OTTAWA – “Canada is ready to welcome Ukrainians fleeing Vladimir Putin’s war, and there is no limit to the number of applications that we are going to be willing to accept,” Canadian Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister Sean Fraser said at a March 3 news conference in Ottawa where he unveiled two new programs for Ukrainians who want to come to Canada temporarily, “and for those who wish to stay.”
“For those who need a safe haven while the war ravages their homeland,” Mr. Fraser said, the Canadian Liberal government has created the Canada-Ukraine Authorization for Emergency Travel.
“There will be no limit on the number of applications accepted under this stream,” he said, noting that Ukrainians who access this program will be allowed to remain in Canada for up to two years.
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) expects to begin accepting applications under this program in two weeks.
To qualify, Ukrainians will need to complete “a simple application form and provide biometrics for security and background screening,” the immigration minister said.
In a March 3 statement, Jagmeet Singh, leader of Canada’s left-of-center New Democratic Party, noted that while Poland has accepted 500,000 Ukrainians, Canada has only received 6,000 Ukrainians fleeing the conflict.
“The simplest solution for those in danger is for the Canadian government to grant visa-free access to Ukrainians,” he said.
Mr. Fraser said that waiving the visa requirement for Ukrainians would require 12-14 weeks to implement “regulatory changes and certain renovations” to his department’s IT systems and its interface with airlines to recognize visa-free access for Ukrainians under the emergency travel initiative.
There is also a security issue, he added.
“A complete visa waiver,” Mr. Fraser said, “opens the door for others who might slip through the cracks.”
“We’ve heard concerns about certain individuals, such as those who have supported and fought against the Ukrainian army in Putin’s war for the past eight years in the Donbas, as well of those who are currently working against Ukraine and assisting Russian troops,” Mr. Fraser said.
The immigration minister said that biometric analysis will “screen out those” who have threatened Ukraine’s security while protecting Canada’s security.
He said that, since mid-January, Canada has put in place equipment and personnel to take biometrics in Vienna; Warsaw, Poland; and Bucharest, Romania, in addition to 30 other locations throughout Europe.
“We’re ready to extend hours of operation and add more staff as needed, where needed,” Mr. Fraser said.
“Everyone who arrives under this new stream will also be eligible for an open work permit or study permit that will allow them to take a job with any Canadian employer or enroll in an education program,” Mr. Fraser said.
He also announced “an expedited path to permanent residency for Ukrainians seeking to reunite with family members who are already in Canada through a new family sponsorship program.”
The immigration minister said IRCC would work closely with the Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC) to finalize the details of the new program in the coming weeks.
In a March 3 statement, UCC president Alexandra Chyczij welcomed the Canadian government’s two new immigration programs.
“Russia is trying to destroy Ukrainian cities and towns from the air,” she said. “These are crimes against humanity that are causing a humanitarian catastrophe not seen in Europe since World War II,” and which has resulted in over 1 million Ukrainians being forced to flee Ukraine.
At a separate news conference in Ottawa on March 3, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his government’s response to the Ukrainian refugee crisis was modeled after the approach taken with Syrian refugees in 2015 when Canada committed itself to resettle 25,000 individuals. Since then, nearly triple, or more than 73,000 Syrians, have made Canada their home, according to IRCC.
But he also acknowledged that the Syrian and Ukrainian situations are somewhat different.
The Syrian refugee crisis involved people coming to Canada from displaced persons’ camps in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, where many had already spent years.
Mr. Trudeau said that, by contrast, Canadian officials will be able to quickly process immigration applications from Ukrainians who have recently fled to Poland, Romania, Moldova and other neighbouring countries.
He explained that Ukrainian refugees can work or study in Canada while they wait to return to Ukraine, or “start a new life in Canada.”
The prime minister also took aim at the cause of the massive Ukrainian displacement.
He said that Canada has called for the suspension of Russia’s membership in the International Criminal Police Organization, or INTERPOL, a law-enforcement alliance involving 195 countries.
“We’re supporting this because we believe that international law enforcement cooperation depends on a collective commitment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and mutual respect between INTERPOL members,” Mr. Trudeau said.
Meanwhile, his deputy prime minister, Chrystia Freeland, a Ukrainian Canadian who also serves as Canada’s finance minister, announced that Canada was revoking the “most-favored-nation” (MFN) trading status for Russia because of its invasion of Ukraine, and Belarus, which supported it.
“This means that Russia and Belarus will no longer receive the benefits, particularly low tariffs, Canada offers to other countries that are fellow members of the WTO [World Trade Organization],” she said. “Instead, Russia and Belarus will be subject to a tariff of 35 percent on their exports to Canada. The only other country that does not enjoy MFN status with Canada is North Korea.”
Ms. Freeland added that Canada also sanctioned 10 executives from Rosneft, Russia’s leading oil company, and from Gazprom, a major Russian state-owned energy company.
“This will bring the total number of people and entities sanctioned or in the process of being sanctioned by Canada since Russia’s illegal occupation of Crimea in 2014 to more than 1,000,” she said.
Following the announcements by Mr. Fraser and Ms. Freeland at the March 3 news conference, Canadian National Defense Minister Anita Anand said the Canadian Armed Forces would supply further lethal aid to Ukraine in the form of up to 4,500 M72 rocket launchers and as many as 7,500 hand grenades.
She said that Canada will also provide Ukraine with nearly $788,000 toward the purchase of high-resolution modern satellite imagery technology.
“This capability will provide Ukraine’s military with a strengthened ability to monitor the movement of Russian forces in and around their territory,” Ms. Anand said.