Canada eases Ukraine immigration requirements, strips Russia’s trading status and increases military aid to Ukraine

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OTTAWA— The Canadian government will offer emergency travel permits for Ukrainian nationals to enter Canada to address an urgent humanitarian crisis as the exodus following Russia’s invasion grows.

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This article was published 03/03/2022 (281 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

OTTAWA— The Canadian government will offer emergency travel permits for Ukrainian nationals to enter Canada to address an urgent humanitarian crisis as the exodus following Russia’s invasion grows.

The federal government rolled out new measures Thursday to help Ukraine and punish Russia and its military ally Belarus, including more lethal aid and tariffs of 35 per cent on all Russian and Belarusian imports to Canada.

Immigration Minister Sean Fraser said Ottawa is creating an “authorization for emergency travel” program, and two new streams for Ukrainians who want to come temporarily or who wish to stay on a permanent basis: special work or study permits, and a family reunification sponsorship avenue for permanent residence.

ARIS MESSINIS - AFP via GETTY IMAGES An Ukrainian soldier holds an anti-tank launcher at a frontline, northeast of Kyiv on Thursday.

It does not drop the visa program, but rather creates two new pathways for speedier entry.

The changes will still require background checks for all those coming into Canada, but they eliminate a lengthy application and review process and there is “no limit” on the number of Ukrainians that Canada is willing to accept, Fraser said.

Fraser said it was the fastest, safest and easiest way to allow Ukrainians to flee, as it would have been too cumbersome to eliminate a visa requirement entirely. That would have required regulatory changes and changes to information technology systems in the Immigration Department and the airline travel sector, which would have taken 12-14 weeks, Fraser said. “We don’t have 12 to 14 weeks,” he said. The new programs will be up and running within two weeks, the department said.

Fraser said he took advice from leaders in the Ukrainian-Canadian community that visa-free access would have opened the door for other bad actors who “might slip through the cracks,” including those who fought in Putin’s army in the eastern separatist regions or are collaborators with Russian troops in this invasion.

Since January, when the government began fast-tracking study and work permit applications and extensions already in the system, 6,131 Ukrainian nationals have been accepted. For those who do not wish to leave Ukraine, he said Canada “will offer safe haven to your families while you fight on the front lines of a war to defend your freedom from tyranny to the benefit of the entire world.”

Defence Minister Anita Anand said Canada plans to send Ukraine an additional M72 rocket launchers and up to 7,500 hand grenades from the Canadian military’s stockpiles, on top of other lethal and non-lethal aid already announced.

Ottawa will also supply $1 million worth of high-resolution satellite imagery to provide Ukraine the ability to monitor Russian forces’ movements.

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s rallying cry that “I need ammunition, not a ride” will go down in history, and has inspired her and “maybe the whole world.”

“Maybe the West — Western democracies — maybe we were kind of losing our mojo,” said Freeland, saying populations and leaders had become cynical about the ability of democracies to act in a united way. “I think Putin was counting on that,” but she said the unprecedented and unified response to the Ukraine crisis has Russian President Vladimir Putin wrong.

The resistance by ordinary Ukrainians and their government has “given us all hope that they may actually hang in there,” she said. As a result, there has been “a transformation” among Western countries who are now no longer talking about what they can’t do, and thinking creatively about what they can, she said.

Freeland said that Canada would become the first country to drop Russia and its ally Belarus as trading partners within the World Trade Organization, giving them the same status as North Korea.

It means a 35 per cent tariff will be levied on those countries’ exports to Canada.

However Canada’s trade with Russia has already dropped significantly over the last eight years, to just $1.9 billion in imports, which is double about $700 million in Canadian exports to that country.

Freeland acknowledged that the impact of Canada stripping “most favoured trading nation” status from Russia and Belarus “will be very, very, very minimal” given the drop in trade since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.

Canada has the fewest economic ties with Russia of the G7 countries, but Freeland believes the comprehensive nature of sanctions are a powerful message.

“The sanctions are absolutely having an impact,” said Freeland, pointing out that the value of the Russian ruble is down 30 per cent, interest rates are at 20 per cent, and the Russian stock exchange was closed for the fourth day in a row. She said it is having a “significant” and direct impact that “is already being felt by every single person in Russia.”

In addition, on Wednesday night, the federal government put sanctions on 10 executives from Rosneft, Russia’s leading oil company, and from Gazprom, a major Russian state-owned energy company.

Freeland said that brings the total number of individuals sanctioned or about to be penalized, since 2014, to more than 1,000, and she said more will follow.

Tonda MacCharles is an Ottawa-based reporter covering federal politics for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @tondamacc

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