Canada moved to seize Russian plane at Toronto Pearson airport in June, so why is it still there?

After being grounded in early 2022 due to Government of Canada restrictions, a Russian-registered cargo airplane is still parked at Toronto Pearson International Airport and it appears it's not moving anytime soon. Nick Westoll reports.

It’s been nearly 700 days since a massive Russian-registered cargo plane was ordered parked at Toronto Pearson International Airport after the invasion of Ukraine, but there still isn’t a timeframe for it to be removed.

Since its arrival on Feb. 27, 2022, it has been parked near Terminal 1 at the northeastern edge of airport. The airplane can be seen from Highway 427 and has been parked there for so long that it can also be seen on Google Maps satellite imagery.

The white-and-blue Antonov 124 airplane owned by Volga-Dnepr Airlines touched down at the airport to deliver a shipment of COVID-19 tests. Hours after the airplane’s arrival, Canada’s then-transport minister announced the closure of airspace to all Russian aircraft.

In April, Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal visited Canada. After the visit, he referenced on social media Canada’s newest sanctions (announced on April 11) against entities linked to the Russian aviation sector.

Volga-Dnepr Group and Volga-Dnepr Airlines, the owner of the grounded Antonov 124, were included in the sanctions. Shmyhal said preparations were underway to seize the cargo airplane and that it could be transferred to assist Ukraine.

Two months later, the Canadian government moved to seize the airplane under a new law contained in the 2022 federal budget.

“The seizure of this important asset is the first step of the Government of Canada’s action under the asset seizure and forfeiture regime and is designed to put additional pressure on Russia to stop its illegal war against Ukraine by straining its economic system and limiting resources that fuel the war,” Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly said in a statement at the time.

Ever since the act of seizure on June 10, the airplane hasn’t moved, and there has been little information on the seizure process. CityNews contacted multiple entities over the course of a few days to try to get an update.

A Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA) spokesperson previously told CityNews the airplane is being charged “inactive apron fees” for being parked at the edge of the airport property. Under GTAA regulations, class F aircraft are charged $0.77 a minute, or $1,108.80 for 24 hours.

When asked if there were any updates on the prices being charged, a different spokesperson said on Thursday that they “cannot disclose information about our carriers.”

As of Jan. 12, under the previously referred fee structure, that would work out to more than $758,400 in fees.

CityNews asked how the ongoing storage is impacting operations. In the same statement, the spokesperson added, “GTAA previously (said) that the plane occupies tarmac space needed for parking other planes between flights.”

Global Affairs Canada staff said in an initial statement on Wednesday that the move in June was a first step.

“Canada’s asset seizure and forfeiture authorities … include a number of procedural safeguards, including that those whose property is the subject of a seizure or restraint order, or those who may have third-party rights or interests in the asset, can request an administrative review of that order,” the statement said.

“Further steps towards potential forfeiture will be taken in due course in accordance with the legislation and procedural fairness. Proceeds of forfeiture may be used for compensation to victims, the reconstruction of affected states, and the restoration of international peace and security.”

In a follow-up request, CityNews also asked Global Affairs Canada about the remaining steps, if a request for an administrative review has been made, and how much longer the process could take. However, it’s unclear what will follow.

“Once seized or restrained, the minister may apply to a provincial court in which the asset is located for an order that the property be permanently forfeited to the Crown. Given the nature of these processes, timelines cannot be estimated,” a response said.

“Given the nature of these processes, the government cannot disclose what actions have or have not been undertaken. The legislation does not specify any timelines.”

CityNews contacted Volga-Dnepr to ask about the matter, but a response wasn’t received by the time of publication.

Amid the ongoing process, a separate federal department — Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) — is responsible for overseeing and managing seized assets. CityNews asked if payments have been made to Toronto Pearson International Airport.

“PSPC has been in negotiations with multiple stakeholders, including the Greater Toronto Airports Authority, regarding the plane’s management. These negotiations have yet to be finalized,” the department said in a statement Friday afternoon.

Meanwhile, Heather McPherson, the NDP’s foreign affairs critic and an Edmonton MP, said she supports the principle of seizing the airplane to assist Ukraine. She called on the federal government to take more action and be more transparent.

“As Canadians, we’re not being given the information we need to know that our government is doing their job properly in regards to sanctions. So we will continue to ask for that clarity, ask for them to provide that information,” McPherson told CityNews on Friday.

“It feels like another example where the words were there at the beginning, there was some strong language we were going to be seizing assets, we were going to be using those Russian assets to help rebuild Ukraine … but then the actions don’t follow through. It doesn’t match.”

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