Ottawa urged to expel Russian diplomats as Ukraine war anniversary nears

Global News by Aaron D'Andrea posted February 22, 2023

A House of Commons’ committee says Canada should expel Russian diplomats who are participating in activities not “consistent” with their roles — but whether Ottawa will commit to doing so is up in the air.

The Canadian government hasn’t expelled any Russian diplomats since Moscow’s full-scale war in Ukraine began nearly a year ago on Feb. 24, 2022.

In studying the war, the Foreign Affairs and International Development committee released a report last week detailing its impacts, and made 14 recommendations to the federal government on how it can continue to strengthen its support for Ukraine.

Among those was for the government “to expel Russian diplomats involved in any activities that are not consistent with their official diplomatic status.”

In March 2022, four European Union nations expelled several Russian diplomats accused of spying; the last time Canada expelled Russian diplomats was in March 2018, in lockstep with the United Kingdom over a nerve agent attack.

“There is no definitive stance on whether we’re going to accept all the recommendations and whatnot, or on each recommendation specifically, but what I can say is that on expelling Russian diplomats, our thinking hasn’t changed,” a government source, speaking on background, told Global News.

“The concept of reciprocity in diplomacy and the fact that what our folks in Moscow do is really important, that thinking hasn’t really changed.”

Grantly Franklin, a spokesperson with Global Affairs Canada (GAC), told Global News in an email that it’s “important” to maintain the Canadian embassy in Moscow.

“This keeps open channels of communication, allows for on the ground monitoring of developments to counter Russian disinformation, and permits the delivery of consular services to Canadian citizens,” Franklin said.

“This in turn requires allowing the Russian Embassy to remain open on a reciprocal basis.”

In April 2022, Russia’s ambassador in Ottawa said any diplomatic expulsion will be met in kind by expelling Canadian officials in Russia, the Hill Times reported. Earlier that month, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called diplomatic expulsion a “symbolic gesture,” and said that Canadian diplomats in Moscow play too important of a role.

Orest Zakydalsky, senior policy advisor with the Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC), told Global News his organization doesn’t see a reason why Russia should still have a diplomatic mission in Canada.

“In terms of this recommendation, this is something the government should be doing anyway. Diplomats who are engaged in things that aren’t part of their diplomatic work ought to be thrown out regardless of any recommendations of a committee,” he said.

“Their expulsion would not be symbolic, but would actually strengthen Canadian security.”

The government source told Global News that Ottawa is reviewing the recommendations, and that the government will “always follow the Geneva Convention and the rules and expectations set out by that,” adding that the Russian ambassador has been summoned six times since the full-scale war began.

“As long he keeps parroting Russian propaganda, he’s going to continue to be summoned,” they said.

“On our side, our folks in Moscow matter a lot. They do crucial work, and we want to make sure that they remain in a position where they’re able to do that work.”

In its report, the foreign affairs committee said GAC officials who testified as part of the study expressed “a cautionary note about cutting off the opportunity for … high-level contact, whether it’s with the Russian ambassador here or through our ambassador in Moscow.”

Marta Dyczok, an associate professor of history and political science at Western University, told the committee that Canada could still do more to scale down its “diplomatic relations” with Russia.

“They need to keep the embassy and consulates open — diplomatic channels need to remain open — but the size of its diplomatic missions does not need to be the same as during peacetime,” Dyczok said during testimony.

Trudeau said in April that Ottawa reduced the size of its diplomatic staff in Moscow following President Vladimir Putin’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, and after the 2018 poisoning in Salisbury, England, of a former Russian intelligence officer, and his daughter.

Zakydalsky said the UCC will continue to press Ottawa on this issue.

“We will keep making the point to the government that it is a matter of both security for Canadians, and … that there should not be Russian diplomats here in Canada fomenting, trying to destroy … our society,” he said.