Commentary by: Oksana Bashuk Hepburn in Toronto

Canada turned 150 on July 1. From “a few acres of snow” it has been transformed into one of the world’s most prosperous countries, consistently ranking in the top 10 happiest places to live. It is also a global leader in human rights and multiculturalism. 

Canadians of Ukrainian descent were instrumental in developing both concepts. Walter Tarnopolsky led the articulation of human rights and civil liberties domestically and internationally. In his honour, the Walter Tarnopolsky International Jurist Award is given to distinguished contributors for work in these areas.

In his maiden Senate speech another Ukrainian Canadian formulated the notion of Canada’s multicultural reality. Sen. Paul Yuzyk is viewed as the father of multiculturalism. Furthermore, in a dissenting report of the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism (1966), member Dr. Jaroslav Rudnyckyj argued against biculturalism. He called for the recognition of Canada’s multicultural reality rather than the enshrinement of Anglo-Celtic and French cultures at the expense of all others. 

Canada’s multicultural legislation and its Charter of Rights and Freedoms reflect the work of these notable individuals. 

Other far-reaching contributions include the pioneering work in cancer detection by Dr. Sylvia Fedoruk – later the lieutenant governor of Saskatchewan – and Dr. Roberta Bondar, Canada’s first female astronaut.

Therefore, it is surprising that the contributions of Canadians of Ukrainian descent – pioneers since 1887 and developers of western Canada – have received little recognition to date in this historic year. Is the Ukrainian connection being white washed?

Perhaps a partial answer lies here. The highlight of Canada’s 150 birthday party in Ottawa was the naming of two new astronauts: Jennifer Sidey and Joshua Kutryk.

Ms. Sidey said she was inspired by Dr. Bondar. Her forebears arrived from Ukraine at the turn of the 20th century. Mr. Kutryk has a distinct Ukrainian surname and hails from Alberta, the heart of Ukrainian Canada. 

Yet there was no linking of these exceptional Canadians to their roots. Despite this omission, there was much praise for Canada’s diversity at the celebrations on Parliament Hill. Prince Charles said it made Canada a wonderful country; Prime Minister Justin Trudeau celebrated it: Diversity is Canada’s answer to dealing with hardship and discrimination. 

It was not always so. 

Ukrainians were among the first non-Anglo-Celtic or French minorities to arrive here. Being first is tough. Hardship and discrimination were as brutal then as they are today in the most unfortunate countries. There were no roads, no hospitals, schools or churches. Officials allocated some of the worst land to the “men in sheepskin coats,” and mocked their dress, language and ethnic origin. The internment of Ukrainians during World War I is now seen as a dark moment in Canada’s history.

It can be said, therefore, that Canada learned how to be a “kinder and gentler society” on the backs of the hundreds of thousands that poured in from Ukraine at the turn of the 20th century. Their experiences led directly to the development of human rights and multiculturalism for Canada. 

So why, on its big birthday, is their outstanding contribution not acknowledged? Has multiculturalism lost its place? Has it become less valuable as other diverse groups – women, visible minorities, the disabled, the LGBT community – advance?

As always, the squeaky wheels get the grease. The Native Indian nations, for instance, received considerable attention during the birthday celebrations. Most likely it’s because they asserted themselves. They erected an illegal but most prominent teepee on the Parliament grounds that they claim to be their land.

Under-recognition is a form of discrimination too. Dr. Bondar and Mr. Kutryk must not be thrown into an Anglo-Celtic/French melting pot that removes these astronauts’ distinct Ukrainian identity. To do so is to go backwards. It is not Canadian. It is wrong. It dishonors and diminishes the work of Messrs. Tarnopolsky, Yuzyk and Rudnyckyj.

Multi-diverse Canadians – that’s all of them – are strengthened when one of their own succeeds: A young woman is inspired to become an astronaut because a woman who is Ukrainian Canadian – a double minority – made it to the stars. Such success proves that Canada works for all.

Going forward, more work is needed in coming to grips with the notion of unity in multicultural diversity. This is particularly pressing as the world’s population shifts among countries at unprecedented rates due to economic imperatives, wars and climate change.

Canadians, comprising 200 different ethnic groups, live this daily. The Ukrainians in Canada led the way with human rights and multiculturalism. Perhaps they will lead in dealing with this issue as well. First, however, they need to be recognized both at home and abroad for these world-changing contributions.

Republished with permission from the Ukrainian Weekly.

Oksana Bashuk Hepburn is a former director with the Canadian Human Rights Commission, senior adviser to the Government of Canada and president of consulting firm dealing with Canada/Ukraine relations that writes on international issues in Canadian and other outlets.

Published in Commentary
Thursday, 18 May 2017 15:02

Embracing Gratitude over Guilt

By Laska Paré in Toronto

Trunk Tales: Leaving home … finding home is an exhibit that recently opened in Toronto. Through a variety of heirlooms — trunks, clothes, photos and letters—stories of Ukrainians immigrating to Canada are told.

My great-grandmother, Sophia Lysy, was part of the second wave (1918-1939) of Ukrainian immigrants to reach Canada. In 1926 at the tender age of 16, she left her home in Tyahliv, Ukraine, to live with her Aunt and Uncle in Point Pelee, Canada. Upon leaving Europe, Sophia had been provided with a return passage to Tyahliv. However, struck by the poor conditions of the farming community where her family had settled, she cashed in her return ticket to help her Aunt and Uncle purchase a better farm. And so, Canada became her new home.

