During the COVID-19 global pandemic, an important humanitarian issue has arisen for individuals (friends and family), companies, and non-governmental organizations.  Many Canadians and residents in Canada have asked whether they can export humanitarian goods (including personal protective equipment (“PPE”)) to countries against whom Canada has imposed sanctions (called “Sanctioned Countries”). Canada clearly exempts humanitarian activities. That being said, there is red tape that causes serious challenges and delays – especially if the exports take place without the proper permits in place.

Canada imposes economic sanctions in various forms and various degrees against the following countries: Burma/Myanmar, Central African Republic; the Democratic Republic of Congo; Eritria, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Mali, Nicaragua, North Korea, Russia, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, Ukraine, Venezuela, Yemen and Zimbabwe.  When we talk about humanitarian goods, we primarily are focusing on Canada’s sanctions and trade restrictions sanctions under the Special Economic Measures Act.

The question that is being asked is whether goods can be exported from Canada to the sanctioned countries. The answer is there is a way to export goods for humanitarian purposes.

What are the goods to be exported?

The first question that must be asked is “what are the goods to be exported?”.  This is the starting point because it is important to know whether an export permit is needed under the Export and Import Permits Act before the goods can be exported. While North Korea is not a significant export destination from Canada, North Korea is on the Area Control List and all exports to North Korea (even if transhipped through another country, such as China) require an export permit from Global Affairs Canada.

An export permit is required for goods listed in the Export Control List.  The Export Control List mostly includes military and strategic goods, which are unlikely to be considered to be humanitarian goods.  That being said, certain dual use goods, U.S.-origin goods, chemicals and goods containing lasers, goods containing encryption software, etc. may require an export permit.  It is important to ask and answer this question.

Where are the goods being shipped to?

If the goods to be exported are not listed in the Export Control List (or you plan to obtain the necessary export permits), the next question is whether the goods are being sent to a Sanctioned Country or to Cuba (there are export controls on U.S.-origin goods going to Cuba). If the answer is “no”, you will be able to ship the goods.

Are the goods being shipped to a designated person?

If the answer is “yes”, you need to determine whether person you are shipping the goods to is a designated person.  Canada primarily imposes sanctions against listed individuals and entities and parties related to those person (individuals and companies) or buying on behalf of those persons.  If the intended user of the goods is not a designated person, it will still be necessary to determine if the goods themselves are subject to sanctions.

What if there are applicable sanctions or trade restrictions?

You still might be able to ship humanitarian goods – but you need to obtain a Ministerial Authorization to do so.  What is important to understand is that there is a mechanism, usually in a regulation, to apply for permission from the Minister of Foreign Affairs to export goods to a sanctioned country or a designated person.  The Canadian regulations made pursuant to the Special Economic Measures Act listing the sanctions against countries often contain an exception for :

“any activity, or the provision or acquisition of financial services in relation to an activity, that has as its purpose

i) the safeguarding of human life,

(ii) disaster relief, or

(iii) the provision of food, medicine and medical supplies.”

See the following regulations for examples:

It is important to apply for and receive a Ministerial Authorization before exporting goods to a designated person in a Sanctioned Country and to ask the right questions.  The Canada Border Services Agency might intercept packages going to a designated country if you do not have the proper paperwork, which will cause delays.

North Korea

If you are shipping goods to North Korea, you will have to obtain both an export permit and a Ministerial Authorization.

Cuba, Iran, Syria

If you are shipping U.S.-origin goods or technology to Cuba, Iran, North Korea or Syria, there are special export controls considerations.

U.S. Secondary Sanctions

The United States imposes secondary sanctions.  Proposed transactions from Canada may be caught by the U.S. secondary sanctions.

For more information about Canada’s export controls of economic sanctions or to apply for a Ministerial Authorization, please contact Cyndee Todgham Cherniak at 416-307-4168 or at cyndee@lexsage.com.