by Sean Previl
June 14, 2023
Days after Canada said it is seizing a Russian-registered cargo aircraft, Moscow is warning that ties between the two countries are “already on the verge of being severed.” And the seizure would have “serious repercussions” for Canada-Russian relations, the Kremlin said. The Antonov 124 plane will be the first Russian physical asset captured by Canada under its asset forfeit law and second under the federal government’s sanctions regime. It comes more than a year after the plane first landed in the country at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport.
Ottawa announced the planned seizure of the aircraft on Saturday as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made a surprise visit to Kyiv, Ukraine. Officials said the seizure was a direct response to Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine.
In February 2022, Canada banned Russian aircraft from flying in Canadian airspace, effectively grounding the plane and forcing it to remain grounded. It had landed in Canada to deliver a shipment of COVID-19 antigen tests. “The aircraft has been illegally detained at the Toronto airport since February 2022. We perceive this act as cynical and shameless theft,” reads a statement posted to the Russian foreign ministry’s website.
The plane is owned by a subsidiary of Volga-Dnepr Airlines LLC and Volga-Dnepr Group, Canada believes. Both entities recently had sanctions imposed against them as part of Canada’s response to the war in Ukraine.
On Saturday, Global Affairs Canada said the plane was being taken to try and put “additional pressure on Russia to stop its illegal war against Ukraine by straining its economic system and limiting resources that fuel the war.”
It is not known yet what will become of the plane but under the new asset forfeit law, Canada is able to seize assets held by sanctioned people and forfeit the assets — have them diverted to victims of a sanctioned regime.
During his visit to Ukraine, Trudeau said the government would try to forfeit the plane to Ukraine to prevent it from being used in the Russian war effort. “We’re going to do it as quickly as possible, but I can tell you that Ukrainians are very pleased that the path has started,” he said.
Moscow said in its statement that the plane had been “taken hostage” after landing on a “humanitarian project at the request of the Canadian government.” “It now turns out that Canadian authorities had a far-reaching aim in mind: to steal this unique aircraft and to hand it over to their clients in Kiev,” it reads, adding that Ottawa’s military and financial assistance to Ukraine has “not been all that generous.”
William Pellerin, an Ottawa-based trade lawyer with McMillan LLP, told The Canadian Press that the owners of the plane could launch a court challenge against the seizure until the time Ottawa files a formal court application to forfeit the asset. When that takes place, the firm would receive written notice and have a chance to challenge the application.
Russia has warned it would take action should Ottawa proceed with its potential plans for the aircraft, saying it would retaliate “in line with the reciprocity principle. Any attempts to cover up this illegal and shameful act by judicial procedures will not impart even a semblance of legitimacy to it.”
Speaking with Global News last year, aviation lawyer Bill Clark said the Russians have been using Antonov 124 aircraft for military transport and to support the assault on Ukraine, even though the plane is not registered as a military aircraft.
Clark was hired by an unnamed Canadian cargo company looking to help Ukraine by keeping the plane out of the war — an assertion Russia has denied.
With files from Global News’ Saba Aziz and The Canadian Press,