Canada to send hun­dreds of ob­servers to Ukraine pres­i­den­tial elec­tion


OT­TAWA — Canada is plan­ning to send hun­dreds of elec­tion ob­servers to Ukraine to pre­vent Rus­sian med­dling in its March 2019 pres­i­den­tial elec­tions, The Cana­dian Press has learned.

Gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials, speak­ing on the con­di­tion of anonymity, say as many as 500 mon­i­tors could be sent in mis­sions run by the Or­ga­ni­za­tion for Se­cu­rity and Co-op­er­a­tion in Europe as well as a sep­a­rate mis­sion or­ga­nized be­tween Ukraine and Canada.

For­eign Af­fairs Min­is­ter Chrys­tia Free­land and In­ter­na­tional Devel­op­ment Min­is­ter Marie Claude Bibeau an­nounced a $24- mil­lion con­tri­bu­tion on Thurs­day to sup­port elec­toral re­forms, gen­der equal­ity and in­clu­sive gover­nance in Ukraine. Ukraine’s am­bas­sador to Canada said re­cently that his coun­try is con­vinced it will face Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence in the up­com­ing pres­i­den­tial bal­lot.

An­driy Shevchenko also says the re­cent Rus­sian seizure of three Ukrainian ships and their two dozen sailors in the Kerch Strait last month is an­other at­tempt to desta­bi­lize Ukraine ahead of the elec­tion.

Free­land, who is at OSCE meet­ings in Mi­lan, said that Canada is a stead­fast part­ner of Ukraine, and that elec­tion mis­sions are key to strength­en­ing demo­cratic in­sti­tu­tions.

“Canada’s com­mit­ment to democ­racy and the sovereignty of Ukraine is un­wa­ver­ing,” Free­land said in a state­ment.

The com­man­der of the Cana­dian Army, Lt.- Gen. Jean-Marc Lan­thier, also just re­turned from a visit to Ukraine, which in­cluded time with Cana­dian troops and meet­ings with mul­ti­ple Ukrainian mil­i­tary lead­ers. Canada wants to help Ukraine “main­tain its sovereignty, se­cu­rity and sta­bil­ity,” the Depart­ment of Na­tional De­fence said of the trip.

A se­nior of­fi­cial said the num­ber of elec­tion ob­servers sent for the March elec­tion will de­pend on what the OSCE asks for.

The OSCE mon­i­tor­ing mis­sions are widely con­sid­ered the gold stan­dard in in­ter­na­tional elec­tion mon­i­tor­ing. They in­clude con­tri­bu­tions from mul­ti­ple coun­tries.

Canada’s de­ci­sion to send sep­a­rate ob­server mis­sions is unique and has gen­er­ated con­tro­versy over the years, in­clud­ing numer­ous in­ter­nal gov­ern­ment as­sess­ments that found the mis­sions to be ei­ther prob­lem­atic or too ex­pen­sive.

The prac­tice has sparked con­cerns that suc­ces­sive Lib­eral and Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ments were sim­ply play­ing pol­i­tics to win the sup­port of the es­ti­mated 1.3 mil­lion Cana­di­ans of Ukrainian de­scent.

A Lib­eral gov­ern­ment sent the first group of ob­servers in 2004 un­der the lead­er­ship of former prime min­is­ter John Turner. The former Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment of Stephen Harper con­trib­uted Cana­di­ans to sev­eral more of these “bi­lat­eral” mis­sions.

“It is con­sid­ered a best prac­tice for in­ter­na­tional elec­tion mon­i­tor­ing to be or­ga­nized through mul­ti­lat­eral ob­ser­va­tion mis­sions,” Mar­garet Biggs, the former head of the now de­funct Cana­dian In­ter­na­tional Devel­op­ment Agency, wrote in an April 2012 memo ob­tained by The Cana­dian Press.

In 2014, the Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment side­lined the in­de­pen­dent agency Cana­dem, which had picked the par­tic­i­pants for bi­lat­eral mis­sion from a ros­ter of qual­i­fied re­cip­i­ents, and cre­ated a new en­tity to vet the par­tic­i­pants.

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