March 16, 2022 By Laura Osman and James McCarten, The Canadian Press
Canada has had to make “heartbreaking decisions” when confronted with images of bombed hospitals and schools in Ukraine, civilian casualties and the Ukrainian president’s passionate plea for a no-fly zone over his war-ravaged country, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Wednesday.
North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies, including Canada, have denied President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s request to close the skies over Ukraine due to concerns that it would cross a red line and potentially spark a world war-scale conflict.
“These are heartbreaking decisions and choices that we have to make,” Trudeau said Wednesday, speaking at a news conference to announce new supports for Canada’s automotive sector.
The prime minister added a no-fly zone may not prevent the mass destruction inflicted on Ukraine, as he said Russia has moved away from dropping bombs from planes over the country’s airspace toward cruise missiles fired from a distance.
A defiant Zelenskyy, clad in his trademark olive-green military T-shirt, evoked some of the darkest memories in American history Wednesday as he urged members of the U.S. Congress to shutter the skies over his besieged country.
Zelenskyy, one day removed from a similar address to a joint session of Parliament in Ottawa, reminded his audience of how Americans felt in the wake of Pearl Harbor and the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. But he called out more inspirational moments as well, referencing the powerful words of Martin Luther King Jr.
“I have a dream,” he said. “These words are known to each of you. Today I can say, I have a need: a need to protect our sky. I need your decision, your help, which means exactly the same you feel when you hear the words, ‘I have a dream.”’
Zelenskyy also came armed with a moving multimedia presentation — a video compilation of peaceful, family-friendly images of the people and places of Ukraine, interspersed with the images of destruction, desecration and death that have dominated airwaves around the world for the last three weeks.
Well aware how unpalatable a NATO-enforced no-fly zone has already proven both on Capitol Hill as well as in other nations, Zelenskyy proposed an “alternative”: provide military aircraft that Ukraine can use to protect itself from the ceaseless Russian bombardment.
“You know how much depends on the battlefield on the ability to use aircraft — powerful, strong aviation to protect our people, our freedom, our land, aircraft that can help Ukraine, help Europe,” he said in a virtual address to U.S. lawmakers.
“You know that they exist and you have them, but they are on Earth — not in Ukraine, in the Ukrainian sky.”
He was presumably referring to the 28 Soviet-made MiG-29 fighters that are currently stationed in Poland, which had been on offer until the Pentagon pulled the plug on that plan last week.
For his part, Trudeau said Canada has responded with weapons shipments and other equipment sent to Ukraine, including cameras for surveillance drones, to help Ukraine protect its skies.
“We’re going to continue to get as much equipment as we have, that they can use, as possible,” he said.
Trudeau plans to travel to Brussels next week to discuss further support for Ukraine with other NATO nations.
He said the discussion will centre on how to protect lives in Ukraine and globally.