Remarks during an event with the Ukrainian-Canadian community
THE HONORABLE CHRYSTIA FREELAND: Good evening!
I am very happy to be here. Toronto has a remarkable Ukrainian community. And this is an incredibly important day for all Canadians, from coast to coast to coast.
Thank you all for being here today and for your unwavering support for the brave people of Ukraine.
Governing is hard. It requires compromise and a balancing of competing legitimate interests that is usually painful—and sometimes feels impossible.
Decisions are often a 51-49 call, and about choosing between different shades of grey.
But every once in a while, a leader faces a black and white choice—a choice of utter mortal clarity.
And sometimes, accustomed as we are to operating in a world of ambiguity, leaders of democracies can be slow to see that the issue before them is, indeed, a clear-cut contest between right and wrong.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is such a contest. It is today’s great fight between light and darkness.
One of the leaders who understood that soonest—and who has been the most resolute—is Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
A few days after Putin’s tanks rolled across the Ukrainian border, I was in a meeting with the Prime Minister.
That was a time when Russian assassins were roaming the streets of Kyiv, and the threat to the lives of Ukraine’s leaders seemed immediate.
Around the world, the expert consensus was that the Ukrainian capital would fall in weeks, if not days.
But in that candid and private discussion, our Prime Minister had total certainty about what would happen.
Ukraine would never give up, he said.
We would see the same invincible determination from the people of Ukraine as the British had displayed during the Blitz—when Hitler’s bombers rained death from the sky.
He said that Ukraine would hold the line.
That Ukraine would fight back.
And that Ukraine would win.
And he was right.
Because, as I think all of us now recognize—as all of the people of Canada recognize, as all of the people of the free world recognize—this is a war where the stakes are black and white.
This is a fight between good and evil.
That is why the Prime Minister committed then, right at the beginning, that Canada would never waver—and that is why we are even more resolute now, after 575 long days of brutal fighting.
We know that Ukraine can, and must, and will win this war.
But today, while the war drags on, and as more Ukrainians die each day, some voices are fading and growing tired.
These voices—surprisingly and remarkably—are not in Ukraine.
It is Ukrainians being killed and tortured. Ukrainian women being raped. Ukrainian children being kidnapped by Putin’s criminal regime.
And yet, it’s in peaceful democracies, far from the front lines, that some people are wondering if Ukraine’s democracy is important enough. If this fight is worth continuing when the cost is so very high.
Today—this evening—Canada has an opportunity to say to the people of Ukraine—and their remarkable leader—that we will never abandon them.
Today is an opportunity for us, the people of Canada—represented by the amazing Canadians gathered here tonight—to say to the brave people of Ukraine: We will keep the faith. We will never abandon you. Our determination is absolute.
One of my favourite poems is written by Ivan Franko—it is called To The Great Moment. До великого моменту.
When President Volodymyr Zelenskyy made his first visit to Canada in July of 2019, shortly after his election, I quoted a passage while introducing him.
До великого моменту
Будь готовий кождий з вас —
Кождий може стать Богданом
Як настане слушний чай.
Let every one of you be ready for the great moment.
Each one of us can be the decisive leader when the consequential moment comes.
We did not know then, in the summer of 2019, when that consequential moment would arrive—or quite how consequential it would be.
But in the bloody trenches dug into its famous black earth, and in the war-torn streets of its proud and beautiful cities, Ukraine is today facing that most consequential of moments. That великого моменту.
And under President Zelenskyy’s decisive leadership, millions upon millions of Ukrainians have proven themselves worthy of that moment.
But this fight—the fight for democracy—must also be Canada’s moment.
Our Prime Minister recognized that from the very beginning.
And in the conversation I recounted, and in meeting after meeting where I have watched him rallying the world to support Ukraine, our Prime Minister has proven himself ready for our great moment.
And in so doing, he has allowed all of us, as Canadians, to show ourselves as a country to be ready for that great moment.
Ladies and gentlemen, it is an honour for me to welcome the Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau.
THE RIGHT HONOURABLE JUSTIN TRUDEAU (Prime Minister of Canada): Good evening, friends! Thank you, Chrystia, for your words and for the incredible work that you’ve done day in and day out to direct our country in the right way, but also to make sure that we are standing up unequivocally for Ukraine every single day.
Before I begin, I know a lot of people have seen the tragic news out of Coquitlam today. I want to offer my condolences to the family of the RCMP officer who lost their life. And to the two officers who were injured, we are all wishing you a fast and full recovery. We will continue to follow the situation closely.