Though I’ve heard the stories from my family many times over, it wasn’t until recently when I gazed at my Babsia’s encased obrus (embroidered Ukrainian tablecloth) and read dozens of other narratives from immigrants displayed in the room, did I feel a sense of guilt about my life in Canada.

The Canadian Perks

As a third-generation Canadian, it’s taken years of foreign travel for me to recognize the value of my citizenship. The fact that I can proudly sew our nation’s flag on my backpack knowing it will only be of benefit, and perhaps a bonus, during my international travels says a lot about our country.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]I understand why my Babsia sacrificed everything to come to Canada, and why immigrants continue to do so today.[/quote]


Being a Canadian has allowed me to by-pass many extensive processes or requirements for documentation and has omitted me from being seen or questioned as a threat. So yes, there’s no question I’m grateful for my citizenship and the specialized treatment that comes with the nation’s brand.

Gratitude vs Guilt

Gratitude, and being grateful for my national identity, is simple. The only specification is to enjoy the daily ease of one’s life and where appropriate, acknowledge the advantages that come with the citizenship when brought up in discussion.

After travelling, living and working abroad, the real challenge I’m learning is coming home and resuming the patterns of life without feeling a sense of guilt. Once a person has bared witness to real adversity, struggle and strife in the world, it’s easy to come back to Canada and feel grateful about our lifestyle; but it can be difficult to move on without feeling a sense of guilt and shame for enjoying the comfort, support and calm of our nation.

Coming to Terms

I understand why my Babsia sacrificed everything to come to Canada, and why immigrants continue to do so today. Even though she came with the intention to have and—eventually—give a better life to her family, I can only imagine the guilt she must have felt every time she wrote a letter to her loved one’s back in Ukraine; knowing it wasn’t the same, or even remotely close.

My great-grandmother would want nothing more than for me to be happy and enjoy the freedoms we have in Canada, especially because of the sacrifices she unknowingly made on my behalf. Part of me is still learning not to judge myself or criticize others when they claim to have a problem or issue, knowing they may be trivial on the grand scope. Even though our rights and freedoms are evolving, particularly freedom of speech, I still believe Canada is rich in opportunity, comfort and luxury, and that is something we need to step back, embrace and be grateful for more often.

A copywriter for a communications agency in Toronto, when not contemplating ideas around identity or working on her children’s book series, you will find Laska outside seeking adventure. 

Published in History
Saturday, 11 March 2017 19:47

A Tradition of Thrift

by Lucy Slavianska

Victoria Bechkalo, a social worker from Ukraine, and Aleksandr Aksenov, a bank analyst from Russia, had only five guests at their Toronto wedding — the groom’s brother, his wife and children, and a family friend. Since their home countries were at war with each other, dividing their friends, and their parents couldn’t make it to Toronto due to visa issues, Bechkalo and Aksenov couldn’t plan a big wedding.

Still, they say their ceremony at Christ the Saviour Russian Orthodox Cathedral was the happiest moment of their lives, because what mattered to them was not the number of guests, a drive in a limo, or a lavish reception, but the decision to create their family in peaceful, tolerant Canada and their ability to do this by blending traditions from their respective homelands with those from their new home.

One of these traditions is affordability.

There is a long history of church weddings in eastern European communities, not just because of the opulent atmosphere — the candles, richly decorated altars, clerical vestments, murals, and iconography — but because the churches make a point of keeping costs down.

Many churches, for instance, charge more than $1,000 for wedding ceremonies (the Metropolitan United Church in Toronto charges $1,500 for a wedding, and the Anglican St. Clement Church charges $1,725), but eastern European churches tend to have much lower fees. Some, like the Holy Trinity Russian Orthodox Church and St. Mary’s Polish Roman Catholic Church, charge between $100 and $500, but if a couple cannot afford to pay, even those charges may be waived. Others don’t charge for weddings at all, though couples often make a donation. 

Elena and Joseph Peccoreli chose to marry in the same Russian Orthodox cathedral as Bechkalo and Aksenov. Before the ceremony, Elena bought a small icon and her wedding ring from the cathedral’s shop. “These things are cheap [there] and everybody can afford them,” she says. “I chose a white gold ring that was brought to Canada from a Russian monastery. But in general, the crosses and the rings don’t have to be golden. The idea is that nobody should be stopped from getting married because of money.”

Aliaksei Androsik, originally from Russia, and Julia Gorbunova, from Belarus, had been wanting to get married for more than a decade. “We met when I was 13 and she was 14 years old,” Androsik says. “At that time we were both attending school in Poland, and she told me to wait till we grew up. We lived in different countries for years, keeping in touch over the internet, and we finally decided that she [would] come to me to Canada.”  They married in a small Belorussian church in Toronto, with 40 guests in attendance. After the ceremony, there was a party in the church hall with cake and vodka, and then the couple hosted a barbecue at home.

This is very much in keeping with cultural beliefs shared throughout eastern Europe. Salaries are significantly lower there than in western countries, so frugality is generally valued. Eastern European priests here presume that young couples, and especially new immigrants, might not have much by way of savings. There is also a widespread belief that couples should use their money for more practical purposes, such as buying a home or providing for future children. Priests emphasize that saving is righteous, and they discourage couples from going into debt over a day of celebrations.

