The opinion piece that Toronto Star carried on July 16, 2017, is an unfortunate example of a smear job disguised as journalism.
Marcus Kolga starts by alleging that Canada has been targeted by Russian disinformation campaigns, without giving any indication of what sort of “Russian disinformation” has “targeted” Canada, which facts were misrepresented, and so on. While the word “Russian” signifies involvement by the Russian government, no evidence of such involvement is given anywhere in the article.
Mr. Kolga mentions, in lieu of evidence, some social media posts by a Russian lawyer and private citizen Natalia Veselnitskaya, whose last year’s meeting with Donald Trump Jr. became recently a subject of unprecedented media attention. He also mentions an unnamed “member of Russia’s Civic Chamber” — a consultative civil society institution with no real powers — reporting Mr. Kolga’s activities to the Russian authorities.
While we understand Mr. Kolga’s social media frustrations, none of this indicates any interest of the Russian government in either Mr. Kolga personally or any other member of the Canadian public with political views different from those of Mr. Putin.
This undeniably opinionated article could be just a piece of sloppy, poorly researched and ill-argued journalism had it not included Mr. Kolga’s attempt to besmirch a civil society organization here in Canada in the best traditions of Stalinist or perhaps McCarthyist political snitching.
Mr. Kolga slanders the Russian Congress of Canada by claiming that we are a proxy group for the Kremlin. He insinuates that our organization was “hastily concocted” by Moscow’s agents to support foreign policies of the Russian government. He further slanders our advocacy and outreach activities as “parroting” of the Russian propaganda and questions the grassroots nature of the organization.
Once again, no facts are given to the reader to prop up any of these libelous accusations. The Russian Congress of Canada was formed in October 2014 as a grassroots organization that unifies and represents the interests of the entire Russian Canadian community from the former Soviet Union in a non-partisan manner. We are a public organization, solely relying on fundraising and membership dues. The Congress activities include advocacy and outreach, as well as activities of cultural, historical and social nature. It aims to preserve and popularize Russian language and Russian culture in Canada to contribute to the multicultural fabric of the Canadian society, and to improve the Canada-Russia ties.
None of this is any different from typical activities of other diaspora organizations in Canada, including, for example, the Estonian Foundation of Canada or the Estonian-Canadian Chamber of Commerce, which Mr. Kolga heads as one of its directors.
However, the origins of the Russian Congress of Canada are somewhat different. It was created in response to the unprecedented amount of disinformation, intolerance and Cold War stereotype thinking, channelled through the diaspora nationalist organizations and anti-Russian special interest groups to the Canadian news media and policy-makers.
The 2015 Canadian election brought hopes that the Canadian Russian community, which had been voiceless for decades, now had an opportunity to be heard. We have addressed the candidates with our concerns about the situation in Ukraine, where discrimination on ethnic grounds was used as a method of solving political problems. We have objected to Canada’s support of Ukraine’s government decision to wage an unannounced civil war on its own citizens in Donbass. We have asked Canadian politicians not to yield to the campaign of wholesale demonization of Russia.
And yet, when Prime Minister Trudeau replaced Stéphane Dion with Chrystia Freeland as Minister of Foreign Affairs, it became evident that Canada–Russia relations will deteriorate further. The appointment of Ms. Freeland, an outspoken Ukrainian nationalist, portended the period of a deep freeze in Canada-Russia relations.
Ms. Freeland has asserted her special responsibility to Ukraine as the country her ancestors “had been forced to flee.” She apparently shares the Ukrainian Canadian Congress’s opinion of Russia as a “historical enemy.” Her support of Ukraine’s war on its historically Russophone regions and of Canada’s Magnitsky bill appears to border on a personal vendetta. We had to call on Prime Minister Trudeau to assure the Canadian public that Minister Freeland is, first and foremost, a champion of Canada, and acts in the interests of all Canadians.
This, in Mr. Kolga’s view, must qualify us as Kremlin stooges. He would probably be offended if someone cited his carrying of the Order of the White Star, officially given in recognition for services rendered to the Estonian state, as evidence of his un-Canadian activities. Yet he has no qualms with rendering a verdict of disloyalty to a civil society organization that advocates Canada-Russia friendship. One might think that an East European diaspora activist could show more sympathetic understanding of the activities of another East European diaspora group. Alas, with Mr. Kolga this is not the case.
Member of the Board
Communications for the Russian Congress of Canada