The long-running saga of a large Russian plane grounded in Canada since the start of the Ukraine war entered a new phase over the weekend.
After more than 15 months, the Canadian government ordered the seizure on Saturday of the Russian-registered cargo aircraft as a direct response to Moscow’s invasion of its neighbour that began in February 2022.
This is the first physical asset of Russia that will be captured by Ottawa under the asset forfeit law and the second under Canada’s overall sanctions regime.
Here is a look back at the developments, and at what happens next.
Why was the Russian plane grounded?
The Antonov 124 aircraft landed at Toronto Pearson International Airport on Feb. 27, 2022.
It had arrived from China, flying through Russia and Alaska to deliver a shipment of COVID-19 rapid antigen tests.
The plane, believed to be owned by a subsidiary of Volga-Dnepr Airlines LLC and Volga-Dnepr Group, was initially supposed to depart shortly after making its delivery.
But on the same day, Canada – like many other countries – closed its airspace to Russian aircraft in response to the Ukraine war, forcing the cargo jet to remain grounded indefinitely.
At the time, a transport ministry spokesperson said the Russian plane “arrived before the NOTAM was in place, and remains at the airport as departing would be in violation.” NOTAM is short for notice to airmen according to Transport Canada.
“The thing’s a big paperweight now,” said aviation lawyer Bill Clark at the time.
The plane has been accumulating parking fees at Pearson International Airport of roughly $1,065 per day over the past year.
Why is the plane being seized?
The seizure is aimed at putting “additional pressure on Russia to stop its illegal war against Ukraine by straining its economic system and limiting resources that fuel the war,” Global Affairs Canada said in a statement Saturday.
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The plane seizure was made possible by the new asset seizure and forfeiture authorities under Canada’s autonomous sanctions regimes put forward in Budget 2022, GAC said.
“Canada is sending a clear message to the Russian regime that there will be nowhere left to hide for those who support and profit from the Kremlin’s war of aggression,” Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly added.
Speaking with Global News last year, 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.
It still remains to be seen where the plane will go next.
The federal government said, “should the asset ultimately be forfeited to the Crown, Canada will work with the Government of Ukraine on options to redistribute this asset to compensate victims of human rights abuses, restore international peace and security, or rebuild Ukraine.”
Ottawa has legislation to forfeit assets of people sanctioned by Canada, though the seizure of the plane will be the first time that legislation is used.
During a surprise visit to Kyiv Saturday, Trudeau said Canada will try to forfeit the plane to Ukraine, so it can’t be used to support Russia’s war effort.
— with files from The Canadian Press
© 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
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