A revitalized role for the Estonian Central Council in Canada: II
This, the second in a series of articles profiling the Estonian Central Council in Canada (EKN) and Estonian Canadian communities provides a summary of key initiatives from the past five years as well as upcoming events.
A proud history.
EKN was founded in 1951, as Rahvusliku Välisvõitluse Nõukogu (RVN). By 1973, it had evolved to become the elected national Estonian Canadian organization and was renamed Estonian Central Council in Canada. Increasingly, EKN focused on developing relations with federal, provincial and municipal levels of government, and all Canadian political parties, to further its goal of restoring Estonia’s independence, while promoting the needs of the community. EKN is recognized by all three levels of government as the voice of Estonian Canadians and continues to lobby and advocate for the community. EKN is a member of the Baltic Federation of Canada and Central and Eastern European Council of Canada, and collaborates with the Estonian Embassy in Ottawa, as well as the Latvian and Lithuanian ambassadors on issues of common interest.
Revitalization and renewal.
Over the past five years, EKN has made significant contributions to building greater understanding of our community and its history in Canada. Major events, such as the 2019, Black Ribbon Day conference, at which Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, Bob Rae, and Garry Kasparov spoke were covered widely in Canadian media. Other events, such as the June Deportation Commemoration and Candle Lighting event in 2018, at Toronto's Nathan Phillips Square were attended by over 500 community members and covered in local media.
EKN has also supported major Canadian policy initiatives, including the development and passage of Magnitsky human rights legislation, which was led in Canada by former EKN president, Marcus Kolga. This historic legislation allows for the Canadian government to place sanctions on Russian, Chinese and other foreign officials who engage in mass human rights abuses and corruption. EKN has also supported and led efforts to combat Russian government information warfare targeting our history and community. By promoting intolerance and hate towards the Baltic communities, the Russian government and its proxies in Canada seek to delegitimize our status as Canadians, and as refugees who fled Soviet terror.
A priority goal for EKN has been a review of the organization’s overall national status. A compliance committee was formed to bring the organization up to date with Canadian federal requirements. As a result, EKN is now a federally registered not-for-profit organization.The committee reviewed and worked with all of EKN’s historic by-laws and policies to develop federally compliant by-laws. In addition, a policy and procedures sub-committee was formed to begin updating all internal operating documents. EKN has maintained its guiding principles throughout the process.
Historically, EKN has supported and acted as an intermediary for other Estonian Canadian organizations with the different levels of government. EKN recently spent nearly a year lobbying provincial and municipal governments to achieve property tax status for Jõekääru, Estonian children’s summer camp, ultimately saving the camp upwards of hundreds of thousands in future tax savings and helping secure the future of the camp for generations to come.
In this new Covid era of virtual meetings, EKN has continued to hold monthly executive meetings, biannual general meetings and this past fall organized the first in a series of information forums for Estonian Canadian organization representatives. The first virtual conference brought together participants from Victoria, Vancouver, Alberta, Saskatchewan, northern Ontario, Hamilton, Burlington, St. Catherines, Ottawa and Montreal.
Increased collaboration and communication.
EKN will continue to provide information sessions and organize virtual conferences on topics of interest to our communities. The next session, a virtual Estonian foreign policy forum was held on April 28th 2021.. Secretary-General of Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Jonatan Vseviov provided an overview of current important foreign policy issues. A panel moderated by Professor Andres Kasekamp discussed how Estonians around the world can participate in advocacy efforts to advance Estonia’s interests abroad. This was a joint Estonian World Council, Global Estonian NGO and Worldwide Estonian Youth Network event.
The next Estonian Canadian organization virtual conference will be held on Saturday, May 8th at 10:00 a.m. EDT and includes an update on “Üleilmse eestluse programm“ from Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs advisor Keit Speigel, and a presentation by Estonian Integration Foundation on how to access and post diaspora community events on the globalestonian.com website. Former prime minister and current speaker of Estonian parliament, Jüri Ratas has asked to speak and will participate at this event.
Upcoming events include the commemoration of June deportations, Black Ribbon Day, and a Baltic Federation of Canada joint celebration of the 30th anniversary of reindependence, featuring leaders from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
Going forward, a priority goal is increased cooperation and communication between Estonian Canadian communities and organizations on topics of mutual interest. To facilitate this, community representatives from across the country will be invited to participate as delegates at future EKN general meetings.
EKN looks forward to working together with all Estonian Canadian communities and to the resumption of in person events across the country. Stay safe!
The next articles in this series will spotlight Estonian communities across Canada.
Reet Marten Sehr
EKN Vice President