03/12/2014 12:27 EDT | Updated 05/12/2014 05:59 EDT

Stephen Harper calls on Russia to halt referendum in Crimea

Prime Minister Stephen Harper called on Russia today to halt a referendum in Ukraine's Crimea region.

Leaders of the Group of Seven economies issued a joint statement on Wednesday calling on Russia "to cease all efforts to change the status of Crimea contrary to Ukrainian law and in violation of international law."

"All of the G7 countries remain collectively strongly committed to the view that we will not accept Russia's legal occupation of Crimea," Harper told a business audience gathered in B.C., where he stopped on his way back from South Korea.

The joint statement was signed by Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the U.K., the U.S., along with the president of the European Council and the president of the European Commission.

Harper was in B.C. taking part in a moderated question and answer session with John Winter, the president and CEO of the B.C. Chamber of Commerce, after returning from South Korea, where he concluded negotiations on a free trade deal that would eliminate nearly all tariffs between the two countries.

The Canada-Korea free trade agreement has been well received by most sectors of the Canadian economy, with the exception of those in the automotive industry, who worry the deal will cost Ontario tens of thousands of manufacturing jobs.

The government insists the concerns are overblown, saying the effects of removing Canadian tariffs on South Korean cars would be "negligible," citing a 2012 study conducted for the Department of Foreign Affairs that shows the potential for job losses in the hundreds — not tens of thousands.