The war in Ukraine is about democracy, according to many who seek to suppress the democratic ethos in a bid to expand Canada’s role in the fight.
The Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC) has once again demonstrated its aggressive opposition to debating the complex political dynamics responsible for the horrors in Ukraine. Yesterday the head of that organization sent a letter to the Toronto Public Library demanding they cancel a room booking for an event planned for Sunday on “The war in Ukraine and how to stop it”.
UCC head Peter Schturyn wrote: “It is appalling that the Toronto Public Library would see fit to hold an event that blames the US and NATO for ‘instigating’ Russia’s war against Ukraine. …. We call on you to cancel this disgraceful event and in future refrain from providing a platform to those who serve as apologists for Russia’s genocidal war of aggression. Public libraries are supposed to be places of learning, education, and knowledge — not misinformation and mendacity.”
Incredibly, promotional material for the International Youth and Students for Social Equality event, which the UCC linked to, directly criticizes Russia’s invasion. It says, “the Putin regime’s invasion of Ukraine was reactionary and reckless, launched to defend the interests of the Russian oligarchy.” (While not my position, groups that refuse to directly criticize Russia’s invasion should still be able to book library rooms.) Ontario Labour Minister Monte McNaughton and Toronto mayoral candidate Brad Bradford echoed the UCC on Twitter. The anti-Russia social media movement NAFO (North Atlantic Fellas Organization) shared the UCC letter calling for individuals to email the library. In the chatter on one post many called for disrupting the event by bringing air horns and chanting “slava Ukraini” during the talk. The NAFO Twitter conversation descended into death threats. One wrote, “forget the emails — go in person to the event. Look what the Australians did. A group of Z guys came to Sydney Town Hall and were not welcome. Less than two weeks later, one was found deceased in a ditch. Oh well, shame.” Another responded, “It really is a shame… That only one of them was found in a ditch. It’s a shame it wasn’t all of them.”
The death threats must be condemned and it’s imperative the Toronto Library doesn’t cave to the UCC effort to suppress the discussion. Recently two Montréal community centres canceled a talk with Université de Montréal history professor Samir Saul, Québec Green Party leader Alex Tyrell and myself about the war. After the planned talk in April was canceled, organizers decided to go ahead with the second talk outside the venue this past Sunday, which happened to coincide with Montréal’s anarchist book fair.
Two dozen UCC aligned protesters sought to disrupt the talk. They turned off the sound system multiple times and chanted throughout the three speakers. At least 10 police officers showed up.
(From what I could tell only one of the hundreds of attendees at the anarchist bookfair intervened to stand between the largely elderly, anti-NATO, group there for the talk and the younger, aggressive, UCC aligned protesters. Afterwards when I was talking to an old acquaintance and his 3 ½-year-old at the entrance of the bookfair I was told by a (presumed) organizer that I was unwelcome inside since I was a “tankie”. In Minneapolis recently some anarchists physically disrupted CodePink founder Medea Benjamin’s book launch on the war, even boasting about it in this long report back.)
The UCC is pushing to shut down opposition viewpoints. As the World Socialist Website reported in “Far-right Ukrainian Canadian Congress urges Trudeau government to censor anti-war meetings and activists” the UCC has been lobbying government officials for stronger measures to combat “anti-Ukrainian hate”, which they claim is spurred by “state-sponsored” narratives and “online information that is intended to mislead.” The group has been lobbying federal Public Safety Minister Marco Mendocino to “counter” any “disinformation.”
But much of what they consider “disinformation” has been said by leading figures promoting the war. The UCC would criticize those who label it a “NATO proxy war” yet Ukrainian defence minister Oleksii Reznikov told this week’s CANSEC arms fair in Ottawa: “Ukraine is now performing the mission that NATO was created for. Ukraine is Europe’s shield in the east from the Russian threat. We are destroying the military power that was targeting European values and freedoms.” Echoing this message, US Senator Lindsey Graham boasted to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky last week that “the Russians are dying… It’s the best money we ever spent.” For his part Oleksiy Arestovych, a prominent former Zelensky adviser, declared in 2019 “that our price for joining NATO is a big war with Russia.”
These positions run afoul of UCC thought police. A petition has been launched in response to the pressure being placed on the Toronto library to censor the upcoming anti-war meeting. If you believe in democracy and free speech, please sign it.