March 24, 2021

The Globe and Mail


Canada slapped sanctions on nine Russian government officials for the poisoning and prosecution of Kremlin critic Alexey Navalny, joining other Western allies who acted earlier.

“The Russian government has repeatedly shown its unwillingness to respect the basic rights of its own people and address concerns raised on multiple occasions by the international community,” Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau said in a statement. “Alongside our partners, Canada will continue to increase pressure on the Russian government to unconditionally release Mr. Navalny and his supporters who have been unlawfully detained. Russia’s gross human rights violations will not go unanswered.”

Mr. Navalny, 44, one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent critics, was jailed earlier this year for parole violations in a decision that the West has condemned as politically motivated.

He is due to serve out a two-and-a-half-year sentence and is only able to communicate with the outside world via his lawyers.

The sanctions prohibit Canadian financial institutions from providing services to these Russian officials and freeze any assets they hold in Canada. The measures were taken under sanctions regulations that were recently beefed up by the 2017 Justice for Victims of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act, adopted by Canada, which mirrors similar legislation passed by the United States and Britain and imposes sanctions on human rights abusers. It’s also known as the Sergei Magnitsky Law, named after a whistle-blower killed in a Russian prison.

Canada’s Department of Global Affairs, in a statement released by Mr. Garneau, said the measures “highlight the deteriorating human rights situation in Russia and the shrinking space for civil society and independent voices there.”

The Russian embassy in Ottawa condemned the Canadian sanctions, accusing the Canadian government of interfering in Moscow’s internal affairs. It urged Canada to pay more attention to its own failings. “Instead of teaching and moralizing others, Ottawa should think of its own worrying human rights record, including systematic violence against Indigenous people and continuing racial discrimination,” the diplomatic mission said in a statement sent to The Globe.

The embassy’s last public spokesman was expelled from Canada from 2018, and it has not replaced him. The Russian embassy called the measures “an unfriendly step which causes damage to already-problematic bilateral relations.” It also warned of repercussions, saying the sanctions “will not remain without an adequate response” from Russia.

Mr. Navalny returned to Russia in January from Germany, where he had been recuperating from being nearly fatally poisoned with what many Western nations said was a nerve agent. The Kremlin has denied involvement in his illness and questioned whether he was really poisoned.

Canada’s sanctions were announced weeks after the U.S. slapped its own on the same Russian officials over Mr. Navalny. The European Union added additional names to its Navalny sanctions earlier this month but also targeted some of the same names last year.

Marcus Kolga, a human-rights advocate and senior fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, welcomed Ottawa’s action but questioned why Canada waited three weeks after the Americans. “I’m at a loss to explain why it has taken us three weeks to catch up and join them,” Mr. Kolga said.

Conservative foreign affairs critic Michael Chong said Canada’s lag behind allies could have given the targeted Russian officials time to move assets out of Canadian financial institutions if they held any there. “By not acting in concert we gave these individuals a whole lot of time to move assets out of Canada,” he said.

Mr. Navalny has come under criticism in the past over previous nationalist statements against illegal immigration and for attending an annual nationalist march several years ago.

In late February, Amnesty International announced it no longer considers jailed Mr. Navalny a “prisoner of conscience” because of past comments he made that qualify as advocacy of hatred, the group said.

However, Amnesty said it still believes that Mr. Navalny should be freed from jail, that he has committed no crime, and that he is being persecuted for his campaigning and outspoken criticism of Mr. Putin.

The Department of Global Affairs said Canada’s sanctions are part of a concerted diplomatic effort to bring pressure on the senior figures in Russia’s administration who were involved in the attempted murder of Mr. Navalny, his subsequent prosecution, and the silencing of Russian citizens who protested his treatment with heavy-handed and often violent methods.

Russia’s ongoing treatment of Mr. Navalny continues to demonstrate its contempt for the rule of law and its willingness to violate the human rights of its people, Global Affairs said. Russia’s suppression of peaceful protests and its detention of more than 10,000 protesters highlight a continuing pattern that targets opposition voices and those deemed threatening, it added.

While Canada has matched most of its allies’ sanctions on Russia, it has not matched all of them. Canada has to date refrained from slapping sanctions on Russian tycoon Yevgeniy Prigozhin. The U.S. government has accused him of being the primary funder of the Kremlin-backed Internet Research Agency, often informally referred to as the “Russian troll factory,” which runs disinformation campaigns out of St. Petersburg, including against Canada.