canada-U.S. relationship] did require rebuilding. I think that, you know, with the previous administration, as people know, we had some important successes, the renegotiation of NAFTA was, was very good. The early days of pandemic management I think was a real success between Canada and the U.S… But it wasn’t an administration that was that interested in working with allies to solve certain kinds of problems. Climate change wasn’t high on the priority list. They had some skepticism around NATO. And so, there were a lot of these sorts of things that we do together bilaterally, and things that we do together in the world that required a bit of care and attention,” she said in an interview on CTV’s News Channel on Wednesday, speaking about the post-Donald trump era of Canada-U.S. relations.
Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre:
“We all know that President Biden is coming this week to visit Canada. Our demands as Conservatives are very reasonable…. We want an end to softwood lumber tariffs so that our forestry workers can get bigger, more powerful, inflation-proof paycheques… We want an end to ‘Buy-America’ so that our construction workers get powerful paycheques … We want an end to the illegal border crossings at Roxham Road, and across the country… We will stand with the Americans for a stronger military and stronger continental defense to keep all of our people safe,” Poilievre said on his way into a Wednesday caucus meeting.
Immigration Minister Sean Fraser:
“Our focus right now is trying to solve a problem and provide a lasting solution. Of course, I expect that there is going to be a lot of attention on all issues tied to the Canada-U.S. relationship, but my focus right now is on solving a challenge for the long-term… The precise nature of how we can help address the issue of irregular migration more broadly is something that we still have some work to do to sort out finally,” Fraser said on his way into a Wednesday caucus meeting about the Safe Third Country Agreement and the issues at Roxham Road.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh:
“The number one concern we have is about the approach of the IRA, the Inflation Reduction Act, and the ‘buy-American’ provisions… We are deeply concerned that the connection between Canada and America is so – we’re so interlinked that a ‘Buy-American’ provision for infrastructure could mean a serious negative blow to producers in Canada, to workers in Canada. And we want to make sure it’s a North American approach as opposed to a ‘Buy-American’ approach… We also want to see that Canada responds to the Inflation Reduction Act with real incentives in Canada to encourage and create jobs here to reduce our emissions and ensure there’s good paying jobs
Former prime minister Stephen Harper says Canada needs a ‘Conservative renaissance’
Canada needs a “Conservative renaissance,” former prime minister Stephen Harper said Wednesday, but he cautioned that Pierre Poilievre should wait until an election before telling Canadians how he might run the country.
Harper delivered a speech that evening to a room of party faithful staged by the Canada Strong and Free Network, formerly called the Manning Centre.
His public appearance is a rare one for Harper, who exited political life after losing the 2015 election to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals after nine years in power.
Poilievre’s election as party leader last September appears to have changed that, with Harper throwing his endorsement behind Poilievre, which was the first time he had done so for a Conservative leader.
Introduced as a “statesman” of the party, Harper mounted a defence of the term “populism,” which he said is often portrayed in a negative or imprecise light by what he called the “liberal media.”
“Our country is badly in need of a Conservative renaissance at the national level,” he told the crowd.
Harper reminded the audience that the modern Conservative party was built from the populism in Western Canada, a sense of nationalism in Quebec and Tories from Ontario.
He said its owes credit to Preston Manning, founder of the populist Reform Party, a precursor to the Canadian Alliance, which merged with the Progressive Conservatives to form the Conservative Party of Canada.
Harper and Manning then shared the stage Wednesday for what organizers billed as a “fireside chat” about the legacy of the Reform Party.
During the talk, the former Conservative prime minister quipped about foreign election interference, telling the crowd “I hear it’s topical” and referred to the federal NDP as a “branch plant” for entering into a supply-and-confidence agreement with the Liberal government.
Only its leader Jagmeet Singh could enter into a deal with the Liberals and leave with nothing, Harper told the room.
As for Poilievre — whom Harper at one point referred to as first meeting as a “very tiny Reformer” — the former prime minister said if he forms the next government, Poilievre would be leading under much tougher circumstances than he ever did.
In the meantime, Harper said Poilievre’s job as Opposition leader is to hold Trudeau’s government to account, rather than outline how he would run the country.
“That’s the job.”
He said until an election happens, Poilievre and his team should be developing with their alternative vision for the country looks like to be ready.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 22, 2023.
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