Meet the 2 Canadian Greenpeace activists jailed in Russia

Paul Ruzycki and Alexandre Paul, the two Greenpeace activists from Canada who have now been held by Russian authorities for more than 60 days, are profiled.

Paul Ruzycki and Alexandre Paul held for more than 60 days

Alexandre Paul, 36, and Paul Ruzycki, 48, two crew from the Greepnpeace ship Arctic Sunrise were imprisoned in Russia after Russian forces seized their ship in international waters. Greenpeace had been protesting oil drilling in the Arctic Ocean. Ruzycki was released on bail Nov. 19, as was Paul on Nov. 21. (Greenpeace and Sergei Eshchenko/Reuters)

On Sept. 18 two Greenpeace activists were detained by Russian authorities after trying to scale Gazprom's Prirazlomnaya platform and unfurl a banner protesting oil drilling in the Arctic Ocean. The next day, while waiting in international waters for the anticipated release of the pair, the other 28 people on board the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise, including the two Canadians, were arrested at gunpoint by Russian forces.

The 30 Greenpeace activists, including Canadians Paul Ruzycki and Alexandre Paul, were held in separate cells for two months in Murmansk, a port in the Russian Arctic, before being moved to prisons in St. Petersburg for their bail hearings.

Six jailed foreign Greenpeace activists, including Ruzycki, were granted bail by Russian courts on Nov. 19. Paul was granted bail on Nov. 21, along with three Russian activists.

Lawyers said this will allow the Canadians to return home pending trial on charges of "hooliganism." The 30 activists had initially been charged with piracy, which is punishable by up to 15 years in prison. Russian President Vladimir Putin has said they were clearly not pirates but that they had violated the law.

Greenpeace is pushing for all of the so-called Arctic 30 to be released, and is asking federal Minister of Foreign Affairs John Baird to get involved. On Nov. 20 a group of activists climbed the Montreal Biosphère and unfurled a banner with the message "Liberé nos activists — Free the arctic 30." Paul's parents joined the protest to call for their son's release. 

Paul Ruzycki, 48, is from a large family with five siblings in small town Ontario and Alexandre Paul, 36, is an only child from Montreal. On the surface, they don't seem to have much in common, except for their commitment to the environment, and now the fact that they have spent more than two months in Russian jails.

Paul Ruzycki

Paul Ruzycki, chief mate on the Arctic Sunrise, has been with Greenpeace for 25 years. (Courtesy Ruzycki family)

Ruzycki is the chief mate on the Arctic Sunrise, the second in command, and is a long-time seaman who has been involved with Greenpeace for 25 years.

Born in 1965 in Port Colborne, Ont., the youngest of six children, he was a seaman on the Great Lakes before joining Greenpeace.

Ruzycki's father Frank, an electrician, served in the navy during the Second World War, and, until his death in 1993, he kept a scrapbook of Paul's adventures with Greenpeace, clipping every article he could find. Now Paul keeps his father's navy ring with him while on Greenpeace missions.

Family members told CBC News that Ruzycki developed an early concern for the environment after a stint with Katimavik, the Canadian volunteer service for young people.

The story goes that when his ship was in the middle of Lake Erie, he was ordered to throw overboard a bunch of paints and other hazardous materials, and when he refused he was fired. He was about 22 at the time, his family recalls.

An older sister, Patti, was already a long-time Greenpeace supporter, and says she was the one who suggested Paul look into joining the environmental group.

Volunteers for Greenpeace

Paul Ruzycki joined Greenpeace in 1988. (Courtesy Ruzycki family)

Ruzycki began with Greenpeace as a deck hand and then a welder, constantly trying to upgrade his skills.

In January, he did his chief mate's oral exam in Toronto.

Marine safety inspector Murray Helwig administered the test and he says Ruzycki stood out from the other seaman he usually encounters.

"You don't meet seaman like that anymore," Helwig said.

At first, Helwig thought of Ruzycki as "an old hippie," although he quickly learned "There's a lot more to Paul than that," and calls him things like "an outstanding citizen," "a sincere guy," and "principled."

Helwig also recalls that when he first inspected the Arctic Sunrise a few years back, it "looked pretty rough, so Paul's a brave guy to work on a ship of that calibre."

Ruzycki's sister Debbie Reid says that Paul "studied his brains out trying to get to the position he's in now."

Reid says the family followed every voyage that Ruzycki took and that, when he wasn't on Greenpeace missions in the fifteen years after his father died, he helped look after their ailing mother.

The cool uncle

"If you were ever in trouble," Reid says, "he is the person you would want to call, because he has a clear head, he's a logical thinker, he doesn't get frazzled."

