The recent death of a Canadian mercenary in Ukraine has prompted national news coverage and a defiant statement of condolences from Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe.
Joseph Hildebrand, who was killed near Bakhmut, Ukraine, was a farmer and a Canadian soldier who served two tours of duty during Canada’s thirteen-year role in the illegal US-led war and occupation of Afghanistan, which cost Canadian taxpayers at least $18 billion and resulted in 153 soldiers and Canadian officials losing their lives. During this year’s Remembrance Day observance in Regina, Premier Scott Moe called Joseph Hildebrand “a true Saskatchewan hero” and expressed condolences to his widow and daughter. (We also express our condolences.) Then, true to the militaristic culture of our times, Moe went on to call for the defeat of the Russian Federation.
The news that Canadians are dying in combat in Ukraine should come as no surprise. Earlier this year, a millionaire entrepreneur named Chris Ecklund in Hamilton, Ontario, created an online recruitment portal to enlist Canadians in the International Legion of Defence of Ukraine. This site apparently enabled close to 500 Canadians to risk their lives in a foreign land, for a foreign government about which they know little. Ecklund has not been prosecuted nor has his site been shut down. In addition, at least two ministers of the Trudeau government have likewise encouraged Canadians to “fight for Ukraine” and the government itself has reportedly dispatched Canadian special forces to fight on the ground.
However, few are speaking to the fact that Joseph Hildebrand and other Canadian “volunteers” are fighting illegally in Ukraine as mercenary combatants. Canada’s Foreign Enlistment Act makes it illegal for anyone to try to recruit Canadians to fight in foreign wars. The “volunteers” are also in violation of United Nations’ convention #44/34 banning the use of mercenaries. These Canadians run the risk of being arrested and charged by the Russian authorities under the UN convention. The punishment in Russia for such behaviour includes the death penalty.
There is an extensive history of post-cold war conflict in Ukraine, and of Canada’s involvement in it. The Canadian government spent one billion dollars from 1991 to 2014 to help the U.S. orchestrate both the Orange Revolution of 2004 and the Maidan Coup of 2014, which overthrew the democratically-elected government of President Yanukovych and replaced it with a Nazi-riddled junta that precipitated a war with the mainly Russian-speaking population of the Donbas. From 2014 to 2022, successive Canadian federal governments supported the coup government with hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars, sent it stockpiles of weapons, and trained some 33,000 Ukrainian soldiers under Operation Unifier, with full knowledge that some were members of Ukraine’s neo-Nazi Azov Battalion, and recognizing that the Ukrainian government deliberately undermined the Minsk Agreements which were negotiated to end the conflict. The Harper and Trudeau governments sought to turn Ukraine into a de facto NATO state with a de facto NATO army, as part of NATO’s expansion towards the frontiers of Russia, despite post-cold war pledges to then-Soviet President Gorbachev that NATO wouldn’t expand “one inch eastward” of a reunited Germany. About 14,000 people were killed in the conflict in the Donbas prior to Feb 24, 2022, and over one million were forced to flee to Russia as refugees.
The Canada-Wide Peace and Justice Network is aghast that our government, as a NATO member, orchestrated the conditions that led to the current war in Ukraine and the death of Joseph Hildebrand, and that incited about 500 Canadian mercenaries to travel to fight there illegally. One purpose in issuing the statement, then, is to avoid any further Canadian casualties.
We demand that the Trudeau government cease and desist from fueling this war with more arms, huge cash infusions (including $500 million announced on Nov. 14th), and mercenaries. The Canadian government has diplomats that should serve as more than extras for cocktail parties—please get them to bring the warring parties to the table to negotiate a solution.
The war in Ukraine could easily expand overnight into a wider European war and even into a global nuclear confrontation: Witness the war fever created over a single missile that landed in Poland, causing two casualties, on November 15th—in what turned out to be a “friendly fire” incident.
It’s urgent that Canada step up, seek to de-escalate the current conflict and repatriate all the Canadian troops and mercenaries currently in Ukraine. Instead of fighting battles for the U.S. empire, Canada should be fighting the battles that really matter, the ones that save human lives rather than extinguishing them. We ask Justin Trudeau and all our MPs to get to work fighting climate change, the pandemic, species extinctions, pollution, homelessness, and poverty here in Canada. The death of Joseph Hillebrand is one more reason for Canada to develop an independent foreign policy and withdraw from NATO, the military alliance that drew Canada into the conflict in Ukraine.