Balance Canada’s Use of Sanctions

Sanctions are limitations that one country or a coalition of countries place on another country and, occasionally, on specific individuals. States typically use sanctions as a means of signaling their disapproval of another state or individual’s behavior or policies. The sanctions imposed by Global Affairs on these parties encompass a variety of measures, including trade restrictions, technical assistance prohibitions, asset freezes, and arms embargoes. In the past decade, the Canadian government has become progressively more proactive in its use of sanctions. Since then, Canada has increasingly used sanctions as a foreign policy tool, unilaterally (and sometimes selectively) applying them to states or individuals for violations of international law. Canada purportedly uses sanctions to respond to international crises, violations of peace and security, and gross violations of human rights. It must apply this policy equitably, without bias. Canada must not penalize some states’ behavior (e.g. Russia, Iran), while ignoring others (e.g. Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.)

Overview

Sanctions are limitations that one country or a coalition of countries place on another country and, occasionally, on specific individuals. States typically use sanctions as a means of signaling their disapproval of another state or individual’s behavior or policies. Canada currently has sanctions placed on 19 different countries, two organizations, and 70 individuals.[i] The sanctions imposed by Global Affairs on these parties encompass a variety of measures, including trade restrictions, technical assistance prohibitions, asset freezes, and arms embargoes.

Canadian sanctions legislation allows the government to apply sanctions in response to international crises, violations of peace and security, and gross violations of human rights. Prior to 2006, all of the sanctions applied by Canada were UN-mandated. In the past decade, the Canadian government has become progressively more proactive in its use of sanctions. Since then, Canada has increasingly used sanctions as a foreign policy tool, unilaterally (and sometimes selectively) applying them to states or individuals for violations of international law.

It is true that sanctions are an effective means of supporting and reinforcing foreign policy initiatives, but Canada's use of sanctions has been inconsistent and even hypocritical. In looking at the list of countries and individuals that Canada sanctions, it is evident that Canada does not hold all states to a common standard. The Canadian government must be consistent and disciplined in the application of its sanctions strategy, and should not pick and choose who it holds accountable.  

Questions for Federal Candidates

  • Do you believe that Canada should hold all states to a common standard?
  • Do you believe that sanctions are an effective means of changing state behavior?
  • Are there any other states that you believe the Canadian government should target with sanctions of any kind?

If elected:

  • Will you work within caucus to raise awareness of Canada’s inconsistent sanctions strategy?
  • Will you work within caucus to propose ways to bring greater coherency to Canada's existing sanctions and sanctions policy?
  • Will you work within caucus to raise awareness of the need to apply sanctions to gross human rights violators, like Israel and Saudi Arabia?

Supporting Points

  • Sanctions in International Law. There is no international law forbidding states from sanctioning countries, organizations, or individuals as they deem necessary. Therefore, states may choose to unilaterally impose sanctions on countries or individuals if it is in their interest to do so. States are, however, obliged to comply with sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council. According to Article 41 of the UN Charter, the UN Security Council may take action in order to maintain or restore international peace and security.[ii] Sanctions measures are just one way in which the Security Council may fulfill this mandate. UN member states are then obliged to comply with this sanctions order.
  • Sanctions in Domestic Law. There are numerous legislative instruments that the Canadian government may use to impose sanctions on a rogue state, organization or individual. The United Nations Act enables the Canadian government to give effect to decisions passed by the UN Security Council.[iii] Absent a UNSC resolution, the Canadian government may also impose sanctions through the Special Economic Measures Act. This Act allows Canada to apply sanctions in any of the following situations: 1) an international organization to which Canada belongs has called for sanctions; 2) a grave breach of international peace and security has occurred; 3) gross violations of human rights have occurred in a foreign state; and 4) a national of a foreign state is found to be corrupt.[iv] In addition to this, the Justice for Victims of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act allows Canada to impose an asset freeze and dealings prohibition against individuals who are responsible for or complicit in gross human rights violations or acts of significant corruption.[v] Aside from these three Acts, the Canadian government may also impose sanctions under the Criminal Code, the Exports and Imports Permit Act, and the Freezing Assets of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act.
  • Canada’s Sanctions Strategy. In 2017, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development put forth a report which recommended extensive changes to Canada’s sanctions regime. In response, Global Affairs established a new Sanctions Policy and Operations Coordination Division. Amongst other priorities, the Division was tasked with ensuring that Canadian sanctions are imposed in a complementary and coherent manner, and reviewing the effectiveness of current sanctions.[vi] Despite a clear commitment to developing an effective and cohesive sanctions regime, the Canadian government has yet to advance a consistent and defensible sanctions strategy. According to Global Affairs, Canada uses autonomous sanctions as a “discretionary tool of foreign policy to influence behavior, with the object of addressing international peace and security concerns, human rights violations, and corruption.” [vii] However, this policy is not applied in a cohesive and consistent manner. Global Affairs does not hold every party to a common standard, and the decision to sanction a state or an individual is often politically-motivated, rather than motivated by an impartial desire to uphold human rights or international peace. If sanctions were truly motivated by these objectives, Canada would have targeted Saudi Arabia and Egypt long ago. Furthermore, the fact that no sanctions have been applied to Israel is also evidence of an inconsistent strategy. In 2014, Canada imposed numerous sanctions on Russia for its illegal annexation of Crimea. It also imposed an asset freeze on several Russian nationals.[viii] However, the Canadian government has never imposed any sanctions on Israel for its intended illegal annexation of East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, or for its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.
  • Actions Taken by Canadian Allies. Canada has largely applied sanctions in concert with its allies, specifically the EU and the US That being said, the EU  has, in some instances, been more proactive in its application of sanctions. For example, the EU  has maintained its asset freeze on certain Egyptian nationals, while Canada repealed its own sanctions in 2018 without explanation.[ix] The EU  has also applied numerous sanctions to Iran in direct response to serious human rights violations carried out by the state. Canada, meanwhile, continues to sanction Iran solely for its nuclear program, despite Iran fulfilling its commitments under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.[x]  

