Sending Canadian vessel to Cuba alongside Russia's was carefully planned: Minister

sending canadian vessel to cuba alongside russia's was carefully planned: minister

The future HMCS Margaret Brooke, is docked at a ceremony in Halifax on July 15, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

OTTAWA — National Defence Minister Bill Blair's office is defending the decision to send a Canadian ship to Cuba where it docked alongside some of Russia's fleet, calling it a "carefully" planned move to increase its presence in the region.

Spokesman Daniel Minden issued a statement on Sunday saying the visit to Havana's port "was carefully and fulsomely planned," and the minister authorized it on the advice of the Royal Canadian Navy and Canadian Joint Operations Command.

"We've made the smart choice to boost our naval presence in the region this week," the statement reads.

"We believe that this marked an especially important time to show a Canadian presence."

The Opposition Conservatives took to social media to criticize the move after Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly told CBC News during a recent interview she was unaware that one of Canada's patrol vessels was docked in Havana at the same time as Russian warships.

"This is information that is news to me," the minister told host David Cochrane.

Michael Chong, the Conservatives' foreign affairs critic, questioned why Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government sent a Canadian ship to "celebrate" relations "with a communist dictatorship at all," referring to Cuba.

"Let alone while Russian warships are docked there?" Chong posted on X.

James Bezan, the partys critic for national defence, said the decision warrants a probe by the parliamentary committee on defence, saying he wants to hear Joly and Blair testify. Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre's office has yet to respond to a request for comment.

The visit to Havana marks the first for Canada's navy since 2016 and comes at a time when Canada has sent billions in aide and military equipment to Ukraine to help it fight off Russia's invasion, which began in February 2022.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was himself travelling back to Canada on Sunday following a summit staged in Switzerland to help advance peace in Ukraine.

While there, Trudeau pledged a $52 million package to assist Ukraine and co-chaired a session for leaders where he discussed the need for the international community to call for the return of the close to 20,000 Ukrainian children forcibly removed from their homes by Russia.

In his statement on Sunday, Minden said HMCS Ville de Quebec, one of Canada's warships, and a CP-140 patrol plane had been tracking the Russian flotilla, adding the military publicized the port visit.

In its post on X, the Canadian Joint Operations Command said the port visit by Canada came in recognition "of the long-standing bilateral relationship" between Canada and Cuba.

The visit by HMCS Margaret Brooke is set to last from June 14 to 17.

Joly's office deferred to Blair's when asked to respond.

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

Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press

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