Archpriest Vasily Kolega, from Christ the Saviour Russian Orthodox Cathedral (which doesn't charge for weddings), considers the overspending that's so common unwise: “In Canada, we see a lot of couples who use up their savings or borrow money and spend a lot on big weddings, and then spend years paying [it] back.”

By contrast, he says, couples like Bechkalo and Aksenov (whom he married in the summer of 2016) have a different perspective when it comes to celebrating their wedding. “Such couples who come to us believe that the wedding ceremony is much more significant than a big wedding party or than going to Mexico or somewhere else to spend money. They start their family life. They declare their love for each other, take their vows very seriously, and believe this more important than the material sides of the weddings.”

Lucy Slavianska is a Toronto-based journalist and editor who has lived and worked in Canada, Japan, Bulgaria, Venezuela, and the Netherlands.

This story is the product of a partnership between and New Canadian Media.

Published in Arts & Culture
Saturday, 22 October 2016 14:26

One Year In, Big Shift in Foreign Policy

Commentary by Bhupinder Liddar

Did the seismic shift in Canada's political landscape, a year ago, following the election on October 19, 2015, also trigger a shift in Canada’s diplomacy, defence and development agenda? To a large extent, yes, and for the most part for the better.

The first strong signal of change in policy came immediately after the election when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declared Canada’s intention to accept 25,000 Syrian refugees by Christmas 2015. The former Conservative government of Stephen Harper had been dragging its feet on this issue and most of Western Europe was devising ways to block their entry.

Canada re-surfaced at the United Nations – the world family of 193 nations. Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s disdain, disrespect and disapproval of anything to do with the UN was well-known, resulting in Canada’s isolation at the UN, including losing its bid for a seat at the Security Council, the ultimate decision-making body on world affairs. While Harper rebuffed the UN, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau embraced the world body, and addressed the General Assembly in September declaring, “Canada is back” on the international scene.

Good money after bad

In re-emerging at the UN, Canada also pledged financial assistance to various UN agencies that was withdrawn by the previous Conservative government. One must, however, caution against throwing good money after bad, in the case of UN agencies, as they are rife with inefficiency. The previous Conservative government was adamant in demanding accountability before approving funding for any UN requests for financial assistance.

A country the size and strength of Canada can leverage its influence effectively and efficiently through multilateral organizations. Hence, Canada seems to be enhancing its role in various international and regional organizations, including, the G-20, NATO, and the African Union, among other forums. While pursuing the Canadian agenda through multilateralism remains an essential part of Canadian diplomatic strategy, bilateral relations are also playing an important part, as with Prime Minister’s state visit to China in September and various foreign heads of government knocking on Ottawa’s door.

Pursuit of free trade agreements goes on with the same vigour as under the Conservatives. The Canada-India Free Trade agreement seems to have died with the defeat of the Harper Conservative government. Much too much energy was wasted on this agreement, which at the end was designed to appease Canadian voters of Indian origin, most of whom were not too impressed or thrilled with the blatant and transparent vote-getting antics.

Canada’s relations with the United States of America are foremost on Canada’s diplomatic agenda. Trudeau has restored much needed personal diplomacy with U.S. President Barack Obama, who addressed the Canadian Parliament in June. And, Trudeau was the first Canadian Prime Minister to be hosted at a White House State Dinner, in March, in almost two decades.

Within a year of coming to power, the Liberal government has kept its commitment to climate change agenda, by signing the Paris Agreement on controlling carbon emissions.

Canada has resumed an active role in defence matters, too, with a promise to participate in UN peacekeeping operations. The problem is that while Prime Minister Trudeau committed to providing 600 Canadian Armed Forces troops, we have not found a place to deploy them. The government seems to have put the cart before the horse. 

Showcase our pluralism

Consistent with the previous government, Canada is actively monitoring Russian jockeying in the Baltics and Ukraine. It has pledged to contribute more troops, as part of NATO’s efforts to protect and ensure sovereignty of the Baltic states.

Whereas the Harper government was hostile to an international development agenda and inflicted serious financial cutbacks to the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), the Liberal government has resumed Canada’s role in providing humanitarian and development assistance, be it immediate help in the aftermath of the recent hurricane in the Caribbean or funding women’s education and literacy programs to furthering gender equality, under the aegis of UN agencies.

As for the future, the volume of consular matters will continue to increase and become more challenging, both because of changing demographics and dealing with countries that have different value and legal systems.

Instead of indulging in cost-cutting exercises, Canada needs place more diplomats in foreign missions. We should end the practice of replacing Canadian diplomats with locally-engaged staff.

One hopes that the year-old Trudeau government will continue to make Canada’s presence felt on the international scene, as it has in the past year, and showcase the Canadian experiment in building a pluralistic and multicultural society.

Bhupinder S. Liddar, is a former Canadian diplomat and publisher/editor of “Diplomat & International Canada” magazine. He can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or visit

Published in Commentary
Thursday, 01 October 2015 14:57

Foreign Policy Debate Ignores Diaspora Nation

by Ranjit Bhaskar in Toronto

Rightly or wrongly, foreign policy is not high on the list of issues that Canadians would like to know about during a federal election campaign. 

That said, this week’s Munk Debate, while holding a mirror to Canada’s role in the world, tended to reflect Canadian values and how we choose to see ourselves on the global stage.

While Canadian voters’ perceived lack of interest in foreign affairs can be questioned, there need be no such ambivalence when it comes to immigrant voters. With ties to countries of birth or origin still strong, they are likely keen to know policy directions the next government in Ottawa plans to take in their spheres of interest.

