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FIRST READING: The all-out scramble to ban everything Russian


Ottawa might have changed its mind on Canadians fighting for Ukraine

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First Reading is a daily newsletter keeping you posted on the travails of Canadian politicos, all curated by the National Post’s own Tristin Hopper. To get an early version sent direct to your inbox every Monday to Thursday at 6 p.m. ET (and 9 a.m. on Sundays), sign up here.

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TOP STORY

The Russian economy has been thoroughly sent into a tailspin by the tsunami of sanctions the world has levied in retaliation for Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine. In a recent segment on the Russian business news channel RBC, an investment expert brought in to describe the state of the economy began by obliquely mentioning his plans to pursue a new career as “Santa Claus.” He then proceeded to toast the end of the Russian stock market live on air.

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Beyond the official sanctions, non-profit, local governments and the private sector have been frantically working to cut ties with anything even remotely Russian …

  • Following on a request from the Ukrainian embassy, four Canadian cities will vote on whether to sever sister city ties with Russian communities. This includes Victoria’s sister-city status with Khabarovsk, and Sault Ste. Marie’s with Krasnoyarsk.

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  • EA Sports, a video game company with development offices in Canada, has announced that Russian teams will be pulled from its NHL and FIFA game franchises.
  • A Russian Arm is a camera rig bolted to the roof of a car that is used to shoot action scenes in films. A Montreal-based Russian Arm contractor has just announced a rebranding (possibly to Ukrainian Arm).

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  • A Quebec diner has stopped selling poutine because the famed Quebecois dish (which it claims to have invented) happens to share the same name as the French version of the surname of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Instead, they’ll be selling “fries cheese gravy.”
  • The World Curling Federation is set to ban Russians from competing at an upcoming women’s tournament in Prince George, B.C.
  • The International Cat Federation has enacted a competition ban on Russian cats.
A hairless Russian Donskoy cat, although this particular one happens to be Canadian.
A hairless Russian Donskoy cat, although this particular one happens to be Canadian. Photo by Edmonton Sun photo by David Bloom
  • Russian and Belarusian athletes have been sent home from the Winter Paralympic Games, which are set to begin Friday in Beijing.
  • Russian and Belarusian teenagers can no longer be drafted into the Canadian Junior Hockey League, and Canadian hockey great Wayne Gretzky has called for Russian and Belarusian players to be barred from the upcoming 2022 World Juniors Championship in Alberta.
  • Several Canadian companies have already unilaterally ended operations in the Russian Federation, including Canada Goose and Kinross Gold Corp.

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(Know of any other examples of Canadians de-Russifying an event, place, practice or product? Email First Reading to tell us about it.) 

It’s all seeming a bit like the opening months of the First World War, when Canada (and the wider British Empire) feverishly renamed anything with even a whiff of German association. Berlin, Ont. got renamed to Kitchener. The Alberta communities of Bingen, Carlstadt and Dusseldorf were all assigned more “patriotic” names. And the Royal Family even changed their name from the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha to the extremely British House of Windsor.

Regina is soon to de-Russianize the name of its Evraz Place sports complex, but city officials contend they were planning to do it anyway before the Ukraine conflict broke out. The complex is currently named for a British steel maker whose largest shareholder is Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich.

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Look familiar? This is a Wednesday photo of a protest convoy of American truckers stopping over in Indiana enroute to Washington, D.C. Like their Canadian Freedom Convoy inspiration, this one is demanding an end to COVID-19 mandates.
Look familiar? This is a Wednesday photo of a protest convoy of American truckers stopping over in Indiana enroute to Washington, D.C. Like their Canadian Freedom Convoy inspiration, this one is demanding an end to COVID-19 mandates. Photo by Cheney Orr/Bloomberg

WAR IN UKRAINE

Just days after the federal government was winking its approval at any Canadian who wanted to take up arms in Ukraine, officials are now saying they’re not so sure it’s legal. At a Thursday news conference, Defence Minister Anita Anand said “the legalities of the situation are indeterminant at this time” and suggested that any Canadians angry at the situation in Ukraine should join the Canadian Armed Forces. It’s a sharp turnaround from Monday, when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was saying that some Canadians might want to take “more active steps” in countering the Russian invasion.

A Free Ukraine street sign (or Ukraine Libre, if you speak French) that was installed by the City of Ottawa outside the Russian Embassy. NDP MP Charlie Angus has been leading efforts to have the street in front of the embassy permanently renamed to Zelenskyy Street in honour of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
A Free Ukraine street sign (or Ukraine Libre, if you speak French) that was installed by the City of Ottawa outside the Russian Embassy. NDP MP Charlie Angus has been leading efforts to have the street in front of the embassy permanently renamed to Zelenskyy Street in honour of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Photo by REUTERS/Blair Gable

There happens to be a law on the books specifically intended to stop Canadians from independently bearing arms in foreign wars. The Foreign Enlistment Act was passed to curb the flow of Canadian volunteers to the Spanish Civil War, in part due to fears that they would become radicalized by joining units that were receiving direct sponsorship from Stalinist Russia. However, the act only covers Canadians who bear arms against a “friendly foreign state” – which would not seem to describe Russia.

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The government’s newfound reticence on fighting for Ukraine is all news to the hundreds of Canadians who are reportedly streaming into Eastern Europe to answer the call of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to form a foreign legion. Oleksandr Shevchenko, Ukraine’s Toronto consul general, said their Canadian recruitment efforts thus far have received about 300 offers in Toronto alone.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin has framed the entire invasion as merely a “special military operation” to free Ukrainians from what he has dubbed “Nazi” rule oppressing Russian-speakers in the country’s east. A recent Leger poll found that a vast majority of Canadians don’t believe Putin’s claim, although there are pockets of doubt. Just four per cent of Canadians believed Putin’s justification for invasion, but that number surged to 25 per cent among supporters of the People’s Party of Canada.

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IN OTHER NEWS

There was a brief, shining moment when it seemed that the Conservatives were going to have a quick-and-dirty leadership contest that would give the winner plenty of time to prepare for the next election (which, remember, could be only a year away). But now that the leadership election has been set for Sept. 10th, it seems more likely the Tories are going to have another leadership race involving 10 to 12 candidates attempting to yell over one another.  Pierre Poilievre is the only declared candidate, Jean Charest keeps making overtures to throw in his hat and Tory backbencher Scott Aitchison appears to be readying a dark horse bid.

Get all of these insights and more into your inbox every weekday at 6 p.m. ET by signing up for the First Reading newsletter here

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