Mitch Riding, the CRRI Intern
The Canadian Foreign Minister, Francois-Philippe Champagne, has come out strongly in denouncing the authorities of Belarus and Russia for the ongoing unrest in Belarus, and the poisoning of Alexei Navalny, respectively.
Champagne has repeatedly called for both governments to be held accountable for their actions, and for Canada and its partners to continue to demand answers from Presidents Lukashenko and Putin. He has been very active on both fronts, particularly on Twitter. Regarding the election in Belarus and Navalny’s poisoning, he has held calls with the Foreign Ministers or Foreign Affairs Representatives of Australia, the EU, Czechia, and Germany.
He has held multiple calls with Svetlana Tikhanovskaya – the apparent winner of the 2020 Belarusian presidential election, and Lukashenko’s primary challenger after her husband, a candidate for the same election, was arrested and rendered unable to run. Champagne has further publicly voiced his support for Tikhanovskaya and the other two women leading the protests – Maria Kolesnikova and Veronika Tsepkalo.
After Lukashenko stole the election, thousands took to the streets of Minsk and other Belarusian cities and towns in protest against his illegitimate rule. The Canadian FM has pledged to “stand by the people’s wish for democratic change,” and strongly condemned the ongoing crackdown on opposition figures and protesters in Belarus, labelling it ‘unacceptable’.
On 17th September, Canada and 16 other OSCE states invoked the Moscow Mechanism to investigate and report on allegations of human rights violations in Belarus in response to the “flawed election process and the violent response by the authorities”. Champagne committed to working toward a “peaceful and inclusive resolution” to the crisis.
On 29th September, Canada and Britain joined in imposing travel bans and asset freezes on Lukashenko, his son, and other senior officials (11 in total) – the first such moves by major Western powers. Champagne said that: “Canada will not stand by silently as the government of Belarus continues to commit systematic human rights violations”. Canada, he said, “stands in solidarity with the people of Belarus as they struggle to restore human rights and achieve democracy in their country.”
Mr. Champagne has been similarly outspoken on the poisoning of Alexei Navalny, the Russian opposition figure. He has continuously called for an investigation into his poisoning, in congruence with Canada’s G7 partners, and demanded that those responsible be held accountable. He also labelled the use of chemical weapons as “despicable and abhorrent.” On the 8th September, a G7 Foreign Ministers’ Statement called the poisoning a “grave blow to democracy and political plurality in Russia.”
Mr. Champagne’s denunciations of Messrs Lukashenko and Putin is admirable. Words, however, are not enough to protect the democratic wishes of Belarusians or to prompt the Putin regime to change its ways. As Lukashenko holds on, and as the Russian regime obfuscates and denies, Canada and other responsible democratic nations must take the lead in implementing harsher measures as the situations dictate.