Currently, one in five – or 6.8 million – Canadians are foreign-born. This is the highest share of any G7 country and the Harper government has encouraged social, cultural and economic ties between new Canadians and their birth countries as part of its trade agenda.

The government has said that if re-elected, it will establish a new “Maple Leaf” designation to recognize new Canadians who work to build cultural, economic and social links between Canada and their birth country. The Minister of Foreign Affairs would be among those making the decision to award five to seven designations per year.

Scant mention of China and India

This enthusiasm for trade with countries that have big diaspora populations in Canada did not come through during the debate.

China and India, two of the world’s largest economies that also happen to be two of the largest immigrant source countries, were hardly mentioned during the bilingual debate.

To be precise, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau mentioned both once.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"][W]hile China may soon pass the U.S. as the world’s largest economy, Canada might have already missed its opportunity for greater trade with the Asian giant.[/quote]

Trudeau said the Harper government did not seem to understand how important it is to be engaged in global trade particularly with the growing economies of Asia.

“That’s why we applauded the Canada-Europe agreement. But Mr. Harper is yet to deliver on [many other agreements],” Trudeau said. “He is nowhere with China, even though Australia has just signed [an agreement with China]. We made a beginning with India after the rapprochement Mr. Harper tried to do recently with the Prime Minister (Narendra Modi).”

Despite being called a “diaspora nation” because of the diverse nature of immigration to Canada, it seems the country is still not ready to diversify trade and cut its umbilical cord to the United States.

Our share of Asia’s trade has fallen by half over the past decade. And while China may soon pass the U.S. as the world’s largest economy, Canada might have already missed its opportunity for greater trade with the Asian giant.

Missed opportunity

The voters too have missed an opportunity to know from the party leaders their foreign trade policy.

As Daniel Muzyka, CEO, and Glen Hodgson, senior vice-president and chief economist, of the Conference Board of Canada, said in a recent article, if Canadians and Canadian firms are to succeed in the global marketplace, there are several questions they should ask.

Questions include what the leaders would do to build and mobilize interest in our global opportunities, what practical alternative would they support if they did not favour free trade, and what they would do differently to capture a fair share of trade with China.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"][T]he repeated reference to our glorious UN peacekeeping past would have come as a surprise for many new Canadians whose countries of birth now carry much of that burden.[/quote]

While the reluctance to diversify our trade due to the advantage of having the world’s largest economy south of our border was obvious during the debate, there was another theme that wasn’t.

Call it a collective denial or a national consensus to perpetuate a myth, the repeated reference to our glorious UN peacekeeping past would have come as a surprise for many new Canadians whose countries of birth now carry much of that burden.

Bangladesh, Ethiopia, India, Pakistan, Rwanda, Nepal, Senegal, Ghana, China and Nigeria are currently the top 10 contributors. Canada ranks 62 out of 126 countries with 88 personnel.

Cold War soldiers

It is true that Canada was often the single biggest contributor to peacekeeping missions between 1956 and 1992, sending about 80,000 soldiers by the time the Blue Berets won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1988.

But, after these relatively benign observer missions, and two taxing tour of duties in Somalia and the Balkans in the 1990s, Canada seemed to lose its appetite for peacekeeping.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]By design or not, the issue of Israel and Palestine was ignored amid the predictable sound and fury on the havoc caused by the Islamic State.[/quote]

It is also important to understand that what motivated Canada all those years ago was the Cold War. It was to primarily defend western interests and our own strategic ones. Far from being peacekeepers, we were dedicated Cold War soldiers fighting the Soviets.

Fast-forward to the Munk Debate and it seemed the Cold War still looms over us.

Trudeau was asked how he would handle Russia’s Vladimir Putin. It elicited a nervous titter from the audience and a banal answer.

This obviously was not about foreign policy, but about paying lip service to the large Ukrainian diaspora in the same way as Trudeau said Harper had turned Canada’s support for Israel into a “domestic political football.”

By design or not, the issue of Israel and Palestine was ignored amid the predictable sound and fury on the havoc caused by the Islamic State. Several other topics of deep interest to Canadian voters, new and old, were overlooked.

But as the pundits have unanimously ruled that this debate was the best so far, so be it. The freeze is still on and we like to keep our myths alive.

{module NCM Blurb}

Published in Politics

by iPolitics

Flouting the conventional wisdom against summer electioneering and defying accusations of political opportunism, Stephen Harper today called a federal election for Oct. 19, 40 days earlier than he had to.

In announcing the election call at Rideau Hall, Harper squarely asserted a “devil you know” campaign theme. Speaking in French, Harper said Canadians have a “choice between a government that has proven itself and a dangerous choice.”

“This is no time for risky plans that could harm our future. This is not time for high taxes and permanent deficits. It’s time to stay the course,” he said, after formally asking Governor General David Johnston to dissolve Parliament.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Harper said the election needed to be called now to ensure that campaigns — which are effectively already underway — will be conducted under the rules of an official campaign.[/quote]

Harper also spoke at length about the security threats posed by “Russian aggression” in Ukraine and the Islamic State abroad and at home.

Sunday marks the start of the longest federal election campaign in living memory. Harper said the election needed to be called now to ensure that campaigns — which are effectively already underway — will be conducted under the rules of an official campaign, ironically citing the expense to taxpayers as justification for a campaign whose length will cost them millions more than it otherwise would.

