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FIRST READING: The Canadians dropping everything to fight in Ukraine


A call to suspend the contracts of Russian players in the NHL

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First Reading is a daily newsletter keeping you posted on the travails of Canadian politicos, all curated by the National Post’s own Tristin Hopper. To get an early version sent direct to your inbox every Monday to Thursday at 6 p.m. ET (and 9 a.m. on Sundays), sign up here.

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TOP STORY

On Monday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy waived the visa requirement for any foreign nationals wishing to join the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Zelenskyy’s call for foreign fighters has had some resonance in Canada …

  • Svyatik Artemenko, a Ukrainian-born soccer player from Guelph, Ont., left Canada last week for Odessa, where he is undergoing rapid military training in preparation for a Russian attack on the city.
  • Vancouver’s Oleh Hlyniailiuk, 26, purchased a helmet, boots and body armour at a B.C. military surplus store before boarding a flight to Austria, where he will then travel overland to Ukraine. “I would rather die than see Ukraine lose its democracy,” he told Postmedia.
  • Bryson Woolsey, 33, of Powell River, B.C., quit his job as a cook and is planning to fly to Poland, where he will cross eastwards and volunteer to join the Ukrainian forces.
  • Toronto comic Anthony Walker arrived at the Polish-Ukrainian border just this week, where he intends to find his way to Lviv. “I have no ties to Ukraine. I’m not Ukrainian. I’m human. I think that’s a good enough reason to come here,” he told BBC.

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While the Canadian federal government is officially advising against travel to Ukraine, top officials have not-so-subtly hinted that they would welcome any Canadian national who wants to bear arms against Russia. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke this week of Canadians who “may choose to take more active steps” in defending Ukraine.

Over in the U.K., officials aren’t quite as warm to the idea. Tobias Ellwood, a British Conservative MP and military veteran, strongly advised Britons without combat experience to find other ways to help Ukraine. “Please do not go if you have no combat experience. You may get yourself and others who have to look after you, killed,” he said.

The flow of Canadian volunteers into Ukraine is already being compared to the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion, a unit of roughly 1,500 volunteers mobilized to fight against fascist forces during the Spanish Civil War. In sharp contrast to the current situation, however, the actions of the Spanish volunteers were considered strictly illegal by the Canadian government of the era. The “Mac-Paps,” as they were known, faced suspicion as radicalized extremists upon their return to Canada.

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Members of the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion cross the Ebro on July 25th, 1938, the first day of the Battle of the Ebro, the largest battle of the Spanish Civil War.
Members of the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion cross the Ebro on July 25th, 1938, the first day of the Battle of the Ebro, the largest battle of the Spanish Civil War. Photo by Library and Archives Canada

Meanwhile, more than a quarter of Canadians now say they support sending Canadian soldiers to fight in Ukraine, according to a new Maru Public Opinion poll. As a NATO country, Canada couldn’t expect to deploy forces to Ukraine without sparking a world war – and Ottawa has strictly pooh-poohed any talk of direct military intervention. Nevertheless, it’s a remarkable turnaround given that, on the eve of the Russian invasion, Canada couldn’t even get a majority of its citizens to support targeted sanctions in defence of Ukraine.

Two Canadian soldiers fire the 84mm Carl Gustaf anti-tank recoilless rifle during a 2016 exercise in Valcartier, Quebec. Canada is sending 100 of the rifles to Ukraine, as well as 1,000 rounds of ammunition.
Two Canadian soldiers fire the 84mm Carl Gustaf anti-tank recoilless rifle during a 2016 exercise in Valcartier, Quebec. Canada is sending 100 of the rifles to Ukraine, as well as 1,000 rounds of ammunition. Photo by Cpl Andrew Wesley, Directorate of Army Public Affairs

WAR IN UKRAINE

Canada found a new sanction to levy against Russia: Starting next week, Russian vessels (including fishing boats) are banished from Canadian territorial waters.

Things aren’t going quite as planned regarding Canada’s earlier sanction to ban Russian aircraft from our territory. An Aeroflot flight simply entered Canadian airspace while declaring that it was on a humanitarian mission – a designation that automatically forbade NAV CANADA from turning it away (later Russian planes attempting the same trick were quickly rerouted by the Federal Aviation Administration).

