Canada Casts a Wider Sanctions Net Over Belarus

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Global Affairs Canada (“GAC”) has announced that Canada has expanded its sanctions relating to Belarus, by listing an additional 31 Belarusian officials under the Special Economic Measures (Belarus) Regulations (the ”Regulations”). The names of the newly listed individuals can be found here. These expanded sanctions were intended to be implemented in coordination with recent actions taken by the European Union and the United States.

Earlier this month, Canada and the United Kingdom had announced the coordinated implementation of a first set of targeted sanctions against Belarus, imposed in response to what Canada has called “gross and systemic human rights violations” committed by the government of Belarus. This included the imposition of sanctions against Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko and his son and National Security Advisor, Viktor Lukashenko. For further background details, see our update here.

The sanctions imposed by various jurisdictions are indicative of the widespread opposition to and condemnation of the Government of Belarus for its systemic campaigns of suppression, state-sponsored violence against public protests and opposition groups’ activities, well as concerns that democratic elections in Belarus are no longer free or fair owing to government interference. Each of Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the Office of the United Nations Human Rights Commissioner, along with other global institutions, have condemned these human rights violations.

Up to now, the Belarusian government has resisted offers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe and the European Union to facilitate discussions with the opposition. Coordinated global sanctions are designed to pressure Belarus into swiftly engaging in a negotiated solution.

The Regulations create what is commonly referred to as an “asset freeze” by prohibiting any person in Canada, and any Canadian outside of Canada, from “dealing in” any property owned, held or controlled by, or providing any financial or related services to or for the benefit of, persons listed in the Schedule to the Regulations. Canadians are also prohibited from making “any goods available” to a listed person, or to a person acting on behalf of a listed person. In related regulatory action, those same individuals are also inadmissible to Canada under our immigration and refugee laws.

Although Canada and like-minded countries have attempted to coordinate their sanctions against Belarus, differences in the various measures remain. Canada has now listed 42 government officials, including 12 members of the Central Electoral Commission of Belarus, the Interior Minister, and the former Prosecutor General. The United States has 24, including the President and his son Viktor, on its list. The European Union’s sanctions list includes 40 individuals (all of whom are included on Canada’s list) but unlike Canada and the United States, does not yet include President Lukashenko or his son. This lack of alignment among Canada and its major trading partners is an important reminder to Canadian companies that compliance with only US and/or EU sanctions measures will not protect them from exposure to Canadian sanctions risk.

Although Canada’s sanctions list is longer than those of the United States and European Union, its numbers remain well below those of the Baltic states - Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia – who have reportedly sanctioned well over 100 Belarusian officials.

Those engaged in business directly or indirectly involving individuals and entities in Belarus or the surrounding regions should immediately review their contractual relationships to assess and mitigate any compliance risk, particularly where there is a possibility that business arrangements could benefit the listed individuals or entities they own or control. Where appropriate, the Minister of Foreign Affairs may issue a permit to any person in Canada and any Canadian outside of Canada to carry out a specified activity or transaction that would otherwise be restricted or prohibited by the Regulations. The McCarthy Tétrault International Trade and Investment Law Group can advise on regulatory risk, and can facilitate a permit application where appropriate.

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