An Ontario cabinet minister called Russia a “terrorist state” this week, saying more than 39,000 Ukrainians displaced by the Russian war with Ukraine have come to Ontario to settle.
Monte McNaughton, Ontario’s minister responsible for Ukraine, made the comment in an email to CBC Toronto on Monday that outlined the support that the provincial government is providing to Ukrainians in Ontario who have fled the conflict. McNaughton is also Ontario’s minister of labour, immigration, training and skills development.
In April, the provincial government said it was spending $300 million to provide support to Ukrainians who have moved to Ontario since the war waged by Russian President Vladimir Putin began on Feb. 24, 2022.
“Russia is a terrorist state,” McNaughton said in the email. “Ontario will always support our Ukrainian community and the refugees fleeing Putin’s war of aggression.”
According to Borys Wrzesnewskyj, chair of the Ukrainian World Congress Human Rights Commission, the comment by McNaughton shows backbone. The UWC describes itself as the global voice for Ukrainian people worldwide.
“It’s high time that we call things by their true names,” Wrzesnewskyj said on Tuesday. “How many dead Ukrainians will it take for the West to show the resolve that is required to deal with this global threat?”
“This absurd notion that, if we label Russia a terrorist state, then there won’t be any room for diplomacy — what sort of diplomacy are we talking about? Have we not all understood and realized this is a genocidal war?”
Wrzesnewskyj said the UWC welcomes the decision by the Ontario government to call Russia a “terrorist state,” but is waiting for Canadian government officials to do the same.
Meanwhile, the Ukrainian Canadian Congress continues to call upon Canadian officials to designate Russia as a “state supporter of terrorism.” The UCC calls itself the voice of Canada’s Ukrainian community.
Under the State Immunity Act, Canada has listed Iran and Syria as state supporters of terrorism. In May 2022, the UCC wrote to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, urging the federal government to put Russia on the list.
Global Affairs Canada has not yet responded to a request for comment.
Comment symbolically important, U of T prof says
Aurel Braun, a University of Toronto international relations and political science professor, said on Tuesday that the comment by McNaughton is important.
“Symbolically, it is essential that when we are facing what we deem to be evil we call it by the right name,” Braun said.
Braun said Russia is engaging an “unprovoked” war with Ukraine, a war of “brazen, naked aggression,” and Russia is attacking innocent civilians and their infrastructure. Russia has weaponized food, energy and the weather, and “this is basically terror,” he said.
But designating a country as a state supporter of terrorism isn’t just symbolic. It has political and legal implications too, he said.
Politically, it would signal that Canada is condemning the state’s actions because the actions are “extraordinarily harmful” and should be sanctioned by the international community, while legally, it would enable Canada to restrict trade and diplomatic relations, he said.
As well, it would allow citizens to launch legal action against the designated terrorist state, he said.
Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland have called Russia a state sponsor of terrorism, but the U.S. and Canada have not.
‘No more diplomatic room left’
Braun said while Canada is providing military and economic support to Ukraine, it may be reluctant to apply the term to Russia.
“It’s not easy to give up the possibility of diplomatic relations,” he said.
“We have a great strength in the West and that is that we prefer to negotiate rather than to enter into conflict, and that is a really good thing to have. But the sad reality is that sometimes, when you are faced with certain kinds of nefarious actions on a scale that Russia is engaging in, there is no more diplomatic room left.”
In a 2012 news release, Canada said it designated Iran and Syria as state supporters of terrorism to send a clear message that perpetrators of terrorism will be held accountable.
Yet, Iran and Syria are not nuclear powers, Braun said.
“We are talking about our diplomatic options. The Ukrainian people are talking about their lives,” he said.
“The Ukrainian people are asking us to do this. They are asking us not to be timid. Maybe we should listen to them.”