Canada, in concert with allies, has imposed more sanctions on Belarus over the migrant crisis engineered at Poland’s border, including targeting a state-owned tourism company that helped funnel refugees from the Middle East to the edge of the European Union.
“The Lukashenko regime is orchestrating irregular migration across its borders with the European Union, coming at a great cost to the region’s stability,” Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly said in a statement Thursday.
The measures also target people and entities responsible for human-rights violations in Belarus, where President Alexander Lukashenko violently stifled protests last year over a disputed election.
Exiled opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya has pleaded for more action by Western countries for months, and her envoy Valery Kavaleuski paid a visit to Ottawa in late November to ask the Canadian government to exert more economic pressure on Belarus.
Thousands of migrants are stuck on the EU’s eastern frontier. Western countries say Minsk engineered the crisis by distributing Belarusian visas in the Middle East, flying people in, then pushing them across the border.
The latest round of sanctions applies to 24 individuals and seven entities under Canada’s Special Economic Measures Act “in response to the Belarusian regime’s ongoing and systematic human rights violations.”
Among the companies being targeted is Republican Unitary Enterprise Tsentrkurort, a state-owned tourism company that the U.S. government, in a separate statement Thursday, said has “played a key role in orchestrating irregular migration via Belarus to the European Union.”
The sanctions also affect seven officials who hold leadership positions in the Belarusian State Border Committee, the body responsible for border security and policy: chairman Anatol Lapo; deputy chairmen Ihar Butkevich, Raman Podlineu, Ihar Pechan and Siarhei Novikau; and the heads of two groups responsible for sections of the border with the EU, Konstantin Molostov and Igor Gutnik.
Canada and its allies are also hitting the Lukashenko family and people closely linked to them with sanctions, including Mr. Lukashenko’s middle son, Dzmitry – Ottawa targeted the President himself last year – as well as Dmitriy Mikhaylovich Korzyuk, deputy minister of internal affairs, a former head of the State Traffic Safety Inspectorate and a close associate of Dzmitry Lukashenko and his brother Viktar.
An organization headed by Dzmitry Lukashenko, the Republican State-Public Association Presidential Sports Club, is also on the list. On Thursday, the United States said it is “part of an alleged corruption scheme in Belarus.”
The sanctions freeze any assets the Belarusian officials have in Canada and prohibit Canadian financial institutions from providing services to them.
Mr. Kavaleuski said Thursday in an interview that the most important thing about the latest package of sanctions is they are being applied in co-ordination with the U.S., Britain and the EU. Co-ordinated sanctions ensure the targeted individuals or companies cannot easily find another country in which to conduct banking or trade.
He said, however, the West must go further. “To inflict damage on Lukashenko and force him to realize this is the end of his presidency … these sanctions need to be stronger.”
One of the problems with Canada’s sanction regime, though, is the information it supplies to businesses trying to comply with the new rules. When Ottawa announces sanctions, it normally releases a list of names and businesses – but nothing more. The U.S. and Britain provide far more detail.
For instance, the Office of Foreign Assets Control – part of the U.S. Department of the Treasury – on Thursday provided a similar list of Belarusian sanctions targets to Canada’s but with far more information. It also lists the target’s name in Cyrillic, as well as their date and place of birth, gender and sometimes a national identification or passport number – or, in the case of a business, an address or business registration number.
“The Canadian government just releases a list of names with no elaboration or detail,” said Toronto lawyer John Boscariol, head of McCarthy Tétrault’s trade and investment group. “There is almost zero guidance on Canada’s sanctions website.” He said he’s been raising concerns about this with Ottawa for about a decade. “The consequence for businesses in Canada is we’re at a competitive disadvantage.”
Mr. Boscariol said that because of uncertainty over how to follow sanctions rules, Canadian businesses will sometimes avoid a country entirely after only certain actors or sectors have been targeted by Ottawa. “And then it in effect becomes a full trade embargo and really a punishment of the population of that country rather than just the political leaders or bad actors Canada was trying to target.”
With files from Reuters
For subscribers: Get exclusive political news and analysis by signing up for the Politics Briefing.