Although the federal government is adding to its sanctions list, new RCMP data suggests — and experts say — that recent Russian additions to that list likely have modest financial assets and activities in Canada.
Canada has sanctioned 1,066 Russians and 264 Russian entities since Russia first invaded Ukraine in 2014. Most of these sanctions were introduced in the months after it stepped up its invasion in February 2022 .
In an update earlier this week, the RCMP reported that a cumulative total of CA$290,582,385 in financial transactions has been blocked since February 24, 2022 under the Special Economic Measures Act (SEMA) for sanctioned Russian individuals and entities. A cumulative total of CA$121,945,874 in assets has been frozen under the same sanctions since February 24, 2022.
The Privacy Act prevents the RCMP from revealing the nature of sanctioned property or identifying its provenance.
“Numbers are reported to us by various financial institutions. When they identify potential SEMA-related transactions, it is their responsibility to promptly report the amounts,” an RCMP spokesperson said in a statement.
“However, as they do their internal due diligence and in-depth analysis of transactions, they may correct the numbers to provide a more accurate amount.”
Canada’s sanctions count stagnated in second half of 2022, even as Ottawa added 252 individuals and 86 entities on its sanctions list since June.
The sanctions prohibit any Canadian or person in Canada from having a wide range of business relationships with sanctioned persons and entities. Persons sanctioned are also inadmissible to Canada.
While the Minister of Foreign Affairs is responsible for the administration and enforcement of SEMA, the RCMP is responsible for collecting information on sanctioned assets.
Global Affairs Canada referred CBC’s questions about RCMP sanctions figures. Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly’s office did not respond to CBC’s inquiries.
Andrea Charron, director of the Center for Defense and Security Studies at the University of Manitoba, said the number of sanctions may not increase because the newly sanctioned Russians aren’t doing much business in the country. Canada or with Canadians.
“So even though we have a lot more names — we’re approaching over 2,000 names — it could be that these people don’t actually have any assets or are nowhere in Canada,” Charron said.
Jessica Davis, president of intelligence firm Insight Threat Intelligence, said the Russians sanctioned by Canada earlier in the year likely had more assets and more financial ties to Canada than those sanctioned recently.
The application of sanctions “hard to sell”
“So it’s no surprise that as we sort of start to really go through this list of politically exposed people and people very close to the Kremlin, we don’t really see much in terms of additional effects,” Davis said.
Davis said Canada could also do a better job of enforcing its sanctions and ending sanctions violations – which she attributes in part to political negligence.
“Enforcing the sanctions has been a tough sell politically,” she said. “It’s very difficult to go to the polls on this kind of technical problem.”
The lack of trained investigators and technical expertise on sanctions and sanctions-busting among banks, businesses and law enforcement is also part of the problem, Charron said.
“If you’re already understaffed, and it’s a qualified area to be able to investigate and then see if sanctions have been evaded, would [sanctions enforcement] simply fall to the bottom of the list because the police are already being asked to do a lot with not enough?” Charron said.
Davis said applying sanctions to Russians and Russian entities with little or no financial ties to Canada can still be helpful.
She said Russia is likely looking to exploit countries with fewer sanctions and weaker sanctions enforcement, but new sanctions can help prevent that.
“So for Canada, it’s really important that we continue to keep pace with our international allies, both to be seen as doing the same kind of work…but also to prevent Canada from being seen as a jurisdiction weak or being exploited as a weak sanctioning jurisdiction,” she said.