International Development Minister Harjit Sajjan says he told Canadian officials in Ukraine and neighbouring countries to ensure that women sexually assaulted by Russian troops get the help they need — including access to abortions if they wish.
He said pregnant sexual assault victims who have fled Ukraine, where abortion is legal, to Poland, which last year outlawed abortion in most cases, could be helped to travel to elsewhere in Europe.
“We are very mindful of some of the laws in other European countries, especially Poland, so right now the department is working through our partners and figuring out how we can support these women,” Sajjan said in an interview with The Canadian Press.
“We will make sure that, if we have to, we will even get them to another country where they can actually get the support.”
Sajjan said Canada would respect the laws of other countries but noted “our people on the ground” are finding ways to “respectfully give the support for the women.”
Sajjan said Ukrainian women could potentially even come to Canada to receive care and be fast-tracked through the immigration system if necessary.
He said Canadian officials were working with local organizations that have networks to support women who may have been victims of sexual violence.
Meanwhile, Canada has sent rape kits to Ukraine to help police compile evidence against Russian troops alleged to have sexually assaulted women and girls, as part of broader measures intended to address gender-based violence caused by the ongoing war.
Sajjan said the war-torn country requested the kits. They are used to conduct forensic medical examinations of sexual assault victims and collect evidence that help build a case against suspected perpetrators.
Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly has also confirmed that 10 RCMP officers helping to compile evidence of war crimes by Russian troops will investigate sexual violence against Ukrainians.
Canada announced last week it is committing an extra $1 million to help the international community investigate alleged sex crimes by Russian troops in Ukraine.
Joly said Canada would give the extra funds to the International Criminal Court to help it investigate sexual violence against women, as well as alleged crimes against children.
Adrien Blanchard, a spokesman for Joly, said Canada was also supporting investigations by the United Nations Human Rights Council into sexual violence in Ukraine.
“We must ensure that the perpetrators of these heinous crimes are held to account,” he said.
At a meeting in Ottawa earlier this month with Swedish Foreign Affairs Minister Ann Linde, Joly discussed the need to treat Russian troops perpetrating sexual violence as war criminals.
Yulia Kovaliv, Ukraine’s ambassador designate to Canada, also warned members of Parliament earlier this month that Russia is using sexual violence against women and children as a weapon of war.
A panel of 35 scholars with expertise in international law, genocide and eastern Europe, chaired by former attorney general Irwin Cotler, has concluded that Russia has engaged in incitement to genocide.
Its legal analysis, published by the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights, concluded Russia has breached the 1948 Genocide Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, to which it is a party along with 151 other countries.
Cotler said nations which have signed the convention have a responsibility to prevent such crimes and hold Russia accountable for its actions.
Marie Woolf, The Canadian Press