"Paul is not a pirate. He is not a hooligan. He is a 25-year peaceful activist. He's here to make the planet a safer place for all of us," Patti Sterling, sister of Paul Ruzycki, one of the Canadians imprisoned, said at a news conference in Ottawa.
"Please Mr. Baird, your consular officials have been wonderful, please join the rest of the world leaders and ask Mr. Putin to free the Arctic 30," said Sterling, who was joined by members of Amnesty International and Greenpeace.
Ruzycki, of Port Colborne, Ont., and Alexandre Paul, of Montreal, were among 30 people on board the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise when it was seized by the Russian coast guard Sept. 19 after three activists attempted to board an oil rig operated by the Russian energy company Gazprom. They are imprisoned in Murmansk, in northwestern Russia.
Initially, the activists had been charged with piracy, but those charges were dropped and they have now been charged with hooliganism. But those charges still carry prison sentences of up to seven years.
Sterling said her family was "incredibly buoyed" by Baird's intervention in the case of John Greyson and Tarek Loubani, two Canadians who were released after being held in an Egyptian prison for seven weeks.
"Our community of Port Colborne and the rest of Canada is expecting the same level of support for these two Canadians as our two friends, John and Tarek, received," she said.
Sterling said the only contact they have had with Ruzycki is a handwritten note in which he confirmed he was alive but that he was being detained in "deplorable" conditions.
"His first statement to the public was 'Please ask Minister Baird and his office to intervene.'"