Canada advises air operators to avoid Belarus airspace after journalist’s arrest

Click to play video: 'Trudeau condemns arrest of Belarus journalist on Ryanair flight, calls behaviour ‘an attack on democracy’'
Trudeau condemns arrest of Belarus journalist on Ryanair flight, calls behaviour ‘an attack on democracy’
WATCH: Trudeau condemns arrest of Belarus journalist on Ryanair flight, calls behaviour 'an attack on democracy’ – May 25, 2021

The federal government is advising Canadian air operators to avoid Belarusian airspace, citing safety and security concerns.

In a joint statement released Tuesday evening, Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau and Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said a Notice to Airmen has been issued “advising Canadian air operators and the owners of aircraft registered in Canada to avoid operating at any altitude within Belarusian airspace due to serious safety and security concerns posed to civil aviation operations.”

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The move comes just days after Belarusian authorities scrambled a fighter jet and flagged what turned out to be a false bomb alert which forced a Ryanair passenger plane to land on Sunday.

Authorities then detained 26-year-old opposition journalist Roman Protasevich who was on board.

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The move drew international condemnation.

Speaking at a press conference earlier on Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the forced landing and the arrest of Protasevich was a “clear attack on democracy” that must be met by action.

“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,” Trudeau said. “We condemn it and call for his immediate release.”

Click to play video: 'Western nations condemn Belarus after Ryanair flight forced to land'
Western nations condemn Belarus after Ryanair flight forced to land

In their statement Tuesday evening, Garneau and Alghabra echoed Trudeau’s remarks, calling the forced flight diversion a “reckless, brazen act by the Belarusian regime” which they said, “jeopardized the safety of passengers and constitutes serious interference in the fundamental principles and international rules that ensure civil aviation safety around the world.”

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The ministers said the action also constitutes a “blatant attack” on media freedom with “serious implications on the rights of freedom of expression.”

“We call on Belarus to release Mr. Protasevich immediately,” they said.

Garneau and Alghabra said the government is “assessing, with like-minded partners, response options that include sanctions.”

They said Canada will also participate in an “urgent” meeting of the International Civil Aviation Organization Council this week to “shed light on the circumstances surrounding this abhorrent transgression.”

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The men also urged Belarus to release all individuals who have been arbitrarily detained, saying an “impartial investigation of all allegations of torture and other cruel treatment is needed.”

“Canada will continue to work with its partners to ensure that the voices of the people of Belarus are heard and to pursue accountability for those responsible for undermining democracy, suppressing media freedom and committing human rights violations,” the statement read.

The ministers’ statement comes as Belarus plans to shutter its embassy in Canada as of Sept. 1, 2021. The consular section of the embassy will stop operations on July 10, 2021.

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What have other countries said?

Britain’s foreign secretary Dominic Raab said on Monday that U.K. airlines had been advised to cease overflights of Belarisuan airspace, calling Belarus’ actions a “serious violation of international law on civil aviation.”

European Union leaders at a summit on Monday also called for airlines based in the 27-member bloc to halt flights over Belarusian airspace, which is along a major corridor connecting Europe and Asia and earns hard currency from overflight rights.

The leaders also directed officials to draw up unspecified new sanctions against the country, and to find a way to ban Belarusian airlines from the bloc’s skies.

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Ukraine’s Minister of Foreign Affairs said the country has “always been interested in a democratic Belarus where human rights are respected.”

“But now we prepare to cease direct flights & ban UA aircrafts from flying to or over it,” he wrote in a tweet on Monday.

Further, speaking to reporters on Tuesday, U.S. President Joe Biden said sanctions against Belarus are “in play,” but added that he didn’t “want to speculate” until the country can “get it done.”

-With files from Global News’ Amanda Connolly and Reuters

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