The City of Victoria voted on Thursday to suspend its twin city relationship with Khabarovsk, Russia, as the country continues its deadly invasion of Ukraine.
The move comes as all levels of government in Canada take action within their limited jurisdictions to increasingly sever Russia’s ties to the world and inflict financial repercussions.
Couns. Stephen Andrew, Charlayne Thornton-Joe and Geoff Young brought the measure forward, but more than an hour of deliberations on Thursday saw a stray from their original call to simply suspend the relationship.
After a string of amendments, council eventually unanimously approved a two-part motion that immediately suspends the two cities’ ties until Russia ends its hostilities in Ukraine and withdraws its forces from the former Soviet state.
The second approved action will see Mayor Lisa Helps write to Khabarovsk’s mayor and council to notify them of the suspension and Victoria’s rationale for the move. That correspondence will also urge Khabarovsk to declare opposition to President Vladimir Putin’s invasion and seek an immediate and peaceful end to war.
“I think it really is a strong message for the Ukrainian-Canadian community in Greater Victoria that we stand with them,” Andrew told Black Press Media earlier in the week.
The decision did raise a number of questions among council members about how best to fulfil the purpose of twin cities and what their threshold is for suspending relationships with controversial partners.
Several councillors raised concerns over whether cutting ties is the best way to achieve the diplomacy and bond-building twin cities are intended to.
“I think we need stronger ties with communities and people everywhere, not weaker ones,” Coun. Ben Isitt said.
Coun. Marianne Alto added that they need to acknowledge the citizens of Khabarovsk who have spoken against Russia’s war on Ukraine, at their own personal risk.
“It takes enormous civil courage in Russia to speak out against the central party regime,” she said.
Councillors also questioned why they are taking action against a Russian city now, when they haven’t with their Chinese twin city despite that government’s genocide against the Uighur population.
“I think if we are taking this step, we have to be consistent,” Isitt said.
Victoria and Khabarovsk have been twin cities since May 1990. The idea of twin cities, or sister cities, was thought up by U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower in 1956, with the goal of building bonds between different people and cultures around the world. Victoria’s other twin cities include Napier, New Zealand; Suzhou, China; and Morioka, Japan.
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