While Harper touted the government’s balanced budget — a balance that has recently been thrown into doubt by the slumping economy — Opposition Leader Tom Mulcair charged that Harper’s government had the worst growth record since the 1960s.

“He’s had eight deficits in a row and added $150 billion in debt,” the NDP leader said, launching his own campaign from Gatineau, Que., with Parliament Hill across the river as a backdrop.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“It is time for a new plan to grow the middle class and grow the economy.” - Liberal leader Justin Trudeau[/quote]

In an news release, Justin Trudeau reiterated his recent positioning of the Liberal Party as the most viable option for Canadians disenchanted with Harper. “We want change that will make a real difference in the lives of all Canadians – change that will help families make ends meet, put more money in their pockets, and bring this country together,” said Trudeau. “It is time for a new plan to grow the middle class and grow the economy.”

Trudeau and Green Party Leader Elizabeth May are both in Vancouver today attending LGBT pride events.

Economy worse off than previously thought

After nearly a decade as prime minister, Harper will be seeking a second majority government from Canadians after leading the reconstituted Conservative Party of Canada to its first majority in 2011 following two Tory minority outcomes in 2006 and 2008. The Conservatives now hold 159 seats, the NDP hold 95 and the Liberals 36. There are eight independents, two Green party MPs, two Bloc Québécois, two Forces et Démocratie and four vacant seats.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Canada’s economy shrunk by 0.2 per cent in May. The figure, which bolsters the emerging economic narrative that the country is in a recession and undermines the Tories’ political narrative that it isn’t.[/quote]

Harper faces what, at this early stage, is an electoral landscape in which the man who appeared just one year ago to be his major political threat — Trudeau — has hemorrhaged 15 points in the iPolitics/EKOS poll since then and Mulcair is now the man to beat. Our latest poll, published Friday, shows Mulcair’s NDP at 33.8 per cent, Harper’s governing Tories at 30.1 per cent and Trudeau’s Liberals still trailing at 23.4.

Perhaps the more telling number was the GDP figure released Friday by Statistics Canada showing that Canada’s economy shrunk by 0.2 per cent in May. The figure, which bolsters the emerging economic narrative that the country is in a recession and undermines the Tories’ political narrative that it isn’t, is just the most recent sign that Canada’s economy has taken a bigger hit from the oil price crash than previously thought.

Since rumours of an early election began in Ottawa last week, Harper has been accused of exploiting a longer campaign to outspend his opponents. Liberal MP Marc Garneau said Friday that the 11-week campaign could cost taxpayers $125 million more than the 37-day campaign period required by law.

“Stephen Harper knows an early election call benefits him and the Conservative party while Canadians pay the price,” Garneau told reporters. “An early election increases election spending, that cap, by millions of dollars, allowing Conservative ridings to outspend opponents and essentially legalizing the overspending we’ve seen before,” he said.

Published in partnership with 


Published in Top Stories
Tuesday, 21 July 2015 18:24

Understanding My Ukrainian Grandparents

by Michelle Loughery (@mlougherymurals) in Vernon, British Columbia

Thousands of Canadians originating from Eastern Europe were imprisoned within the barbed wire fences of internment camps across Canada between 1914 - 20. For decades, their stories have been buried under fear and shame.

As a testament to their strength and resilience, I decided to paint the Sunflower mural to honour First World War Canadian internees.

My first human rights mural depicts a Ukrainian immigrant standing next to a 150-foot sunflower and a twisted barbed wire fence. He was arrested and interned in Calgary and moved by cattle car to the Vernon camp. His crime? Being an unemployed immigrant looking for work.

Like many Eastern Europeans that came to Canada with the promise of opportunities, he had responded to an invitation by the Canadian government. At the man’s side in the mural is a woman who represents the women who were forced to enter internment camps with their children. “With this mural, I feel like generations of people are speaking through me,” she says. “I didn’t understand my Ukrainian heritage before. I didn’t understand why my Ukrainian grandparents were so harsh. Now I understand.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“With this mural, I feel like generations of people are speaking through me... I didn’t understand my Ukrainian heritage before. I didn’t understand why my Ukrainian grandparents were so harsh. Now I understand.”[/quote]

Drawing inspiration

I drew inspiration from my great-grandfather, Michael Sanyshyn, who was interned in the camps with his son, Stephen. When he finally returned from the camps, he was ill and couldn’t work, making it impossible to clear the land as promised to the government under its immigrant invitation.

As a descendant of internees, I heard stories of my grandfather spending his entire life looking for his brother who had been working in a camp and then disappeared. While researching a heritage mural in Vernon, I found a letter to my grandfather in response to his inquiry about the location of his brother.

The response was he was last seen in an immigrant construction camp in Vernon. My great uncle was finally found in a document, Roll Call, as POW#47 interned at Banff/Castle Mountain, Alberta: among the harshest of camps.  It is not known what happened to him after he was sent there. And my grandfather never found him.

Social issue murals

This mural is the first of my series of social issue murals, which consists of a number of paintings across Canada that will draw on the same theme but will focus on injustices endured by all nationalities.

The murals, which will combine multi-media, traditional and digital art storytelling as well as historical photographs and personal video stories from the families directly affected, are slated to appear in the affected communities across Canada over the next several years.