It is so great to be here with you all tonight to welcome President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and the First Lady of Ukraine, Olena Zelenska.
It is so great to see so many of you here come from across the country to celebrate this moment of solidarity. I do want to recognize all the extraordinary dignitaries in the front row here. First of all, Premier Ford. Doug, it’s great to see you here. Thank you for standing so strong with Ukraine.
Mayor Olivia Chow, thank you very much for standing up for Ukraine. I like the yellow and blue. It’s very appropriate.
Other mayors, officials, ministers, members of Parliament, members of the Canadian Armed Forces who are welcoming us here to their hall, it is so good to see all of you, but it is mostly so good to see so many strong Ukrainian Canadians here to stand for Ukraine.
Canada’s support comes from all orders of government, from community groups, and of course from the diaspora, all of Canada is united behind Ukraine.
Canadian support comes from all orders of government, from community groups, from the diaspora, all of Canada is united behind Ukraine.
Now I know that here with us tonight is a very special group. Some of the folks that I visited last February from St. Demetrius School.
Now St. Demetrius, here in Toronto, has welcomed more than 100 Ukrainian children to their classes. Fellow students and teachers have collected books, clothes and food to give to their new friends and neighbours, and they are extraordinary and they are wonderful and we need to give them a big round of applause.
But what’s great about them is that they’re actually not unique. There are schools like that, communities like that right across the country, opening up their homes, their hearts, their communities to people fleeing horrific situations, showing the support, love, the solidarity that Canada is so known for.
It warms my heart to see people helping Ukrainians in our schools and in our community centres across the country.
Canadians have a reputation around the world for being welcoming, friendly, open. Thank you for demonstrating every single day that that is absolutely the case.
You see, bullets and bombs can do a lot of damage, but one thing they can never take away is your sense of community. I’ve seen the sense of community when I visited Kyiv even in times of war, and I’m seeing it here in Canada every day. You see, Canadians and Ukrainians have shared a special bond for a long time. Over the past generations, so many Canadians of Ukrainian origin have helped build our country. And as I’ve said before, it is right as rain therefore that it be Canada and Canadians who will be there helping Ukraine rebuild for future generations.
But for now, Canada stands with Ukraine, and we do so in an absolutely unequivocal fashion. We do so, yes, because of the deep ties and friendships that have bonded our countries and our peoples for so long. The contributions of Ukrainian Canadians that have made this country what it is today, the deep connections and family ties that still exist, the alignments and values of countries that believe in each other. We are good friends as countries. But that’s not the only reason why we stand so solidly with Ukraine. We stand with Ukraine because it is the right thing to do.
I don’t have to tell anyone here tonight that the world is a particularly challenging place these days. Whether it’s the increasing impacts of extreme weather events from climate change, whether it’s the continued hangover from the pandemic, whether it’s the challenges around the cost of living and interest rates and grocery prices and fuel prices that are exacerbated by Russia’s illegal invasion of a sovereign nation, there are real challenges in the world right now. And Canadians face a choice, like everyone around the world. When the tough times come, the natural human instinct is to hunker down and hope the storm blows past. But that’s not what Canadians do. That’s not who we are. I saw it throughout the summer as I visited corners of this country hit by wildfires, some that had rarely if ever been hit by wildfires before. Every single place where you were seeing devastation and loss, you also saw Canadians stepping up for each other, knowing that the well-being of our neighbours, of our entire country, of our communities matters to each of our well beings. It’s how we are hardwired as Canadians, to look out for each other, to support each other.
And one of the things we’ve learned over the past few years is that everything is interconnected. What happens on the other side of the world does impact us directly. And one of the things we know more than anything else is we all have a role to play in making sure that the world we are building for our kids and grandkids is better in every way.
But if I’m going to be honest, it’s challenging sometimes to see that. There is so much hardship and chaos all around us, shifting geopolitical realities, backsliding democracies, challenges to the rules and the peace and the stability that we’ve seen for 75 years in this world that has contributed to so much prosperity and growth and opportunities for so many has been upended because Vladimir Putin decided that he wanted to invade a neighbouring, peaceful nation. He put an end to decades of prosperity, of stability. He’s trying to overthrow the rules-based order and make might right once again.
We need to continue to stand strong against that kind of thinking and it’s not just for Ukraine. It’s for all of us!
Canadians know this is a question of right or wrong. Canadians know that, yes, it is incredibly hard for Ukraine to continue to stand against Russian aggression. And let’s be honest. It’s hard for the democracies around the world who are there to support their citizens, who are investing for the future. We’re challenged with a challenging economy around the world to continue to step up as Canada has with close to $9 billion in aid for Ukraine. But we will because the cost on Canadians, on our lives, on our world will be so much greater if Putin wins this war that we will and have to stand every single day until Ukraine wins this war!
