The unrest in the Ukraine is of particular concern to Canada since one million Canadians are of Ukrainian descent. Stephen Harper has spoken out about this and has now sent Andrew Bennett to the Ukraine. I find it strange that the first in-country Canadian report about the problems is from Bennett who is Canada's recently appointed ambassador for religious freedom. The Globe and Mail reports that Mr. Bennett said that in early January the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church received a letter from the Ukrainian Ministry of Culture warning that unless its bishops and clergy stop joining protestors in the street - where they are praying - that the religious organization would be delisted as a legitimate religious entity in Ukraine.
"It should be noted the last time the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church was declared an illegal entity in the country was in 1946 I believe under Stalin," the Canadian ambassador said.
This of course raises the question as to whether Churches should get involved in political disputes. The obvious answer is "no" but individuals should still be entitled to free speech. But what if influential Church leaders are the main reason these individuals are protesting? Is that fair? If it were Imams rabble-rousing their flock to violence against Christians we would certainly object. So why is it OK for priests and bishops to incite?
In this case, most westerners are sympathetic to the protests - the Ukraine leader, President Viktor Yanukovych, has aligned Ukraine with Russia instead of with Europe and that started the protests. But now, it could be that the brutal response to protests (6 have died so far) has made things worse for him.
So it's easy to paint the protestors as "Good" and the Government as "Bad" but if Religion gets into the picture, the Ukraine will get to be like Egypt or Iran - out of the frying pan into the fire.
Bennett also reports that only the Catholics have been targeted. Ukraine's elite riot police, the Berkut, have been threatening Ukrainian Greek Catholic priests and clergy whom they find in the streets, Mr. Bennett said - but maybe the others have not been inciting or are not as visible.
Mr. Bennett also said Ukrainian churches are playing an important role in the Eastern European country during the conflict by encouraging dialogue between opposition leaders and the government and protesters. That's good but then why are they actively involved in the protests?
Meanwhile, the Toronto Sun has reported on a demonstration by "hundreds of Ukrainian-Canadians who descended on Toronto City Hall Sunday, chanting 'Sanctions now!'"
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has already said he supports an emergency debate on the subject in Parliament, which resumes today.
"What we want to do is move in some direction that will not hurt the people of Ukraine by hurting its economy, but send a strong message to the Yanokovich government," Tory MP Bob Dechert said, adding travel sanctions may be an option.