The opposition and a leading Venezuelan-Canadian activist are calling on the Liberal government to follow in the steps of the Trump administration and sanction top Venezuelan government officials ahead of a controversial election on Sunday that could turn President Nicolas Maduro's rule into a dictatorship.
Ottawa is still reviewing the United States' decision to sanction 13 current and former Venezuelan government officials on Wednesday. The White House's move was an attempt to discourage Sunday's election, which will select members for a new constituent assembly that would redraft Venezuela's constitution and could disband the existing, opposition-led Congress.
Conservative foreign affairs critic Peter Kent said the Canadian government should do the same.
"I'd like Canada to follow the United States in naming and specifically targeting individuals with sanctions, but also, as the United States has promised, if the constituent assembly does move ahead, there would be serious economic repercussions in terms of more general sanctions," Mr. Kent said.
NDP foreign affairs critic Hélène Laverdière echoed Mr. Kent, saying Canada should consult with allies to respond to the Venezuelan crisis.
"Canada should be playing an active role at the UN and within the OAS [Organization of American States] to deliver humanitarian relief to those impacted."
More than 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. The country is desperately short of food and medicine and facing triple-digit inflation. And the crisis is creating fears in neighbouring countries of a refugee crisis, with 150 Venezuelans a day seeking asylum in Brazil alone and an estimated 550,000 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.
Alessandra Polga, director of the Canadian Venezuelan Engagement Foundation in Toronto, said Canada must join the U.S. in sanctioning Venezuelan officials. While Ms. Polga said she was grateful to Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland for her statement welcoming the U.S. sanctions this week, she said the government must "take action."
Canada does not have any Venezuelans on its sanctions list. However, Toronto trade lawyer Cyndee Todgham Cherniak said the government can change that whenever it wants, without consulting Parliament. Cabinet – through the governor in council – can issue country-specific sanctions in The Canada Gazette, the official newspaper of the government, she said.
Given Canada's concerns about the Maduro regime, Ms. Todgham Cherniak said she wonders why the government has not yet sanctioned any Venezuelans.
"We have been complaining about the regime … and we impose economic sanctions in order to change behaviours of bad leaders," she said. "It seemed like an obvious country for there to be unilateral sanctions."
Despite the U.S. sanctions and calls from countries including Canada to cancel Sunday's vote, the Maduro regime has shown no signs of backing down. Eric Farnsworth, vice-president of the Council of the Americas and the Americas Society in Washington, said the vote will be the end of democracy in Venezuela.
"This is a full spring toward dictatorship," he said. "This would be the coup de grâce of democracy in Venezuela."
As the political and economic crisis worsens, the U.S. government has ordered family members of employees at its embassy in Venezuela to leave. The Canadian government recently took similar steps; four dependents of Canadian diplomats have left Caracas at least until after the vote is over, while five diplomats remain the capital.