The stakes are high for Canadians. The stakes are high for Ukrainians. The stakes are high for all of us around the world. This is a moment where we define ourselves for the rest of the 21st Century. Did we stand up against authoritarianism? Did we stand up against those who choose to break the rules around the world? Do we stand up for what is right? We are Canadian. Of course we’re going to stand up for what’s right!
And even more so for Canadians of Ukrainian origin, and not just because of your ties to that beautiful country but because the strength and the courage of the Ukrainian people is well known to all of us who have friends, who know community members, who have seen the extraordinary heart and spirit of Ukrainians. For over 100 years you have helped contribute to shaping this country, settling the Prairies, building extraordinary communities and cities, contributing in arts and culture, in science, in business, in so many ways to building this great country. All Canadians, not just Ukrainian Canadians, all Canadians know how fierce and strong and steadfast the people of Ukraine are and that is why we know you will win this war!
But you know, we Canadians are lucky to know so many Ukrainians around us. But the world has gotten to know over the past year and a half one Ukrainian in particular. Someone who has stood up to Putin, stared him in the face every day and stayed strong, someone who has inspired a nation and a world. We look to Volodymyr Zelenskyy for his leadership, for his steadfastness, for his commitment, for his strength, and it is an inspiration to us all, not just to Ukrainians who continue to fight for their lives and their future, but for all of us around the world who understand what is at stake when we see him, when we hear from him, when we understand the passion and the leadership he shows. He will stand for what is right every single way and he will demand the very best, not just of all Ukrainians, not even just of all Canadians, but of everyone around the world who is committed to building that better world.
Volodymyr, as you approach to come out, you know, in my many conversations with you over the past year and a half, I’ve mentioned the unwavering support that Canada and Canadians have for you and for Ukraine. Well, tonight, you get to feel just a little bit of that love and support as we welcome you here to show you that as you are still standing for Ukraine, Canada and all Canadians stand with you for as much as it takes, for as long as it takes.
Ladies and gentlemen, it is my great honour to introduce Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the President of Ukraine!
HIS EXCELLENCY VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY (President of Ukraine): Glory to Ukraine! [Translated]
CROWD: Glory to the heroes! [Translated]
H. E. VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY: (Clapping)
All the applause is for our soldiers, glory to Ukraine! [Translated]
I’m so proud to hear it in Canada. This war united whole Canada, all the people, all communities, all cities.
Glory to Ukraine! [Translated]
And this is how unity sounds. And I’m proud that we achieved unity like this, and it’s so inspiring, and it’s not just inspiring. It helps others. It’s helps us all to become stronger. And we are strong.
To become stronger, and our freedom to get stronger, and it moves our unity to victory: Ukraine’s victory, Canada’s victory, people’s victory.
To our mutual victory! [Translated]
The victory will be ours. And I have no doubt and I hear… No, I don’t hear. The victory will be ours.
Yeah, yeah. Now I hear.
Now I hear you have no doubt. And I’m so happy to be here with my wife, first lady, three days together. The first time from the beginning of full-scale war. Thank you, Justin.
To be serious, I’m so proud that Ukraine inspires, really, that Ukrainians inspire. And so do Canadian Ukrainians. Thank you.
And I thank you all, all of you. That you are active. You let others feel Ukraine’s vibe, the vibe of glory to Ukraine [Translated], the vibe of people who never surrender.
You had been protecting Ukrainian culture, Ukrainian dream, the dream of what we have now: the dream of independence, before Ukraine got its independence [Translated].
And I thank your grandfathers, and I thank your grandmothers who saved Ukrainian identity, who contributed to making Canada a great country.
And you help to protect Ukraine now. This is very important now while we are protecting, and we will definitely protect our independence. You help, you help volunteers, you accepted our people [Translated].
Canada trains our guys, our soldiers, our warriors. Canada gives weapons to Ukraine to move forward, to push back Russia.
And I thank you for this. Thank you all.
And I’m sure Canada will never lose Ukrainian vibe. And the day will come when we gather at this similar place, similar place in Ukraine. Many people, millions, cheering crowds, blue and yellow flags and maple leaf flags.
And the whole Ukraine will say, thank you, thank you, Canada. Glory to Ukraine! [Translated]
CROWD: Glory to the heroes! [Translated]
H. E. VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY: Thank you, Justin. Chrystia, thank you.