Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland speaks to the media following her trilateral briefing with United States Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Mexico’s Secretary of Economy Ildefonso Guajardo Villarrea during the sixth round of negotiations for a new North American Free Trade Agreement in Montreal, Monday, January 29, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland speaks to the media following her trilateral briefing with United States Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Mexico’s Secretary of Economy Ildefonso Guajardo Villarrea during the sixth round of negotiations for a new North American Free Trade Agreement in Montreal, Monday, January 29, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

Canada joins U.S., Europe in expelling Russian spies for British poison attack

The scope of the mass expulsions appears to be unprecedented since the Cold War

Four Russian spies based in Canada have been ordered out of the country as Western governments seek to condemn the Kremlin’s alleged involvement in the poisoning of a former Russian agent and his daughter in Britain.

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland announced the expulsions Monday as the U.S. and more than a dozen European allies took similar action against dozens of Russian diplomats in their own countries.

The scope of the mass expulsions appears to be unprecedented since the Cold War; British Prime Minister Theresa May said a total of more than 100 Russian diplomats in 18 countries had been told to go home.

The move follows the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the British city of Salisbury on March 4 by what has been described as a military-grade nerve agent.

The two remain in critical condition in hospital. A British police officer who found the pair unconscious on a bench outside a shopping centre was also hospitalized, but has since been released.

The Kremlin has denied any involvement in the attack on Skripal, who served as a double agent for British intelligence in the 1990s before being arrested by Russian authorities and later transferred to the United Kingdom in a spy swap.

But Western governments have nonetheless blamed Russia for what Freeland described in a strongly worded statement as a “despicable, heinous and reckless act, potentially endangering the lives of hundreds.

“The nerve-agent attack represents a clear threat to the rules-based international order and to the rules that were established by the international community to ensure chemical weapons would never again destroy human lives.”

The attack in Salisbury is the latest in a string of inappropriate Russian behaviour, Freeland added, including the annexation of Crimea, support for rebel forces in Ukraine and efforts to interfere in other countries’ elections.

The Russian Embassy in Ottawa called the expulsions “highly deplorable and outrageous,” and accused Canada of “obediently” following the U.S. and Britain amid “baseless” allegations against Moscow.

“This unfriendly move under false and biased pretext delivers yet another serious blow to Russian-Canadian relations and will be met with resolve and reciprocity,” it added in a statement.

Russia expelled 23 British diplomats last week in response to London’s decision to kick out 23 Russians over the Skripal poisoning, and has typically adopted a tit-for-tat approach when it comes to such expulsions.

The four Russians ordered out of Canada are based in Ottawa and Montreal, Freeland said, and are either intelligence officers or “have used their diplomatic status to undermine Canada’s security or interfere in our democracy.”

The three denied entry into Canada were accused of similar behaviour.

Neither Freeland nor Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale offered further details, including the nature of their activities or why the Russians had been permitted to stay in Canada if they posed a threat to the country.

“The selection of the individuals is a selection that’s done with great care by the Global Affairs department in consultation with other relevant agencies across the government of Canada,” Goodale said outside the House of Commons.

“And it’s done in a manner to make the point very clear to the Russian government that we are deeply concerned and we’re also very alert to the activities to be unacceptable.”

Expulsions often result in a tit-for-tat response; given that Canada has fewer spies in Russia than Russia has in Canada, “it tends to hurt Canada more than it hurts the Russians,” said University of Ottawa professor Wesley Wark, a leading authority on security and intelligence.

News of the expulsions from Canada came at the same time as the U.S. announced it was kicking out 60 Russians while Germany, France, Poland and more than a dozen other European countries also took action.

The U.S. expulsions were particularly noteworthy given that President Donald Trump has been accused of being soft on Moscow, especially in light of allegations it interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

The Canadian measures also appeared to put another nail in whatever little hope there still was about a pending reset in relations with Russia, which the Liberals promised during the last federal election.

It’s not the first time Canada has expelled a Russian diplomat; such measures weren’t uncommon during the Cold War, including one instance in February 1978 when 11 Russians were forced to leave.

A handful have been expelled since the current tensions between the West and Russia began in 2014, but most have involved one or two Russians — without the type of language or co-ordination involved in Monday’s action.

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

Just Posted

VIDEO: History of Langley pioneer Philip Jackman comes alive in new novel

Book by Virginia Cooke details the life of Jackman, a Royal Engineer and Reeve of Langley

Trinity Western University players help Canada to second medal ever at Pan Am Cup

With the medal, Canadian team also qualifies for the 2019 Pan American Games

Aldergrove Fair Days gets ‘Down on the Farm’

Something for everyone at the 106th annual Aldergrove Fair

UPDATE: Strong showing by Langley Selects at 10-day tournament

Twelve teams competed in round-robin series

VIDEO: Langley hospital history recovered

After 16 years in storage, LMH memorial plaques added to museum in time for 70th anniversary party

REPLAY: B.C.’s best video this week

In case you missed it, here’s a look at replay-worthy highlights from across the province this week

Coco the cat survives horrific house fire wrapped in a blanket

Found in the laundry hours after Chilliwack firefighters douse blaze that destroyed five structures

‘Lava bomb’ through roof of tour boat injures 22 in Hawaii

“An explosion occurred near the shoreline hurling hot lava rocks towards the boat and injuring several passengers”

Aldergrove Youth Soccer registration underway

Kids from U11 to U18 need to register so that teams can be formed, games organized

B.C. teen meets Nicolas Cage

Filming mob movie in downtown Vernon, B.C.

Aldergrove ‘hoops’ boys raise cash

Successful fundraiser for the Aldergrove boys’ basketball team

Otter Co-op’s CEO top of the class

Jack Nicholson receives 2018 B.C. CEO Award in the Large Company category

Critics claim Trump “defended a tyrant”

Trump questions US intel, not Putin, on Russia 2016 meddling

B.C. MLAs choose new children’s watchdog

Jennifer Charlesworth has worked in government, social services

Most Read