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The Conservative Party is attempting to push for Canada severing diplomatic relations with Russia. Specifically, they want to “declare Russia’s Ambassador to Canada Oleg Stepanov persona non grata and expel him from Canada.” Ukraine severed diplomatic relations within hours of the Russian invasion and has called on other countries to do the same. So far, only Micronesia has answered their call, prompting Russia to declare that the South Pacific state was a U.S. puppet bent on defending “neo-Nazism.”

Canadian Foreign Minister Melanie Joly (centre) joins a walkout from the Human Rights Council on Tuesday to protest a video address by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland.
Canadian Foreign Minister Melanie Joly (centre) joins a walkout from the Human Rights Council on Tuesday to protest a video address by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. Photo by REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

At the same time as the International Olympic Committee is calling for a blanket ban on international competition by Russian and Belarusian athletes, Canadian hockey legend Wayne Gretzky is calling for Russian athletes to be banned from the upcoming World Junior Ice Hockey Championships in Edmonton. For those wondering, Gretzky is indeed a Slavic name, although the hockey star’s father Walter (a second-generation immigrant) has alternately described his family’s heritage as being Polish, Belarusian or Ukrainian.

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It’s not the first time that the Ukraine conflict has galvanized the world of professional hockey, which is flush with nationals from Russia and Ukraine. After Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin, a Russian citizen, deigned to criticize Russian President Vladimir Putin in public comments last week, it spurred calls from former Czech NHLer Dominik Hasek for the league to immediately suspend the contracts of all Russian players.

IN OTHER NEWS

Canada’s Freedom Convoy movement has inspired imitators across no less than three continents, but — as has been mentioned before in this newsletter — the foreign Freedom Convoys haven’t been nearly as able to monopolize public attention via rolling blockades of public infrastructure. One such convoy attempting to descend on Washington, D.C. disbanded almost immediately after organizers attracted just five rigs to their Las Vegas mustering point.

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As Alberta announces plans to lift all its remaining COVID strictures, the province is simultaneously amending the Municipal Government Act to ban municipalities from imposing their own mask or vaccine mandates. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney justified the measure in order to prevent the province from being plagued by a “patchwork of separate policies.” But it’s worth noting that Alberta is telling its municipal governments what to do regarding COVID at the exact same time as it is opposing that same behaviour from the feds. Just two weeks ago, Alberta was a signatory to a letter demanding that Ottawa rescind vaccine mandates on cross-border truckers.

Britain’s Prince William is pictured on Tuesday with Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge. A new Research Co. poll found that William is far more popular among Canadians than his brother Harry. William scored a 58 per cent approval rating with Canada, as compared to 50 per cent for Harry, and 44 per cent for his wife Meghan.
Britain’s Prince William is pictured on Tuesday with Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge. A new Research Co. poll found that William is far more popular among Canadians than his brother Harry. William scored a 58 per cent approval rating with Canada, as compared to 50 per cent for Harry, and 44 per cent for his wife Meghan. Photo by Photo by ARTHUR EDWARDS/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

New numbers from Statistics Canada found that the Canadian economy grew by a higher-than-expected 6.7 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2021. This would be considered a near unbelievably steep rate of economic growth under normal circumstances. Most years, we’re lucky to grow faster than two per cent; a rate like 6.7 per cent is more in line with the overwhelmingly explosive growth that China experienced throughout the 2000s. However, the rate is largely a reflection of the Canadian economy waking up from the artificial coma into which it was placed as a result of COVID-19 restrictions.

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As Germany shocks Europe by pledging to boost its military spending by 100 billion euros, Canada continues to struggle with the extremely basic task of replacing its soldiers’ Second World War-era sidearms. The Browning Hi-Power remains the standard-issue sidearm of the Canadian Armed Forces – which is a problem because the gun is heavy, jams constantly and has an annoying habit of occasionally slicing up the hands of its users. Although there have been calls to replace the pistol ever since Canada’s initial deployment to Afghanistan in 2001, the Department of Defence just announced that a replacement won’t be forthcoming until at least 2023.

A 1944 photo of the pistols being assembled at a Toronto factory. The firearms pictured here could feasibly still be in service with the Canadian Armed Forces.
A 1944 photo of the pistols being assembled at a Toronto factory. The firearms pictured here could feasibly still be in service with the Canadian Armed Forces. Photo by Library and Archives Canada

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