The Ruzycki family in 1982. In back, from left, are Chris, Paul, Patti, Kate, their mother Pat and Frank jr. In front row is their father Frank and Debbie Ruzycki-Reid, holding her daughter Lindsay. (Courtesy Ruzycki family)

Ten years younger than his sister, Ruzycki was like an older brother to her kids, "the cool uncle, they always wanted to do everything he did."

Reid's son Jesse, now 36, also joined Greenpeace and he says: "It seemed like the coolest thing, what he was doing and the whole family was super, super proud of him and I set my sights on that when I was about 11, saying that's what I'm going to do."

A Ruzycki song

One of Jesse Reid's songs, House, is about how the close-knit Ruzycki family would gather at Paul parent's house on the big holidays, which Paul would often miss while on a mission, and how everyone would be anticipating Paul's call.

Jesse's first Greenpeace action was with Paul in 1995 in Ottawa on a boat on the Rideau Canal. They held a banner when a delegation from China was there in protest against a CANDU nuclear reactor deal.

He describes his uncle as "very peaceful, committed and honorable" and "one of the most important people I have in my life."

From his cell in Jail Number Four St. Petersburg, on Nov. 13, Ruzycki wrote to his family, "All I can do is hope for tomorrow." Ever the sailor, he told them that for the first time in 49 days he'd seen the moon, watching its rise through the bars on the cell window.

Alexandre Paul

Alexandre Paul of Montreal, was a deckhand aboard the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise. (Jiri Rezac/Greenpeace)

For Alexandre Paul, his Greenpeace connection came before his environmentalism and his seafaring.

Paul was born in 1977, the son of a fireman and a nurse in the Hochelaga-Maisonneuve district in east Montreal.

His mother Nicole says that for high school, they sent Alexandre to the private Collège Notre-Dame du Sacré-Cœur in the wealthy neighbourhood of Outremont to get him out of his own  rough neighbourhood. He went on to study at a CEGEP but his father Raymond says he was "not so good at school."

He had been working in restaurant kitchens and bars in Montreal, including as a doorman, when he saw an ad in the Journal de Montreal in 1998 that Greenpeace was hiring door-to-door canvassers.

Alexandre Paul grew up in Montreal's Hochelaga-Maisonneuve neighbourhood. (Courtesy Paul family)

Nicole says it was a good job for her son, who she describes as sociable and someone with a talent for talking to people.

"From that he developed an interest in environmental issues," she said.

The man who hired him was Vic Thibert, then the assistant manager at the Greenpeace office in Montreal and now the fundraising manager for Quebec. Thibert and Paul became friends and they ended up sharing an apartment for about three years.

A 'gentle giant'

Thibert describes Paul as "a fun guy to be around, who likes to laugh" but who is also very smart, dedicated, a "non-violent, gentle giant who wouldn't hurt a fly." Thibert says he reads a lot but also likes comedy and zombie movies.

Nicole adds that her son is "a fellow of passions."

Paul once said about the canvassing job, "At least people who sell brooms have something in their hands; we have a concept."

Paul worked as a canvasser for about three years, but had scaled back the canvassing to part-time when the Arctic Sunrise docked in Montreal in 2005. Thibert says Paul did some volunteer work on the ship and when it sailed he was part of the crew as a volunteer deckhand for the three-month voyage.

Raymond Paul with his son Alexandre in Montreal's port. (Courtesy Paul family)

He sailed with the ship once more as a volunteer before it became a (poorly) paid job.

In 2006, he was a member of the Arctic Sunrise crew that blockaded a ship in an Estonian port that had returned to Europe after dumping a load of particularly deadly toxic waste in Ivory Coast.

For this mission, Paul worked as the boatswain, which means he was in charge of supplies.

Nicole was worried during Paul's first voyage but until the Russian seizure, this mission attracted no particular concern from her or other family and friends contacted by CBC News.

Why the nickname PoPaul?

Alexandre Paul got his nickname PoPaul, according to the story that Vic Thibert heard, after someone called him by his last name. He responded, "My name is not Paul" - 'pas Paul' in French. Since then he's been saddled with PoPaul.

"Alexandre was always aware that he could end up in prison with these kinds of actions," Nicole said.

He'd been arrested once before. From his too few calls and letters, she surmises that "He doesn't sound too worried, he sounds like he's making friends."

While still in Murmansk, he told her that he was sharing his cell with a local Russian, an orphan receiving no family support and destitute, so Alexandre was sharing his supplies with him.

Thibert, once again flatmates for the few months a year Paul is in Montreal, said his friend's morale sounds pretty good under the circumstances, that he even joked about the weight he's lost because of the appalling jail food.

Paul himself writes, "I'll stay strong, I won't despair."

"We have nothing against Russia, as a matter of fact; we did this for them and their children."


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