Recommendations for Canada

  • Canada must take initiative to consistently impose sanctions on states who repeatedly violate human rights and threaten international security. The unique impact of Canadian sanctions may be limited, but the symbolism of Canadian participation is extremely important. Canada should not wait upon the EU or the US to apply sanctions, nor should it necessarily ape the US’ or EU’s sanctions.
  • Canada purportedly uses sanctions to respond to international crises, violations of peace and security, and gross violations of human rights. It must apply this policy equitably, without bias. Canada must not penalize some states’ behavior (e.g. Russia, Iran), while ignoring others (e.g. Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.)

 

[i] Government of Canada. (n.d.). Types of sanctions. Retrieved April 4, 2019 from https://www.international.gc.ca/world-monde/international_relations-relations_internationales/sanctions/types.aspx?lang=eng

[ii] United Nations. (1945). UN Charter. Retrieved April 4, 2019 from https://www.un.org/en/sections/un-charter/un-charter-full-text/

[iii] Government of Canada. (n.d.). Canadian sanctions legislation. Retrieved April 4, 2019 from https://international.gc.ca/world-monde/international_relations-relations_internationales/sanctions/legislation-lois.aspx?lang=eng

[iv] Government of Canada. (n.d.). Canadian sanctions legislation. Retrieved April 4, 2019 from https://international.gc.ca/world-monde/international_relations-relations_internationales/sanctions/legislation-lois.aspx?lang=eng

[v] Government of Canada. (n.d.). Canadian sanctions legislation. Retrieved April 4, 2019 from https://international.gc.ca/world-monde/international_relations-relations_internationales/sanctions/legislation-lois.aspx?lang=eng

[vi] Borden Ladner Gervais. (2018). Administration of Canada’s sanctions regime gets a welcome makeover. Retrieved April 4, 2019 from https://blg.com/en/News-And-Publications/Publication_5438

[vii] Government of Canada. (n.d.). Frequently asked questions: When does Canada impose sanctions? Retrieved April 4, 2019 from https://www.international.gc.ca/world-monde/international_relations-relations_internationales/sanctions/faq.aspx?lang=eng#a3

[viii] Government of Canada. (n.d.). Canadian sanctions related to Russia. Retrieved April 4, 2019 from https://www.international.gc.ca/world-monde/international_relations-relations_internationales/sanctions/russia-russie.aspx?lang=eng

[ix] EU Sanctions Map. (2019). Retrieved April 4, 2019 from https://sanctionsmap.eu/#/main

[x] Government of Canada. (n.d.). Canadian sanctions related to Iran. Retrieved April 4, 2019 from https://international.gc.ca/world-monde/international_relations-relations_internationales/sanctions/iran.aspx?lang=eng

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