Lessons from Ukraine for Canada’s Global Engagement

By Constantine Passaris


The Ukraine and Canada share a lived history that has blended through immigration. Immigration from Ukraine to Canada has a long and distinguished provenance. It has contributed to Canada’s economic development and enhanced its multicultural mosaic. More precisely, it has contributed to populating Western Canada, building the foundations of the Canadian economy, and extending the diversity of Canada’s civil society. Furthermore, the waves of immigration from Ukraine have empowered Canada to become a country of the world and the world within a country.

The first immigration wave from the Ukraine to Canada occurred between 1891 and 1914 with the arrival of an estimated 150,000 Ukrainians. Most Ukrainians from this period settled in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta, where they obtained farmland. Others settled in towns across Canada to work in industrial occupations.

Immigration grew substantially after 1896 as Canada promoted the immigration of farmers from Eastern Europe. Immigrant farmers from Ukraine contributed to populating the western provinces of Canada and launched the foundations of a thriving agricultural sector. While the Canadian western provinces absorbed the bulk of the first Ukrainian immigration cohort, Ukrainian displaced persons and refugees settled in Ontario.

Clifford Sifton, Canada’s Minister of the Interior who exercised responsibility for the immigration portfolio from 1896 to 1905 encouraged Ukrainian farmers to emigrate to Western Canada. This, for the purpose of populating Western Canada and laying the foundations for a prosperous economy driven by agricultural expansion. Sifton referred to the new Ukrainian and East European immigrants to Canada by stating: “I think that a stalwart peasant in a sheepskin coat, born to the soil, whose forefathers have been farmers for ten generations, with a stout wife and a half-dozen children, is good quality.” (Encyclopedia of Canada,1948:399).

In the first half of the twentieth century, Ukrainian Canadians overwhelmingly earned their living in the primary industries; predominantly in agriculture, but also in mining, logging, construction, and in the extension of the Canadian railway system. There is no denying that Ukrainian immigrants and their descendants have left a profound contribution to the economic development of Ontario and Western Canada (Canadian Encyclopedia, 2021).

After the First World War, when Ukraine became part of the Soviet Union, Canada witnessed a second large wave of Ukrainian arrivals. Most arrived as refugees who settled in established Ukrainian communities, particularly in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and southern Ontario. At the end of the Second World War, a third wave of Ukrainians arrived in Canada, and by 1952 approximately 30,000 Ukrainians landed in Canada, primarily as refugees. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, about 112,000 immigrants arrived in Canada from Ukraine. As a result of the recent Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, more than 12 million Ukrainians were displaced. In response, Canada’s federal government introduced new measures to fast-track the admission of Ukrainians to Canada (Stick & Hou, 2022).


The demographic impact of Ukrainian immigrants to Canada has been significant. According to the 2016 Census, Ukrainian Canadians number 1,359,655 or 3.8% of Canada’s population. Ukrainian Canadians are Canada’s eleventh largest ethnic group. In effect, Canada has the world’s third-largest Ukrainian population after Ukraine and Russia. More than 110,000 Ukrainian Canadians reported Ukrainian as their mother tongue, and more than half live in Canada’s western provinces.

The contemporary geographic distribution of Ukrainian Canadians reveals that most of them live in Ontario (28%), Alberta (27%) or British Columbia (17%). A large proportion of Ukrainian Canadians live in Manitoba (13%) and Saskatchewan (11%) About 3% of Ukrainian Canadians reside in Quebec, and about 1% live in the Atlantic provinces and the territories. They are the descendants of the early waves of immigration from Ukraine and have lived in Canada for many generations (Statistics Canada, 2017).


The recent arrival of a new wave of Ukrainian displaced persons to Canada because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, offers a historical déjà vu. Indeed, Canada has a long history of admitting Ukrainians who were forced to flee their country because of persecution, displacement, and war.

The Russian invasion of the Ukraine has disrupted the uneasy calm on the European continent and has elevated political tensions around the world. It has precipitated a seismic shift in the global geopolitical landscape. Furthermore, it triggered a humanitarian crisis of massive proportions.

In effect, it has resulted in the destabilization of world peace and has emboldened other countries in Europe and Asia to resort to force for the purpose of settling geopolitical boundary disputes. Indeed, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has demonstrated that peace in our time remains a fragile public good.


There is no denying that the contemporary geopolitical order of the 21st century has revealed the fissures and the fault lines in our global governance and the fragility of international relations. Indeed, the multilateral institutions of governance that were created after the Second World War such as the United Nations, the World Bank the International Monetary Fund, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the Commonwealth, la Francophonie, the Group of Seven, the Group of Twenty, the World Trade Organization and the World Health Organization have failed to sustain global harmony and forge a consensus for peace among the international community of nations. They have been ineffectual in resolving our contemporary hot button issues and finding a pathway through constructive dialogue for a peaceful coexistence on a global scale.