My team plans to provide educational workshops in each community. These events, focused on information and story collection, will engage all generations and affected groups within the community. The goal of each workshop will be to share the cultural history of the people featured in the mural, and to create opportunities for societal healing and the turning of human wrongs into human rights.

All of my murals are created with help from youth artists who have encountered some form of barriers, in a unique skills and “Learn to Work” employment program that bridges youth and their communities together. Each mural will include the stories of the local people affected.

Inclusive healing

But my murals are more than just a painting on the wall -- they are an inclusive effort to heal the wounds of past and present injustices.

I have spent 25 years painting murals in  communities, including mural healing work with First Nation families who have survived residential schools. The fact that my own family had been marginalized makes this project a personal journey to help educate future generations about the past failings on Canadian soil. As it is only in learning from the past, using art to equalize all nations, can we wear the wings to a better future.

This Community Art is only the start of a conversation. Through the Sunflower Project Murals, my charity is making efforts to bring Canada’s dark chapter in history into the school curriculum. The average Canadian and youth still know very little about immigrant internment in Canada’s history.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]While historic injustices are not a proud point in Canada’s history, I hope that through art people can learn about each other and through similar artistic journeys come together as a nation.[/quote]

Our Canadian workforce is diverse in every way. Employees come from many backgrounds that cross ethnic, generational and economic differences.  Community art projects provide opportunities for employees to become more familiar with their co-workers. Art is a tool to bring diversity and inclusion programs to communities, companies, and education and skills institutions.

While historic injustices are not a proud point in Canada’s history, I hope that through art people can learn about each other and through similar artistic journeys come together as a nation.

I hope to bring artists together to help Canada heal and bring all nations together in reconciliation, as Canada is a multicultural community and the combined strength of all nations are the first people of today. Let’s hope we can not only learn from past injustices, but also celebrate our cultural differences.

Michelle Loughery is an award winning international artist and art educator who has been creating large scale community art for 25 years.

{module NCM Blurb}

Published in History

by Jane Lytvynenko (@JaneLytv) in Kiev, Ukraine

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk and Stephen Harper signed a free-trade agreement between the two countries Tuesday. Meeting in Chelsea, Quebec, the two politicians solidified the deal which is largely seen as a political gesture of goodwill from Canada while Ukraine faces a war with Russia and a nation-wide recession.

The finalization of the free trade agreement comes months before a federal election campaign is set to begin in Canada. Over 1.2 million Canadians of Ukrainian descent live in the country, making for the largest diaspora in the world outside of Ukraine itself.

The agreement will drop nearly all tariffs on Ukrainian imports and 86 per cent of tariffs on Canadian goods. Five years in the making, both Ukrainian and Canadian politicians are excited about the support.

This is increasing economic opportunity for Canadians and Ukrainians and the ability to create jobs in both our countries,said Harper during the announcement.

This is a step toward helping Ukrainians realize the future that they want,he said. Ukrainians do not want a future based on oppression and a Soviet past. Ukrainians want a Western future, a future of prosperity and democracy. In completing this trade agreement we are taking one small step in competing that transition.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Ive never noticed Canadian products here before. I would buy them to show my support if I knew.[/quote]

Politically, the deal is meant to be a gesture to Russia and the rest of the world of Canadas faith that Ukraine can clean up corruption and get back on its feet. But Ukrainians are not as optimistic about the agreement, which is yet to be implemented. Speaking to New Canadian Media in the streets of Kiev, Ukraines capital, many were unsure about concrete benefits of the agreement.

Small, but symbolic

You could say its a small step forward but its a symbolic one. I doubt it will make a difference,” said Oleg Sokolov. He said he understood the political significance on top of the other help Canada already provides to Ukraine but does not know what, if any, benefits it will bring.

Its an interesting situation but I dont know which of our products will interest Canada,” said Sokolov.

Canada will get duty-free access to meats, grains, canola oil, processed foods and animal feeds, according to the press release issued by the Canadian government. In turn, Ukraine will benefit from forestry and industrial goods, and fish products which have grown in price since the annexation of Crimea.

Political significance

The negotiations for the agreement began in 2010.

This deal has been in the works for longer than our government has been ruling,” said Egor, who works for a financial institution in Kiev and asked his last name not be published. It has a political significance and Im glad Canada is still helping Ukraine but I dont know if it will affect day-to-day life. I guess we will have to wait and see.

The Canadian PMO says trade between two countries averaged $347 million in 201113. It is expected to increase by 19 per cent as a result of the deal and Ukraine could see an additional $23.7 million in exports. Ukraines current annual GDP is $181.71 billion.

The potential increase in the amount of trade did not impress Sokolov, who said he is in the know about Ukrainian business.

It would be a good number for a company but when it comes to a country, that's a very small number [of trade],” he said. When put in the context of Ukraines GDP, that number does not make a difference.

Ukrainians also wonder whether they have products that interest Canada on a larger scale and where the projected 19 per cent grown will come from during time of war.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The agreement will drop nearly all tariffs on Ukrainian imports and 86 per cent of tariffs on Canadian goods.[/quote]

Canadas a big country and have their own products and trades, Im not sure what Ukraine has to offer,” said Lyudmila Mihailik. Ive never noticed Canadian products here before. I would buy them to show my support if I knew.

The trade agreement is the latest of Canadian measures helping Ukraine. Earlier this year Canada provided a $200 million low-interest loan to Ukraine for a total of $400 million in financial help over the last two years. Its aim is to help stabilize the country, which is about $50 billion in debt. Canada also provided non-lethal military supplies to Ukraine and participated in the training of its new police force.

