It has been nearly three months since Russian authorities illegally took control of the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise, jailing its passengers and crew following their attempt to peacefully protest Arctic oil drilling in international waters.
It was a classic Greenpeace protest. Traveling in inflatable boats, activists attempted to climb the side of Gazprom’s Prirazlomnaya massive oil platform to unfurl a banner. Unfurl a banner. Not damage the oil platform. Not stop the drilling operations. The goal was to bear witness and expose through photo and video documentation the reckless actions of Gazprom’s drilling. This completely peaceful act was cut short when high pressure water cannons pushed the activists off the platform and threatened their safety further, with gun shots.
Everyone on board the Arctic Sunrise, 28 Greenpeace activists and two freelance journalists – the Arctic 30 – were detained for months and charged for crimes they did not commit. Now released on bail, they are not free to leave Russia and face up to seven years in prison if convicted of hooliganism. Two of them, Alexandre Paul and Paul Ruzycki, are Canadian citizens.
When John Greyson and Tarek Loubani faced a similar situation of illegal detention in Egypt beginning in August of this year, Canada’s intervention on their behalf undoubtedly contributed to their safe return home. John Baird, Minister of Foreign Affairs, made public remarks and worked behind the scenes. Even Prime Minister Harper himself weighed in. Alexandre Paul and Paul Ruzycki have not been so lucky. Despite repeated appeals to Minister Baird – by the men themselves, by their families, by opposition parties, by civil society groups, by thousands of Canadians – the result is only silence.
But the international community has not remained silent. Earlier this month, the International Tribunal of the Law of the Sea issued a binding ruling for Russia to release the Greenpeace ship and the Arctic 30. World leaders, Nobel Laureates, international human rights organizations, and 2.5 million individuals from across the globe have spoken out against the injustice they face. The Ontario Premier and the Quebec Minister of International Affairs (the home provinces of Ruzycki and Paul) have called for their release. Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs has not.
For this reason, an impressive list of 53 prominent Canadians – John Greyson and Tarek Loubani among them – and organizations, including the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, the Council of Canadians, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, the David Suzuki Foundation, Unifor, and Canadian Union of Public Employees, have taken out an ad in this week’s Ottawa Citizen calling for Minister Baird to end his unconscionable silence.
To face wrongful imprisonment and intimidation for standing up against an oil giant seeking to exploit and destroy the Arctic is enough of a battle. The added injustice of not having the full support of your government to protect your human rights is another. We can do more than speculate about the political motivations behind Baird’s decision.
As current chair of the Arctic Council, Canada has made it a priority to give industry a stronger voice at the decision making table. The Canadian government’s ambitions to facilitate oil exploration and drilling in the Arctic are worrying given their poor environmental track record from tar sands expansion (the recent approval to increase production at Shell’s Jack Pine mine) to their complete disregard for international treaties (withdrawal from Kyoto.) Canada’s intentions with the Arctic prioritize quick profits over sustainable solutions, and put the future of our planet at stake for a fossil fuel we can do without. And once drilling begins, spills causing irreparable damage will follow.
The Arctic 30 took a risk when they directly confronted the first oil company to begin commercial drilling operations in icy Arctic waters. While their stance was not aligned with that of our current government, Canada must uphold human rights, freedom to protest, and international law without prejudice to political affiliation or opinion.
Paul and Alexandre are Canadian citizens unjustly and unlawfully treated by a foreign government. John Baird, we ask you to fulfill your duties as our Minister and call publicly for their safe return home.