International affairs experts say Canadian pressure holds weight in Ukraine, where former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko has been jailed despite outcries from the international community.
Canada's prime minister sent a strong message to Ukraine's president Friday, saying he is "deeply concerned" about developments in the former Soviet country.
In a letter to Viktor Yanukovych, Stephen Harper said he was particularly troubled by the "apparent political motivation" in the trial against Tymoshenko.
Louis Delvoie, a senior fellow at Queen's University's Centre for International Relations, says Canada holds influence over Ukraine because of the large Ukrainian population here and because of the country's desire to join the European Union.
"President Yanukovych is playing a rather delicate game of trying to balance relations with Russia with relations with the European Union," Delvoie said. "He wants eventually to get into the European Union, or at least develop a relationship of association with the European Union. Criticism from the West is (something) to which he would be sensitive for that reason."
Leaders of three central European countries have said they will oppose Ukraine's efforts to integrate into the European Union while Ukraine's opposition leader remains in jail.
Tymoshenko was thrown in jail earlier this week for abuse of office. She has been sentenced to seven years in prison for proceeding without her cabinet's approval in a 2009 natural gas contract with Russia.
Harper says Canada's relations with Ukraine could be negatively impacted by the case against Tymoskenko.
"The conduct of the Tymoshenko trial, as evaluated by numerous international experts, does not reflect accepted norms of due process or fairness," the PM's letter said. "Canada believes that a fair and independent judiciary is an essential branch of democratic governance."
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