{module NCM Blurb}

Published in Economy

by Lucy Slavianska (@lucylsl) in Toronto, Ontario

As mainstream media focus on the war in Ukraine and Canada’s position on it, headlines in the Eastern European diaspora media reveal some of the other challenges, struggles and joys of its community in Canada.

Canada Relaxes Visa Requirements for Citizens of Romania And Bulgaria

Romanian and Bulgarian media report on the Harper government’s decision to relax the visa requirements for Romanian and Bulgarian nationals.

According to new regulations coming in 2016, Bulgarian Flame reports, Bulgarian citizens who have held a Canadian visa in the last 10 years or who hold a U.S. non-immigrant visa will no longer need to apply for Canadian visas, but will only have to register for an Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA). The same regulations apply for Romanian citizens.

The news came after Romania and Bulgaria, both European Union (EU) members, declared they would not ratify the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), a EU-Canada free-trade agreement, if Ottawa would not lift the visa requirements for their nationals. In order for CETA to come into effect, all 28 EU members must ratify it.  

Prior to Bulgaria and Romania, the Czech Republic declared it wouldn’t ratify CETA if Canada didn’t lift the visa requirement for Czech citizens. The Harper government removed visas for Czech citizens, but only relaxed the requirements for Bulgarians and Romanians.

“It is a step towards the total lifting of visas for Romanians,” Pagini Romanesti writes, “but it seems unlikely that the Canadian authorities will take this decision very soon.”

Canadians, on the other hand, don’t need visas for any of the EU countries, including Romania and Bulgaria.

Biometric Data Collection Expands for Visitors to Canada

The federal government announced that the collection of biometric data from people entering Canada would vastly expand.

Polish website, however, informed its readers that Poles who cross the Canadian border do not have to provide such data, because the new regulations do not apply to nationals of countries with which Canada has visa-free agreements. Also, the website explains that the biometric data of the Polish citizens are already saved in the electronic chips of their passports.

However, citizens of 148 countries who require visas will be subject to biometric data collection which includes fingerprints, facial and iris scanning. According to the federal government, the tightening of border control would not only increase the internal security, but would also limit the influx of unwanted people.

The drawback of the new project is the high cost – about $200 million for installation, and about $20 million annually for maintenance of the system.

Despite the expenses, security expert John Thompson believes that other countries should follow Canada’s example. In fact, collecting biometric data is already a common practice in Europe, the USA, Australia and New Zealand. 

Photo Credit: (Accompanied original referenced article.)

The Fight for Kindergarten Ukrainian-Language Programs

Parents, teachers, community activists and organizations are concerned about anticipated changes in the decades-old Ukrainian language program running in three kindergarten classes in Toronto’s Eastern-Rite Catholic schools. In five articles, the Ukrainian-Canadian news portal New Pathway followed the heated discussions and actions of the Ukrainian community to preserve the language program.

Until 2014, the three kindergartens, which included separate half-day classes in Ukrainian, were partly funded by parents. When they became fully funded by the province, John Yan, senior coordinator at the Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB), said there would be changes to the Ukrainian language component’s delivery.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]After several meetings, the prompt and united actions of the Ukrainian community members resulted in successful negotiations with TCDSB.[/quote]

Meanwhile, a petition stated, “Teachers were informed that they have to abandon their separate Ukrainian classrooms and assume support duties within the regular English curriculum.”

The Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC) Toronto branch announced a committee of parents and community activists would challenge the changes. Some of the group’s main concerns were, “the difficulty of combining instruction in two languages for young children in a single session,” “the volume of instruction in Ukrainian” and “ways to ensure the interests of Ukrainian teachers in the new circumstances.”

After several meetings, the prompt and united actions of the Ukrainian community members resulted in successful negotiations with TCDSB. On June 3, 2015, the UCC and TCDSB released a joint statement announcing children would spend half a day with an English teacher and the other half with a Ukrainian one and an ECE (early childhood education) team.

Photo: St. Josaphat Catholic School Celebrates 50 Years // Photo Credit:

Annual Competitions Encourage Reading, Writing and Spelling in Polish

To stimulate young people of Polish background to learn, use and improve their Polish-language skills, Polish schools in most provinces organize competitions in essay writing, reading and spelling at the end of every school year. Polish portal Goniec published Teresa Szramek’s report on the most popular competitions in the country.

This year, the Best Essay in Polish Language competition was held for the 50th time. According to Szramek, the jury did a tremendous job, reading and evaluating hundreds of essays sent from Polish schools from all across Canada. Among the grading criteria were the ability to use the language beautifully and the courage to speak out on difficult subjects.

The reading contest, “Champion at Reading Beautifully,” took place at John Paul II Polish Cultural Centre Mississauga. Children read a text by Barbara Gawryluk’s My Bullerby, a novel about a girl who faces challenges when her parents decide to emigrate from Poland to Sweden.

“The reading contest for children is really important,” Szramek writes, “especially in the era of ubiquitous Internet. The contest aims, among other things, to arouse interest in books, which are a cultural asset of every nation, and to encourage reading, because books develop the imagination and enrich the vocabulary of the young readers.”

A record number of candidates also competed for the title of Spelling Champion of the Year 2015.

Photo Credit: Goniec (Accompanied original referenced article.)

