OTTAWA — Canada has joined the U.S. and several European countries in expelling several Russian diplomats following a nerve-agent attack in the United Kingdom last week that left a former Russian spy and his daughter in critical condition.
Four Russian diplomats will be told to leave and three others will not be given permission to start working in Canada, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said in a statement Monday.
“The nerve agent attack in Salisbury, on the soil of Canada’s close partner and ally, is a despicable, heinous and reckless act, potentially endangering the lives of hundreds,” she said.
“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 four Russian diplomats who are being expelled are all intelligence officers, Freeland added, or “have used their diplomatic status to undermine Canada’s security or interfere in our democracy.”
They were working at the Russian Embassy in Ottawa and the consulate-general in Montreal.
The Canadian government’s decision follows a similar move by the U.S. and about a dozen European countries, which announced Monday that they were together expelling dozens of Russian diplomats as a sign of solidarity with the United Kingdom.
British Prime Minister Theresa May last week expelled 23 Russian envoys in response to the nerve-agent attack against former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury on March 4.
A British police officer who stumbled upon the two as they lay unconscious on a bench outside a shopping centre was also hospitalized after coming into contact with the substance, but has since been released.
Russia, which has denied any involvement in the attack, subsequently expelled a similar number of British diplomats from Moscow, and has vowed to reciprocate against any other countries that kick out its representatives.
Freeland said the attack is part of a “wider pattern of unacceptable behaviour by Russia,” including its support for the Syrian government, its annexation of Crimea, support for rebel forces in Ukraine and interference in elections.
“We are taking these measures in solidarity with the United Kingdom,” Freeland said.
“These measures are not aimed at the Russian people, with whom Canadians have long and fruitful ties. Canada remains committed to dialogue and co-operation with Russia on issues where we face common challenges.”
Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press