Not much wiggle room for Canada to introduce new sanctions against North Korea

Delegates from 20 countries left yesterday's Vancouver summit pledging to consider new sanctions against Kim Jong-un’s regime, but it's not clear what more Canada could do.

Vancouver summit countries promise to consider new unilateral measures against Kim Jong-un's regime

Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland speaks during a news conference at the Vancouver Foreign Ministers' Meeting on Security and Stability on the Korean Peninsula, in Vancouver on Tuesday. Canada already has a wide-ranging set of sanctions in place against North Korea. (Don MacKinnon/AFP/Getty Images)

Canada may almost be out of options when it comes to developing new sanctions against North Korea.

Delegates from 20 countries left yesterday's Vancouver summit pledging to consider new measures against Kim Jong-un's regime.

But Canada may not have much wiggle room, because it already has significant independent measures in place.

A government official speaking on background tells CBC News that Ottawa will always evaluate its options, but what is in place now is already very strong.

Wide-ranging ban

Canada has a wide-ranging ban on trade, financial interactions and weapons with North Korea. The plan includes a few exceptions for humanitarian support.

When new sanctions were adopted last year by the United Nations Security Council, some of those measures were in line with regulations Canada already had in place.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson puts on a translation headset during a joint news conference with Freeland. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

According to readout of Tuesday's summit, participants agreed to "consider and take steps to impose unilateral sanctions and further diplomatic actions that go beyond those required by UN Security Council resolutions."

The official would not shed light on what those efforts could look like.

More international partners needed

The pledge is part of a larger international pressure campaign to get North Korea to enter into denuclearization talks.

The group also committed to finding ways to ensure sanctions are better enforced.

To that end, Canada announced it would be spending more than $3 million to support an American program that trains local officials in the region on sanction enforcement.

A summit on North Korea co-hosted by Canada and the U.S. in Vancouver had international leaders from 20 countries discussing diplomacy. On their agenda: security and stability — and according to Canada's Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, more sanctions should North Korea continue to invest in nuclear weapons. Some countries like South Korea said the summit was productive and positive, but others are wary of North Korea's true intentions 4:16

But if progress is to be made, a University of British Columbia professor says, more international partners needed to be at the table.

"It would help if China and Russia were involved in this meeting, because we can't enforce the sanctions without China particularly and Russia also," said Don Baker.

Blunt assessment

China and Russia were not invited to the meeting itself, but were promised separate briefings after the summit.

Both countries rejected that offer, and have since criticized these efforts.

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and her co-chair, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, used the Vancouver gathering to offer a blunt assessment of the threat at hand.

Len Edwards, former Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and former Ambassador to South Korea, weighs in on the Vancouver meeting on North Korea. 7:40

"I think we all need to be very sober and clear-eyed about the situation," Tillerson said during a closing news conference.

"North Korea has continued to make significant advances in both its nuclear weapons, the lethality of those weapons … as well as the continued progress they've made in their intercontinental ballistic missile systems," he added.

Tillerson declines comment on limited strike

Tillerson was asked if the U.S. would consider the so-called bloody nose approach to dealing with North Korea, which would see a limited military strike to deter the Kim regime from developing its weapons.

A one-day summit in Vancouver will discuss three main options on quelling the threat from North Korea: increased diplomacy, stronger sanctions, or a pre-emptive strike. 24:11

He offered no insight, saying only that he would not comment.

Freeland echoed Tillerson's concerns about the emerging threat, saying "we cannot stand by as this threat persists and worsens."

About the Author

Katie Simpson


Katie Simpson is a senior reporter in the Parliamentary Bureau of CBC News. Prior to joining the CBC, she spent nearly a decade in Toronto covering local and provincial issues.