Protesters rally on Parliament Hill for sanctions against Ukraine
Published Wednesday, January 29, 2014 8:34AM EST
Last Updated Wednesday, January 29, 2014 2:00PM EST
Protesters gathered on Parliament Hill Wednesday to call for sanctions against the Ukrainian government, following an announcement from Ottawa that select government officials from that country are now barred from entering Canada.
The rally started at 12 p.m., with the protesters slated to march to the Ukrainian Embassy.
The rally comes one day after Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander announced that, effective immediately, key Ukrainian officials are banned from entering Canada in the wake of a violent crackdown on pro-democracy protesters.
Rally organizer Anna Dombrovska told CTV News Channel that members of the Ukrainian community from Ottawa, Toronto and Montreal were attending Wednesday's rally.
"We were very grateful to the Canadian government that they already started imposing direct sanctions and banning visas (for Ukrainian government officials)," she said. "We would like to get a hold of that momentum."
She added that Ukrainian-Canadians now want Ottawa to impose harsher sanctions, including freezing assets and granting political asylum to Ukrainians in danger.
When asked about the possibility of further sanctions, Alexander said Wednesday that Ottawa is watching developments in Kyiv closely, and may consider other options.
"We will look at all other options beyond what we've done," he told CTV’s Canada AM. "There's a very tense situation still underway. The priority for everyone is on preventing more violence from taking place.
"We want to focus on the step in Ukraine that has caused the most tension, that has caused the most escalation of the crisis, and that was the violence against peaceful protesters."
The minister acknowledged that while the number of officials affected by the ban is not huge, it could grow.
"It's not a small number, it's not a huge number either," he said. "The number of people on the list might actually change as we get more information and consult with our allies."
Parliamentarians held an emergency debate on the growing crisis in Ukraine Monday. During the debate, MPs condemned the Ukrainian government's violent crackdown on protesters who have been rallying in Kyiv's main square since November.
The protesters are voicing opposition to their government's move away from establishing closer economic ties with the European Union in favour of accepting aid from Russia instead.
Since the crackdown, the Ukrainian government has offered some concessions to the protesters, including a repealing of a controversial anti-protest law. The prime minister has also resigned.
On Wednesday, the Ukrainian parliament considered measures to grant amnesty to protesters who have been arrested, under certain conditions.
However, the opposition in Ukraine wants President Viktor Yanukovych to step down and call an election.
Meanwhile, Alexander said the entry ban targets those officials who were involved in the crackdown, but won't inadvertently punish the Ukrainian people.
"We don't want to punish the Ukrainian people. We want their aspirations to democracy and to restore democratic institutions to be met, but obviously we're a long way from that right now," he said.
Dombrovska said that despite the growing crisis in Kyiv, Ukrainian-Canadians remain hopeful.
"Of course we have to be optimistic, otherwise there's no sense to fight. But we think this fight is not going to be very easy," she said. "Some compromise has been achieved, but we think it's not enough and we envision a big struggle in front of us."