RCMP says $123M in Russian assets frozen, $289M in transactions blocked since Ukraine invasion
Sanctions have been triggered by Russia's war on Ukraine, now in its 4th month
After months of government officials refusing to put a number to Russian-owned assets held in Canada, the RCMP disclosed Thursday that assets and transactions worth more than $400 million Cdn have been sanctioned as a result of Moscow's war on Ukraine.
In a statement, the RCMP said that from Feb. 24 — when Russia began its illegal invasion — to June 7, assets worth $123 million held by individuals on Canada's sanctions list have been effectively frozen, and transactions worth a further $289 million have been blocked.
No other details were given to break down the nature of these assets — how much took the form of private real estate, business properties or financial assets held in Canadian banks, for example. The RCMP said the information it can release is restricted by the Privacy Act.
Under the Special Economic Measures Act, everyone in Canada and all Canadians outside the country must inform the RCMP of any property in their possession or control that is believed to be owned or controlled by an individual or entity placed on Canada's sanctions list — which began after Russia's illegal invasion of Crimea in 2014 and has now grown to over 1,400 names.
- AnalysisProposed powers to sell, redistribute Russian assets may violate international law, says legal expert
Although the Special Economic Measures Act is administered and enforced by the minister of Foreign Affairs, the RCMP collects information on assets owned or controlled by designated individuals.
Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly has been imposing new measures almost weekly — part of an ongoing effort to turn every available financial screw on Russian President Vladimir Putin and maximize the pressure on Russia to pull out of Ukraine.
The latest measures — a ban on Canadian exports of 28 specific business services the government described as "vital" to Russia's oil, gas and chemical industries — were added Wednesday.
It's not clear whether any new assets or transactions will be added to the RCMP's totals as a result of this latest move. The RCMP said in its Thursday statement that it will update its figures "periodically."
NDP requested figures Tuesday
Journalists previously struggled to obtain even a rough estimate of Russian assets in Canada.
Western democracies have moved in tandem to enact sanctions so that targeted Russians and Belarussians couldn't simply shift their private wealth and business dealings from jurisdiction to jurisdiction to dodge enforcement.
During question period in the House of Commons Tuesday, New Democrat Heather McPherson asked for more transparency.
"Global Affairs will not tell us what assets have been frozen because it says that its data may not be complete, so the government does not know what has been sanctioned and Canadians do not know what has been sanctioned," she said.
"Do the Russian oligarchs being sanctioned know what is being sanctioned?"
She added that without this information, there's no way for Canadians to tell if the government's plan to pressure Russia is actually working.
Responding on behalf of the government, Joly's parliamentary secretary, Rob Oliphant, called Canada's sanctions "unprecedented" but reported only the number of individuals on the list — not the value of the assets.
It's not known how many individuals and entities on Canada's sanctions list actually hold assets in Canada.
Budget bill includes new powers
The government's budget implementation bill, C-19, includes executive powers to not only freeze but to seize and sell off sanctioned assets, and to use the proceeds as compensation for victims of the war or for reconstruction projects.
Cabinet ministers would decide how the money would be spent. It's unclear what safeguards would ensure it doesn't fall into the wrong hands in the chaos of individuals fleeing war or rebuilding a fractured country.
Other G7 countries are debating similar measures in a collective effort to increase the pressure on Putin.
On Monday, CBC News reported on concerns circulating in the international investment law community that C-19 may violate the United Nations Articles on the Responsibility of States for Internationally Wrongful Acts — which says that countermeasures must be reversible.
Freezing assets, as Canada has done to date, complies with the law. But once assets are sold and redistributed, they can't be returned, removing an incentive for Russia to end its unlawful conduct.
If Canada undermines this international standard, it could set a risky precedent for foreign investors. Other governments that find themselves in conflict with Canada could follow suit and seize Canadian assets abroad.
C-19 passed its final vote in the Commons Thursday, 202-115, with both Bloc Québécois and NDP MPs voting in favour. It now proceeds to the Senate and is on track to become law before Parliament breaks for its summer recess.
'No absolute right to own property': Lametti
"We always, always follow the rules," International Trade Minister Mary Ng told CBC News Monday. "We always take our international obligations very, very seriously."
NDP finance critic Daniel Blaikie, who sits on the committee that reviewed C-19, said legal concerns did not surface during their study but it's something worth following up.
"Respecting international law certainly does matter," he said after reading the CBC report. "We're also in a very extraordinary time and I think we need to think critically about how we want to respond …
"There have been a lot of attempts to try to rein in President Putin's behaviour according to the rules and playing nice. And we are where we are because he doesn't respect a lot of that stuff."
"Authoritarian states like Russia have demonstrated that they are willing to challenge democracies existentially and that they have zero regard for the most basic rules of the international system," said Conservative foreign affairs critic Michael Chong.
"States like Russia have forfeited some of their rights to participate in that system, particularly economically. Western sanctions and economic policy must change to acknowledge this new reality."
When asked about the potential international law breach Tuesday, Justice Minister David Lametti said the government would tailor its provisions so that it could withstand a court challenge.
"You don't have an absolute right to own private property in Canada," the minister told CBC News. "There are steps that are taken when expropriations happen at whatever level of government. And we'll be sure to stay within those boundaries."
with files from Reuters