Canada is at war with Russia. But the government doesn’t want to talk about it.
On Saturday the New York Times reported that Canadian special forces are part of a NATO network providing weapons and training to Ukrainian forces. The elite troops are also in the country gathering intelligence on Russian operations.
The Department of National Defence refused Ottawa Citizen military reporter David Pugliese’s request for comment on the US paper’s revelations. But in late January Global News and CTV reported that the usually highly secretive special forces were sent to Ukraine. (Canadian special forces have been dispatched secretly to many war zones.)
Alongside special forces, an unknown number of former Canadian troops have been fighting in Ukraine. There have been a bevy of stories about Canadians traveling to Ukraine to join the fight and organizers initially claimed over 500 individuals joined while the Russian government recently estimated that 600 Canadians were fighting there (Both the Canadian organizers and Moscow would have reasons to inflate the numbers). Early on, Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly and Defence Minister Anita Anand both encouraged Canadians to join the fight, which may have violated Canada’s Foreign Enlistment Act.
Top commanders have also joined the war. After more than 30 years in the Canadian Forces lieutenant-general Trevor Cadieu retired on April 5 (amidst a rape investigation) and was in Ukraine days later. At one-point Cadieu was favored to lead the Canadian Forces.
On Saturday a number of media outlets reported that former Chief of the Defence Staff Rick Hillier is heading a strategic advisory group supporting and advising Ukraine’s Territorial Defence Force. The mandate of the Hillier led council is to equip Ukraine’s 100,000-member volunteer reserve force.
Over the past four months Ottawa has delivered or allocated over $600 million in weapons to Ukraine. They’ve sent 20,000 artillery shells, 4,500 M72 rocket launchers, 7,500 hand grenades, a hundred Carl-Gustaf M2 anti-tank weapons, thousands of rounds of ammunition, light armored vehicles and other arms to fight Russia.
Canada has also adopted an unprecedented sanctions regime on Russia. According to Politico, Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland led the international charge to freeze over $300 billion in Russian Central Bank assets. Ottawa is also leading the international campaign to seize Russian assets and give them to Ukraine.
Ottawa has offered more than two billion dollars in direct assistance to the Ukrainian government since the start of the year. Under the auspices of the International Monetary Fund Canada instigated the multi-donor Administered Account for Ukraine. A sizable share of Canada’s assistance has gone to prosecuting the war.
Ottawa has also put up millions of dollars for the International Criminal Court to investigate Russian officials and has labeled Russia’s war a "genocide". Canadian officials have repeatedly described the conflict as a fight for freedom while openly spurning peace negotiations.
The past four months of fighting should be viewed – at least in part – as an escalation in a eight years US/UK/Canada proxy war with Russia. Canadians greatly assisted Ukrainian forces fighting in a conflict that saw 14,000 killed in the Donbas before Russia’s illegal invasion.
Canada played a significant role in arming and training the Ukrainian military long before Russia’s brutal February 24 invasion. The federal government spent $900 million to train Ukrainian forces following the Canadian-backed overthrow of elected President Viktor Yanukovych in 2014. Between April 2015 and February 2022 Canadian troops – rotated every six months – trained 33,346 Ukrainian soldiers as part of Operation UNIFIER. Canadian military trainers helped restore Ukraine’s "decrepit" army prompting former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to dub former Canadian defence minister Jason Kenney "the godfather of the modern Ukrainian army" due to his role in instigating Operation Unifier.
UNIFIER reinforced Ukrainian forces fighting in the east and enabled Kyiv to avoid its commitments under the Minsk II peace accord, which was overseen by France and Germany in February 2015. When UNIFIER was launched the Russian Embassy in Ottawa released a statement labeling the mission a "deplorable" move "to assist the military buildup playing into the hands of ‘party of war in Kiev’," which was their pejorative description for Poroshenko’s government.
Prior to the February 24 Russian invasion, the US and UK had also spent billions of dollars training and arming the Ukrainian military. The CIA ran a secret training program in Ukraine and over the past four months the agency has helped direct Ukrainian war efforts. Over the past few months, the US, UK and other NATO states have plowed tens of billions of dollars of weaponry into the country.
While more details on the scope of Western involvement will likely emerge in the coming months and years, there is enough information in the public record to conclude that Canada’s indeed at war in Ukraine. Further escalation is likely, particularly with Lithuania’s recent blockade of the Russian territory of Kalingrad. The 700 Canadian troops leading a NATO mission in Latvia will be on the frontline if fighting spreads to the Baltic states.
Despite facts on the ground, there’s been no vote in Parliament about whether it’s a good idea for Canada to go to war with a nuclear armed state.
Yves Engler’s latest book is Stand on Guard for Whom?: A People’s History of the Canadian Military.