Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the forced landing of a Ryanair civilian flight and subsequent arrest of a journalist on board by Belarus was a “clear attack on democracy” that must be met by action.
His comments come as Belarus says it will shutter its embassy in Canada and as Western countries are weighing sanctions and cutting links with the authoritarian Eastern European state. Belarus scrambled a fighter jet on Sunday to intercept an Irish aircraft carrying dissident journalist Roman Protasevich in an act the airline’s CEO called a “hijacking.”
Trudeau said the Canadian government condemns the arrest and supports taking action through “all available international institutions” including NATO — where members maintain the principle of collective defence by which an attack against one member is an attack against all.
“The behaviour of the Belarus regime is outrageous, illegal, and completely unacceptable. This was a clear attack on democracy and the freedom of the press. We condemn it and call for his immediate release,” said Trudeau, adding the behaviour marked “dangerous interference” in civil aviation.
“Canada has existing sanctions in place against Belarus and will be examining further options. We also strongly support action through all available international institutions, including the International Civil Aviation Organization, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, and NATO.”
While Belarus is not a member of NATO, Ireland — where Ryanair is headquartered — is.
Article 5 of NATO’s treaty states that any member can invoke the principle of collective defence in the event of an “armed attack” against the member state.
Article 6 defines an “armed attack” as including an armed attack “on the forces, vessels, or aircraft” of any members of the alliance.
It is not yet clear what specific measures Canada is considering but Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau on Sunday criticized Belarus for “a serious interference in civil aviation and a clear attack on media freedom.”
Global News has reached out to the offices of both Garneau and Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan for more information, as well as for clarity on what measures the government would like to see through NATO.
Canada is active in supporting NATO deployments throughout Eastern Europe aimed at deterring Russian aggression, including up to 915 Canadian Forces members deployed on Operation Reassurance.
That includes roughly 240 sailors, 540 soldiers leading a NATO battle group in Latvia, and 135 members of the Royal Canadian Air Force and approximately 5 CF-188 Hornet aircraft doing air policing.
Belarus announced on Tuesday it will close its embassy in Canada as of Sept. 1, 2021.
The consular section of the embassy will stop operations on July 10, 2021.
U.S. President Joe Biden on Monday also condemned Belarus for its actions and said he had asked his advisers to give him options to hold those responsible to account.
U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan, in a call on Monday with exiled Belarus opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, said the United States had “strong support for the demands of the Belarusian people for democracy, human rights, and fundamental freedoms,” the White House said.
European Union leaders meeting in Brussels called for Belarusian airlines to be banned from the 27-nation bloc’s airspace and urged EU-based carriers to avoid flying over the former Soviet republic, according to a joint statement.
They also agreed to widen the list of Belarusian individuals they already sanction and called on the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to urgently investigate Belarus forcing a Ryanair plane to land in Minsk on a Greece-Lithuania flight on Sunday, according to Reuters.
“The reaction should be swift and be severe,” Belgian Prime Minister Alexander de Croo told journalists ahead of the EU summit.
Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney, using language that was echoed by a number of other EU countries, said: “This was effectively aviation piracy, state sponsored.”
The EU and other Western countries also called for the release of Protasevich, who was detained when the plane landed.
His social media feed from exile has been one of the last remaining independent outlets for news about Belarus since a mass crackdown on dissent last year.
With files from Reuters.