Volunteers Run “Food Bank On Wheels”

People who use the Canadian social assistance system should not just passively wait for help – many of them could be more actively engaged in improving of their situations and the lives of others in need, says Lada Alexeychuk in Russian Week.

Alexeychuk is involved in an organization created and run by volunteers who call this activity “food bank on wheels.”

The work is simple: the volunteers talk to grocery store and warehouse managers and, at the end of the day, pick up the food that has not been sold. They immediately deliver this food to the homes of people in need. In this way, about 100 people receive fresh fruit and vegetables every week.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Since products are delivered the same day, the “food bank” doesn’t need storage or administrative staff. All it takes is the will to help others.[/quote]

Alexeychuk writes that elderly people are especially grateful for this home-delivery service in winter, because they don’t have to walk the slushy, slippery streets to get food.

Since products are delivered the same day, the “food bank” doesn’t need storage or administrative staff. All it takes is the will to help others.

“The reasons people need help are different – unemployment, sickness, old age, immigration,” Alexeychuk says. “However, if a person is in need of social assistance, this doesn’t mean that he or she is completely helpless. If you think about it, every man, even the weakest person with disability can be of some help in some way.”

Photo Credit: Russian Week (Accompanied original referenced article.)

Lucy Slavianska is a Toronto-based journalist who has lived and worked in Bulgaria, Japan, Venezuela and the Netherlands. She has a PhD in clinical philosophy and background in editing and publishing.

{module NCM Blurb} 

Published in Eastern Europe

by Janice Dickson

Opposition to the Harper government’s planned Memorial to the Victims of Communism is staggering — with even the Prime Minister’s supporters strongly opposing its design and location, EKOS polling data shows.

Sixty-three per cent of those polled who intend to vote Conservative in the upcoming federal election oppose the memorial, a project of the Harper government that has been vigorously backed by senior Conservatives despite controversies about its location, its lack of architectural merit, cost and political symbolism.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Rarely do you see an idea that’s so clearly opposed by the public.” - Frank Graves, EKOS[/quote]

The iPolitics/EKOS poll shows that 77.4 per cent of Canadians strongly oppose the memorial and 82.7 per cent of residents of the National Capital Region (NCR) oppose it. In Canada and the NCR only four per cent polled strongly support the memorial.

Among non-Tory voters, 83 per cent who intend to vote Liberal oppose the project and 84 per cent of polled who intend to vote NDP oppose it. Among other supporters of national parties, opposition remains at the 83 per cent mark.

“Rarely do you see an idea that’s so clearly opposed by the public,” said EKOS pollster Frank Graves.

Government Out of Touch

NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar, who has been among the memorial’s fiercest critics, said the new numbers only confirm what he’s been hearing.

“Most people, when they have learned of this project and where it’s going to be located and the process by which it’s been placed in this particular location, are against it,” said Dewar. “That’s a clear sign to the government that they’re out of touch with the public.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The controversial 5,000-square-metre structure would be located between the Supreme Court of Canada and the Library and Archives Canada building.[/quote]

Ottawa’s mayor, Jim Watson, criticized the location of the memorial and the National Capital Commission for not consulting with the City of Ottawa. Watson will be speaking to a motion related to the memorial at a city council meeting next Wednesday.

According to Graves, the “good news” for the government is that most Canadians are blissfully unaware of its plans to erect this giant monument on Ottawa’s historic Wellington Street. The controversial 5,000-square-metre structure would be located between the Supreme Court of Canada and the Library and Archives Canada building.

As the cost of the structure has ballooned to an estimated $5 million and the cost of the prime land has been estimated at $16 million, opposition to the project has galvanized.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“This location will skilfully occlude that despised institution with a huge celebration of things arguably dear to the government’s re-election plans and ideologically consistent with their cold war era views of Godless commies.” - Frank Graves, EKOS[/quote]

In his analysis of the poll, Graves attributes the government’s determination to build the memorial on prime land that was set to be the site of a Justice Department building named after Liberal Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau to the Tories’ antipathy toward the Supreme Court (and communists).

“This location will skilfully occlude that despised institution with a huge celebration of things arguably dear to the government’s re-election plans and ideologically consistent with their cold war era views of Godless commies,” writes Graves.

The poll shows that 63 per cent of Canadians have not heard of the planned memorial, but 61 per cent of NCR residents are aware of the plans.

EKOS asked respondents to review the design, which will feature 100,000,000 “memory squares” each representing a life lost to Communism regimes worldwide, and to describe in one word (see below) their reaction to the memorial.

Respondents were also asked to rank the priority of a new facility in the NCR – and among options – the victims of communism memorial was dead last.

Graves suggests that the federal government “had best hope the deal can be closed on this before the election because given the depth of opposition we suspect there will be a groundswell of protest that will probably jettison this ‘unnecessary’ and ‘wasteful’ project.”

Graves said that the Harper government is trying to appeal to the Ukrainian and Polish communities, in an effort to secure their votes. The memorial’s significance to victims of Chinese communism has been blurrier, given the Harper government’s generally cordial relationship with Beijing.

“The Ukrainian and Polish population is sizeable and they have vey stark memories of victims of communism and have legitimate reasons that should be celebrated. The trouble is those thing happened in other counties at different times and they’re really not relative to most Canadians,” he said.

This study involved an online only survey of 2,116 Canadians. The field dates for this survey are May 12-19, 2015. The margin of error associated with the total sample is +/-2.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

Published in Partnership with 

Published in Politics
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