In effect, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has ushered in a new geopolitical era of political tension on the international landscape. In consequence Canada’s global engagement requires a realignment and a reorientation. On the geopolitical landscape, Canada is in a unique position to exert constructive influence and to position Canada’s unique history for the service of humanity.


The contemporary Ukrainian dilemma has demonstrated the complexity of the hot button issues that confront humanity at the present time. They range from political, economic, social, and environmental. Indeed, they are multifaceted and multilayered. In this context the new world order requires more of Canada’s leadership and guidance.

The principal lesson for Canada in the wake of the Russian invasion of the Ukraine is to regain the podium on the global stage. This is an essential destination at a time when international events are unfolding rapidly and internetization is redefining the modus operandi of nations in the 21st century. Internetization is a new word and concept that I have coined to describe the empowerment of global outreach and electronic connectivity (Passaris, 2021). There is no denying that this is a turbulent time in world affairs that is defined by geopolitical fluidity, digital speed, and economic uncertainty.

Canada’s foreign policy requires an urgent reset to better align with the new geopolitical order. Clearly, Canada’s contemporary global engagement no longer has the traction that it used to have on the world stage. For example, Canada’s last two attempts to secure a seat as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council have failed. Canada’s standing among the international community of nations as a neutral middle power and an honest broker has lost its shine. In addition, Canada’s reputation with many developing countries has slipped.

In consequence, it is time for Canada’s global engagement to undertake a face-lift and rediscover its role as a major player on the global podium. In this journey, Canada should serve as a global advocate for the rule of law and human rights, stand out as an international role model for the pursuit of democracy and an active catalyst for world peace.

Navigating the contemporary geopolitical landscape is not going to be easy. The future is unfolding in a very tumultuous and uncertain manner. However, Canada cannot sit idly by and simply watch global events unfold. It has a valuable contribution to make in international affairs and has a moral obligation to do so.


Canada has an important role to play on the world stage. In fact, at the present time, the world needs more Canada. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has made that abundantly clear. It is time for Canada to rediscover its leadership role through its foreign policy and global engagement.

At this moment in time, when the world is confronted with a myriad of political, social, and economic hot spots, the global stage needs Canada’s influence and empowerment. It needs Canada to seize the podium and speak with its signature Canadian values and identity. A Canada that speaks from its collective experiences and foundational values.

Canada’s historical experiences as a colony of France and Britain have contributed to its savoir faire on global issues. Colonial rule also gave Canada a special diplomatic currency with developing countries. Those collective experiences compel Canada to fulfill the role of an honest broker and peacemaker in international disputes. They fill a void as a trusted neutral arbitrator in conflicts between superpowers and the developing world.

Canada’s post Second World War foreign policy was widely acknowledged for punching above its weight on the world stage. Starting with Professor John Peters Humphrey who was tasked by Eleanor Roosevelt to write the first draft of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Followed by Canadian Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his peacekeeping model that defused the Suez Canal crisis and launched the United Nations peacekeeping efforts.

Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau’s unconventional diplomatic outreach to China and Cuba. Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney’s relentless pursuit of sanctions against South Africa that resulted in the demise of apartheid. Canada was also instrumental in establishing the International Criminal Court, proposed the treaty to ban anti-personnel land mines and advocated for the United Nations Responsibility to Protect Initiative.

Going forward Canada needs to learn the geopolitical and economic lessons from Ukraine. As a starting point, Canada should reclaim its place on the world stage, revitalize its foreign policy, practice a constructive engagement in global affairs, speak truth to power at multilateral summits, and nudge the international community of nations to enforce their commitment to individual and collective human rights.


Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine spotlighted the breathtaking changes on the global geopolitical landscape. Power has become more diffuse and has replaced the unipolar world of the past. Old political alliances are being tested, and new alliances are being formed. Furthermore, major international crises that used to be truly the exception are now becoming the new normal.

At the present time, the world is facing overwhelming challenges. These include a shift in global power, the vulnerability of democratic institutions, a fracturing multilateral system, a deteriorating security landscape, and internetization is redefining every facet of life. In this age of increasing global uncertainty, we need more robust institutions for global governance.

The war in Ukraine demonstrated the stark reality that our global governance institutions are not able to prevent armed conflict or contain its deleterious impact on humanity. In consequence, our multilateral institutions require renovation and a refit for the 21st century. We need a redesigned global governance architecture that embraces the economic, social, and environmental axioms simultaneously. In this task, Canada has an important role to play in redesigning multilateral institutions to enhance their efficacy for the 21st century.

Today’s multipolar world is more complicated than ever before. Contemporary challenges such as economic crises, political uncertainty, and climate change require a new mission for our global governance institutions. Canada should work with the international community of nations to rebuild our global governance architecture. Multilateralism is the way of the future and Canada should lead this journey.

