Skip to main content

A service member of pro-Russian troops walks near an apartment building destroyed in the course of Ukraine-Russia conflict in the besieged southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine, on March 28.ALEXANDER ERMOCHENKO/Reuters

The Canadian government is sending a specialized team of RCMP investigators to the International Criminal Court in The Hague to gather evidence of potential Russian war crimes in Ukraine.

The RCMP will also be tasked with interviewing Ukrainians, who have come to Canada, for testimony of war crimes committed by Russian forces, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said in an interview Monday.

The RCMP have long had officers assigned to the International Criminal Court, or ICC, a global court located in the Netherlands city of The Hague, to assist in investigations involving war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity.

But at the request of the ICC, Mr. Mendicino said Ottawa is now sending a specialized team of RCMP officers to specifically help in the ICC’s formal investigation of alleged Russian atrocities.

“As we see human casualties pile up and the scale and size of this humanitarian crisis grow alarmingly, it is important that we hold those who are committing the atrocities responsible, and that is why Canada is making a significant contribution to the International Criminal Court’s investigation into war crimes in Ukraine,” Mr. Mendicino said.

He said RCMP officers will be part of teams of ICC investigators who will compile evidence that can later be used to prosecute Russians involved in war crimes and crimes against humanity.

“It is essential that we preserve the record of what happened and what is happening in Ukraine in real time,” he said.

The ICC’s chief prosecutor, British lawyer Karim Khan, has said there are grounds to believe war crimes have been carried out against Ukrainian civilians since Russia invaded the country on Feb. 24.

If there’s evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity, Mr. Khan will ask ICC judges to issue arrest warrants to bring individual Russians to trial in The Hague.

In a statement, RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki said Mounties in Canada will also investigate alleged war crimes under Canada’s Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes program.

Mr. Mendicino said Ukrainians, who are fleeing the war and have come to Canada, will be interviewed by the RCMP to provide testimony and evidence of Russian atrocities.

“The way the RCMP can contribute to that on Canadian soil is to interview witnesses, including those who have fled Ukraine, by investigating any suspects who may have come to their attention and by collecting and preserving any evidence, which is garnered through this process,” he said. “Second, it’s important that Canada cannot be used as safe haven for anyone who is attempting to flee justice.”

Mr. Mendicino said the world has been watching in horror as Russia’s armed forces carries out what he called “systematic and brutal attacks” against the Ukrainian people.

“We are seeing homes that are being reduced to rubble. Hospitals and maternity wards subject to rock fire. You are seeing parks, where children and families play, completely decimated,” he said.

Last week, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Russia had “destroyed apartment buildings, schools, hospitals, critical infrastructure, civilian vehicles, shopping centres and ambulances.” Those indiscriminate and deliberate attacks amounted to war crimes, he said.

Britain has also accused Russia of “barbaric and indiscriminate” shelling of Ukrainian civilians and offered to deploy police to the International Criminal Court to gather evidence of alleged war crimes.

Moscow denies it has deliberately targeted civilians in its brutal war against Ukraine, which has forced more than 3½ million people to flee to neighbouring countries since the fighting began.

Mr. Khan announced on Feb. 28 that he would investigate suspected atrocities in Ukraine at the request of 39 ICC-member states, including Canada. He will examine possible war crimes on both sides of the conflict going as far back to Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.

The United States, Russia and Ukraine are not members of the court.

In 2016, Russian President Vladimir Putin approved an order to withdraw from the process of joining the ICC. The decision came after an ICC ruling that Russia’s activity in Crimea amounted to an “ongoing occupation.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky authorized the court to investigate on its territory and a team of ICC investigators is collecting evidence in Ukraine.

The ICC has opened twelve official investigations involving war crimes and crimes against humanity in Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, Côte d’Ivoire, Darfur, Sudan and Libya. A total of 46 individuals have been indicted including former leaders of Sudan, Kenya, Ivory Coast and Democratic Republic of Congo.

The ICC began operations in 2002 and is modelled on the Nuremberg trials, when the U.S. and allied nations prosecuted top Nazi leaders in 1945 for war crimes.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article stated Russia withdrew from the ICC in 2016. In fact, Russia communicated withdrawal of its signature to the Court's treaty, the Rome Statute. In addition, regarding the criminal cases resulting from Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, it was the UN Security Council constituted tribunals which had jurisdiction, not the ICC.

For subscribers: Get exclusive political news and analysis by signing up for the Politics Briefing.