April 14, 2022 By Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press
OTTAWA — Members of the Canadian Armed Forces will depart from an Ontario military base in the coming days to help with the care, co-ordination and resettlement of Ukrainian refugees in Poland, including some who will come to Canada.
Defence Minister Anita Anand announced the deployment of up to 150 troops from Canadian Forces Base Trenton on Thursday, saying the troops from Edmonton and Kingston will “assist Poland’s efforts to support and care for Ukrainians fleeing violence.”
More than 2.6 million Ukrainians have fled into Poland since the first Russian troops crossed into Ukraine on Feb. 24, starting what many consider to be the largest and most devastating conflict in Europe since the Second World War.
More than two million more have fled into other surrounding countries.
The majority of the deployed troops will head to reception centres across Poland to help care for and register Ukrainian refugees, Anand said. Another group is being sent to help co-ordinate international aid efforts.
“And third, we will assist Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada by acting as a liaison with the Polish defence forces as IRCC works so that thousands more Ukrainians can continue to resettle in this country,” Anand added.
The federal government has moved to expedite immigration applications from Ukraine, and created a special program allowing Ukrainian citizens and their families to come to Canada and work or study for three years.
“This is a mission that should be undertaken in the interests of humanitarian aid, in the interests of aiding our Polish allies and in the interests of the NATO alliance writ large,” she said. “This humanitarian support is needed in Poland immediately.”
Canada has deployed hundreds of additional troops to eastern Europe since Russia’s invasion as the NATO military alliance seeks to both support Ukraine and prevent the conflict from expanding into a broader war.
Asked during a separate event on Thursday about the likelihood of a broader conflict, Canada’s top military commander acknowledged it is “one of the questions that keeps me awake at night.”
“We’re dealing with an actor who is unpredictable,” chief of defence staff Gen. Wayne Eyre said during a breakfast speech hosted by Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson. “Could it expand in the future? I just don’t know. But my heart tells me we have to be ready.”
Canada currently has about 1,375 military members in Europe, including nearly 700 troops leading a NATO battlegroup in Latvia, 500 sailors on frigates in the Mediterranean and North Atlantic, and around 140 aircrew attached to a surveillance plane.
The Canadian Armed Forces also previously had 260 military trainers in Poland after they were evacuated from Ukraine shortly before Russia launched its invasion.
The trainers provided some humanitarian assistance in Poland during the early weeks of the conflict, but have since been relocated back to Canada on what the military says is a temporary basis.
The Communications Security Establishment, the federal government’s top electronic surveillance agency, warned earlier this week that Russia was spreading falsehoods about Canada’s involvement in the Ukraine conflict.
The Kremlin’s false narratives include doctored images of members of the Canadian Armed Forces in Ukraine and false claims that Canadian soldiers are committing war crimes, the CSE said.
Defence Department spokesman Daniel Le Bouthillier said Thursday that there are no Canadian military members in Ukraine.
Since the war started, Canada has sanctioned hundreds of Russian political and business leaders, and called for the International Criminal Court to investigate the country for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The government has also provided millions of dollars in loans to the Ukrainian government along with weapons and equipment for its military, with the federal budget committing another $500 million in lethal aid in the coming weeks or months.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy this week released a detailed list of the military hardware required to beat Russia, including heavy artillery, tanks, anti-aircraft systems, fighter jets and trucks.
Anand said the government is talking to companies about buying military equipment for Ukraine, citing last month’s purchase and provision of precision cameras for Ukrainian drones as an example of the types of contracts under consideration.
“We were asked by Ukraine directly to supply cameras for these drones,” she said. “Within days we had a contract in place and cameras sent over to Ukraine. That is the type of effort we will continue to do.”
Canada is also working with NATO allies on possibly pooling their aid, Anand said, who noted the United Kingdom late last month hosted a conference focused on providing heavy weaponry to Ukraine along with the training and support needed to use it.
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