Canada is reviewing the Trump administration's decision to sanction 13 current and former Venezuelan government officials ahead of a controversial election on Sunday that could turn Venezuela into a dictatorship.
Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland welcomed the United States sanctions, but did not say if Canada will follow suit. Trump administration officials on Wednesday announced the plans to sanction the current and former top officials of President Nicolas Maduro's government in an attempt to discourage the election, which is to select members for a new constituent assembly that would redraft Venezuela's constitution and could disband the existing, opposition-led Congress.
"Canada welcomes and supports the important actions taken today by the United States to target leaders of the regime. Individuals who are undermining democracy and human rights in Venezuela should be held accountable for their actions," Ms. Freeland said in a statement.
"We call on the Venezuelan government to cancel the national constituent assembly and to take concrete actions, with the opposition, to restore democratic order."
Canada does not have any Venezuelans on its sanctions list.
The U.S. sanctions target four senior Venezuelan officials that the U.S. says were promoting the July 30 election or undermining democracy in Venezuela, five others responsible for violence and repression, and four Venezuelans linked to the state oil company and other government-run entities.
Speaking to reporters on condition of anonymity on Wednesday, Trump administration officials threatened "strong and swift economic action" if Venezuela goes through with Sunday's election, citing concerns about Mr. Maduro's move toward dictatorship. Officials also warned any "bad actors" hoping to join Mr. Maduro's national constituent assembly that their role in undermining democracy could expose them to potential sanctions.
Nearly 100 people have died since April in street protests across Venezuela, which began after Mr. Maduro attempted to strip the opposition-dominated Congress of its powers. The Maduro government characterizes the country's crisis as the result of an economic war led by the international right-wing and as a fiction created by opposition-influenced media. While the country is desperately short of food and essential medicines, with triple-digit inflation, some hardliners in the Maduro government appear to believe they can still hold onto power. The government sold $2.8-billion (U.S.) in bonds to Goldman Sachs in late May, and is still exporting oil. But the problem is creating fears in neighbouring countries of a refugee crisis; 150 Venezuelans a day are seeking asylum in Brazil alone, and an estimated 550,000 are living undocumented in Colombia.
Mr. Maduro has vowed to resolve the political and economic crisis through a revised constitution, but the opposition has refused to participate, arguing that it will only give the President more power.
The Canadian government has been keeping a close eye on the Venezuelan crisis, with a number of strongly worded statements from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ms. Freeland in recent months. After a meeting with Lilian Tintori, the wife of jailed Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, in Ottawa this May, Mr. Trudeau called on the Venezuelan government to "restore the constitutional order, including the release of all political prisoners and to set an electoral calendar without delay."
Mr. Trudeau's name has also been floated in discussions of a possible mediator for the Venezuelan crisis. Last month, Peru's Foreign Minister, Ricardo Luna, publicly suggested the idea of Mr. Trudeau acting as a mediator, citing the Prime Minister's "global power role."
Sources with knowledge of the diplomatic efforts in the South American country told The Globe and Mail in June that Canada is being considered to chair a contact group of governments to facilitate a negotiated settlement in Venezuela, citing Mr. Trudeau's good relationship with the left in the region, including Cuba, and Canada's generally neutral image in Latin America.
Ms. Freeland's office said that, if asked, Canada is prepared to play a role in solving the Venezuelan crisis, but did not get into specifics.
With a report from the Associated Press