A basic tenet for the efficacy of global governance is the adherence to an international system of rules and laws. In consequence, we need to redesign our institutions of global governance to better align with the new world order and provide them with the tools to enforce international law.

The maelstrom in Ukraine has underlined the importance of international law. By attacking the territory of a sovereign country, Russia violated international law, international humanitarian law and fundamental human rights. In effect, Russia has violated the oldest and most basic principle of international law, pacta sunt servanda, which denotes agreements must be honoured. Russia has also undermined the foundations of the United Nations Charter.


Canada is in a unique position to make a significant contribution towards redesigning the global governance architecture and redefining the scope and substance of the new world order. As a middle-power with an open economy that is actively engaged in international trade, Canada has prospered through global outreach and a rules-based multilateral system. Canada must now lead the design of a modern rules-based multilateral system for the 21st century.

At the present time, Canada’s global engagement lacks focus, coherence, and clarity. In effect, Canada’s international engagement needs a contemporary vision, clear objectives, and a purposeful strategy. Contemporary challenges necessitate that Canada’s foreign policy should embrace a multipolar context and engage in multitasking. In consequence, Canada’s contemporary global agenda should be defined by the contemporary geopolitical context, the deterioration of global governance, threats to democracy, the empowerment of the digital age, and international insecurity. It should also lead the process for redesigning our global governance institutions so that they are fit for purpose in the 21st century.

Canada’s multicultural and multilingual population profile is a unique and strategic asset in its global engagement. It elevates its international stature, empowers its global outreach, and facilitates good relations with the international community of nations. In effect, Canada’s multicultural population profile empowers it to build political, social, and economic bridges with every country in the world.

Canada’s foreign policy should rediscover the important role of international aid in forging economic and political connections. Indeed, the potency of international development aid as a tool of global engagement should not be underestimated. In the new global economy, multinational corporations have emerged as potent global players. Today, a country’s businesses maintain constructive relationships with foreign governments and can serve as a strategic asset in international relations. In this regard, Canada should integrate the international capacity of its global corporations into the framework of its foreign policy.

In the 21st century, Canada has emerged as an energy and agricultural superpower. The invasion of the Ukraine has disrupted the trade in agricultural products, food security and energy supply for much of the world. This is an opportunity for Canada to provide leadership on the international stage by redesigning multilateral institutions for the purpose of creating humanitarian food security and alleviating the threat of energy insecurity.

In short, Canada must manage its international relations within an evolving world order that is marked by considerable uncertainty. At the end of the day, Canada’s roadmap for global engagement should include, promoting peace and resolving conflict, redesigning global governance, enhancing the use of internetization, promoting multilateral free trade agreements, and advocating for human rights.


The Russian invasion of Ukraine demonstrated that peace in our time remains a fragile and elusive concept. It also revealed the fissures and fault lines in our multilateral institutions of global governance. Indeed, the disruption of global peace, perpetual economic crises, and substantive environmental degradation reveal humanity’s vulnerable existence.

In effect, the global institutions of economic, social, and political governance that were introduced after World War II have demonstrated a lack of efficacy in resolving humanity’s contemporary challenges. There is an urgent need to redesign those institutions and make them more fit for purpose. The overarching lesson for Canada from the Russian invasion of Ukraine is that the world needs a more globally engaged Canada that will contribute to redesigning our contemporary global governance architecture for the 21st century.



Canadian Encyclopedia (2021). “Ukrainian Canadians”. Retrieved on June 16, 2022.

Encyclopedia of Canada (1948), “Clifford Sifton”. Vol. V, Toronto: University Associates of Canada.

Passaris, Constantine (2021). “The Ascent of Internetization), Academia Letters, Article 2531. Retrieved July 15, 2022.

Statistics Canada (2017). “Census Profile, 2016 Census”. Retrieved July 14, 2022.

Stick, M. & Hou, F. (2022). “A Sociodemographic Profile of Ukrainian-Canadians” . Ottawa: Statistics Canada. Retrieved June 28, 2022.


Dr. Constantine Passaris is a Professor of Economics at the University of New Brunswick (Canada), an affiliate member of the Canadian Institute of Cybersecurity (Canada), an Onassis Foundation Fellow (Greece), a Dobbin Scholar (Ireland), a Research Affiliate of the Prentice Institute for Global Population and Economy at the University of Lethbridge (Canada) and a member of the Academic Scientific Board of the International Institute of Advanced Economic and Social Studies (Italy). He is a prolific author whose scholarly publications have been published in monographs, books, encyclopaedias, and academic journals. He has written extensively on economic issues dealing with public policy, economic governance, demography, immigration, human rights, multiculturalism, and the new global economy of the 21st century. Professor Passaris has received numerous academic and civilian honours and awards, including the Allan P. Stuart Award for Excellence in Teaching, the Onassis Fellowship, the Dobbin Scholarship, the 125th Anniversary of the Confederation of Canada Medal, the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal, and the Order of New Brunswick.