A brazen daylight attack on a former Russian spy turned British double agent in the United Kingdom two weeks ago is viewed by Canada as “unacceptable and unlawful behaviour” by Russia.
However, there is no indication at this time that Canada will expel any of the roughly 100 Russian diplomats registered as operating here.
In a statement issued Thursday morning, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau issued harsh words for Russia, which U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May has said is “culpable” for what is being described as a murder attempt on Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia. Both remain in critical condition in hospital after the apparent use of a Russian military-grade nerve agent.
A British police officer was also seriously injured but is in stable condition.
“Canada is unwavering in its commitment to the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom can count on Canada’s full support in efforts to hold Russia to account for this unacceptable and unlawful behaviour,” said Trudeau in the statement.
“Canada has offered assistance through many points of contact with the British government since this attack. Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland, Minister of National Defence Harjit Singh Sajjan, and Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Ralph Goodale have reached out to their counterparts and expressed their full support.”
Trudeau added that the Canadian government intends to continue working closely both with its partners and institutions.
“We will work closely with the United Kingdom, as well as with our international partners and through international institutions, to address this very serious situation,” he continued.
“As always, we stand with the United Kingdom to protect and uphold the safety and security of all citizens.”
Global News also asked a spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland whether Canada would consider the expulsion of any of the 100 Russian diplomats stationed in Canada in solidarity with the U.K., which expelled 23 Russian spies in the largest banishment since the end of the Cold War.
“Nothing to share beyond the statement,” said Adam Austen, press secretary for the minister.
WATCH BELOW: Britain expels 23 Russian diplomats over chemical attack on ex-spy
On March 4, the Skripals were found unconscious on a bench in Salisbury, located in southern England, and brought to hospital in critical condition.
Subsequent testing revealed their condition was caused by a Soviet-era nerve agent, making the attack the first apparent use of a chemical weapon on European soil since the end of the Second World War.
More than 30 other individuals suffered minor injuries in what Scotland Yard officials described earlier this week as a targeted attack on Skripal.
Russia has denied any involvement in the attacks but has been implicated in assassinations of those it deems “traitors” in the past, including the 2006 poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko using a radioactive tea containing polonium-210.
Russia took months to respond to repeated requests for answers from the U.K. and investigations by British law enforcement confirmed years later that the attack had likely come at either the order or at least the knowledge of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
May announced on Wednesday the expulsion of 23 Russian intelligence officers in retaliation for the attack, noting Russia failed to meet a deadline set by the U.K. for Tuesday at midnight to explain how the nerve agent came to be used in the Salisbury attack.
During an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council Wednesday afternoon, the Russian ambassador there again denied involvement in the attack but suggested the U.K. was moving quickly to bring the issue into international forums in order to try to influence public perception against Russia.
“They [the British] are trying to influence the public, which is very easy to influence,” Vasilly Nebenzia said.
In response, the British deputy ambassador to the United Nations said the U.K. had learned from its repeated attempts to get answers to the Litvinenko poisoning that Russia could not be trusted to act quickly.
“We waited in vain,” Jonathan Allen said. “We will not make the same mistake twice.”
Freeland had issued a statement Wednesday also backing the U.K. and saying the “likely” involvement of Russia was despicable.
In a statement issued Wednesday afternoon, a spokesperson for the Russian embassy in Ottawa said the condemnation from Freeland is too hasty.
“We regret Canadian Foreign Minister’s hasty support for the unfounded and unacceptable accusations on the part of UK with regard to the Skripal case,” said press secretary Kirill Kalinin.
“The British blame game based on the word ‘likely,’ but not on trustworthy investigation, hard facts and proper international procedures, is highly reprehensible and extremely counterproductive.”
The Organisation for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons will investigate the poison independently using a sample of the nerve agent to be provided by the U.K.
Further action on the matter from the Security Council itself is virtually impossible, given Russia is one of the countries that holds a permanent veto on any decisions taken by the members.