Canada vessel alongside Russia vessel was planned: Minister

Canada vessel alongside Russia vessel was planned: Minister

Defense Secretary Bill Blair's office defended the decision to send a Canadian ship to Cuba, where it docked alongside parts of the Russian fleet, calling it a “carefully” planned move to increase Russia's presence in the region.

Spokesman Daniel Minden issued a statement on Sunday saying the visit to the port of Havana was “carefully and comprehensively planned” and that the minister approved it on the advice of the Royal Canadian Navy and the Canadian Joint Operations Command.

“We have made the wise decision to increase our naval presence in the region this week,” the statement said.

“We believe this was a particularly important time to show Canadian presence.”

Michael Chong, the Conservatives' foreign policy critic, questioned why Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government even sent a Canadian ship to “celebrate relations with a communist dictatorship” – referring to Cuba.

“Let alone while Russian warships are anchored there?” Chong posted on X.

James Bezan, party critic for national defence, said the decision warranted an investigation by the parliamentary defence committee and said he wanted to hear evidence from Joly and Blair.

Conservative party leader Pierre Poilievre published a statement on X (formerly Twitter) in which he described the visit as “reckless, radical and dangerous”.

“As our troops run out of resources, Trudeau is spending money from the defense budget to send a Canadian warship to Cuba alongside the Russian Navy to honor Cuba's brutal communist government,” it says.

The visit to Havana is the Canadian Navy's first since 2016 and comes at a time when Canada is providing billions of dollars in aid and military equipment to Ukraine to help it repel the Russian invasion that began in February 2022.

Trudeau himself returned to Canada on Sunday after a summit in Switzerland to promote peace in Ukraine.

During his stay, Trudeau promised Ukraine a $52 million aid package and co-chaired a meeting of world leaders to discuss the need for the international community to demand the return of the nearly 20,000 Ukrainian children forcibly removed from their families by Russia.

In his statement on Sunday, Minden said HMCS Ville de Quebec, one of the Canadian warships, and a CP-140 patrol aircraft had tracked the Russian flotilla, adding that the military had made the port visit public.

In its submission to X, the Canadian Joint Operations Command said Canada's port visit was a recognition of the “long-standing bilateral relationship” between Canada and Cuba.

The visit of HMCS Margaret Brooke is scheduled to last from 14 to 17 June.

When asked to respond, Joly's office sided with Blair's office.

A statement from Blair's office said he would provide an update on Monday “on Canada's ongoing work to monitor the Russian naval flotilla and demonstrate Canada's military presence and capability in North America.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 16, 2024.