Three sitting New Democrat MPs are being criticized for posting “terrible” comments about the escalating tensions between Ukraine and Russia on social media, some of which questioned Canada’s support for Ukraine in the face of Moscow’s aggression.
Winnipeg Centre MP Leah Gazan has since apologized for sharing an article on Twitter over the weekend criticizing Canada’s “hawkish” stance on the crisis while accusing the federal government of supporting “an anti-Semitic, neo-nazi (sic) & fascist militia.”
“As a descendent of a holocaust (sic) survivor,” Gazan wrote, such support was “horrifying” to her.
Gazan said in a later statement that she was referring to far-right militias and members of the Ukrainian military that have fought Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine since 2014, when Moscow annexed Crimea.
“I did not equate the situation in Ukraine to the Holocaust and I do not believe that the vast majority of Ukrainian people or its democratically elected leaders share the beliefs espoused by far-right militias,” Gazan said.
“I sincerely regret that my tweet did not include this important context and may have resulted in harm.”
Orest Zakydalsky, senior policy advisor for the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, told Global News Tuesday that Gazan’s comments were “ignorant, inaccurate and hurtful.”
“The UCC has called on NDP leader Jagmeet Singh to disavow these comments,” he said in a statement.
Gazan’s tweet was also criticized by the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, which accused Gazan of being uninformed.
“Comparing the Holocaust with the situation unfolding between Ukraine & Russia suggests ignorance of both,” the group said on Twitter.
Moscow has denied it is planning an assault, but it has massed an estimated 100,000 troops near Ukraine in recent weeks and is holding military drills at multiple locations in Russia. That has led the United States and its NATO allies — including Canada — to rush to prepare for a possible war.
Canada has loaned Ukraine $120 million to help bolster the country’s economy in the wake of the Russian threat. Government sources have also told Global News the Liberal cabinet is currently discussing sending small weapons and ammunition to the country during its three-day cabinet retreat.
The NDP’s official position on what it calls a “looming crisis” says it supports the people of Ukraine and is concerned about Russia’s increased hostility, but says Canada should focus on non-lethal assistance and diplomatic solutions.
The party also expresses concern towards far-right elements within the Ukrainian military, some of whom have boasted of being trained by Canada and other NATO allies, according to a recent report from George Washington University.
While extremist groups have long targeted military members in countries around the world — including Canada — Russia has been accused of weaponizing accusations of Nazism in Ukraine’s military and government for political gain.
In September 2021, Ukraine passed a law that defines and bans anti-Semitism in the country, including harbouring anti-Semitic sentiments — although it does not stipulate any punishments for breaking the law. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and former prime minister Volodymyr Groysman are Jewish, making Ukraine the only country besides Israel to have had two Jewish heads of state.
In an emailed response to Global News Tuesday, an NDP spokesperson pointed to the party’s official position when asked about Gazan and other MP’s recent comments, and did not say if Singh will address the tweets.
Other tweets criticized
Zakydalsky also criticized fellow Manitoba MP Niki Ashton for promoting similar views. Ashton on Tuesday retweeted a link to a podcast episode that questioned Canada’s “march to war” with Russia and suggested Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland’s “Nazi past” was contributing to Canada’s support for Ukraine.
Freeland’s maternal Ukrainian grandfather was the editor of a newspaper that published Nazi propaganda during the Second World War, a fact first revealed in 2017. Freeland has accused Russian disinformation agents for using the story to sow division in the West, and has not directly addressed her grandfather’s history.
Yet the podcast hosts openly asked whether Canada’s support for Ukraine was based on democratic values or “returning to the glory of (expletive) Freeland’s grandfather.”
They also address far-right elements in the Ukrainian military and criticizes Canada’s support of them.
The Liberal Party did not directly address the accusations in the podcast episode retweeted by Ashton.
The podcast hosts also ask if Canada is simply seeking to justify the building of an ammunition factory in Ukraine — a project Kyiv has been lobbying Canada to help build since 2017 and was confirmed by the Ottawa Citizen this month.
Meanwhile, Vancouver Kingsway MP Don Davies on Sunday tweeted a link to an article that openly questions if Russia will ever invade Ukraine, calling it a “very helpful discussion.”
“I am certain that the vast majority of the New Democratic Party’s membership and NDP Members of Parliament support the Ukrainian peoples’ defence of their independence and territorial integrity, the views of Ms. Gazan, Mr. Davies and Ms. Ashton notwithstanding,” Zakydalsky of the UCC said in his statement.
“The UCC calls on Mr. Singh to disavow their terrible comments.”
–With files from Mercedes Stephenson, Amanda Connolly and the Associated Press