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Canada can now seize, sell off Russian assets. What's next? – CBC News

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Selling Russian-owned assets to pay for Ukraine’s reconstruction may sound like a logical approach to restitution, but as the Canadian government gains new powers to begin this process, questions remain about how it will work, and whether some issues are headed to court.

C-19, the budget implementation bill, received Royal Assent last Thursday. Among its many measures are new powers to seize and sell off assets owned by individuals and entities on Canada’s sanctions list. While the new powers could be used in any international conflict, the Liberal government’s current priority is helping victims of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Canada’s stepped-up sanctions powers were discussed with U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen during her visit to Toronto last week.

“We think it’s really important to extend our legal authorities because it’s going to be really, really important to find the money to rebuild Ukraine,” Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland told Canadian and American reporters. “I can think of no more appropriate source of that funding than confiscated Russian assets.”

That sentiment was shared by Ontario Sen. Ratna Omidvar who proposed her own Senate legislation to enable similar asset seizures two years ago. At the time she was motivated to help the displaced Rohingya population by sanctioning corrupt generals in Myanmar.

“Kleptocrats must pay for their crimes, not through simply being sanctioned and their assets being frozen, but by their assets being repurposed and confiscated,” said Omidvar.

Although C-19 will work a bit differently than her bill, Omidvar still calls it a “good start” and supports the government’s move. 

“The question no longer is ‘if we should confiscate,'” the senator said. “The question is: ‘How should we repurpose? … Who’s involved? How do we provide accountability? How do we protect ourselves?'”

Test cases expected

Although some jurisdictions, notably Switzerland, already confiscate and return certain illicit assets, this move by Canada — and potentially other G7 countries meeting in Germany this week — is unprecedented.

Allies agree on the imperative of cranking up more economic pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin, but it’s still a risky play. Other hostile governments could seize Canadian-owned assets abroad in retaliation. It also may violate customary international law, such as the UN Articles on states responsibility.

The new powers target assets in Canada owned by an individual or entity on the federal government’s sanctions list. Previously, authorities could seize the proceeds of crime. With C-19, they can confiscate the assets of sanctioned individuals whether they’re acquired legally or illegally.

Is that fair? Omidvar anticipates the new powers being challenged in Canadian court. “I keep thinking we need a couple of test cases,” she said.

The senator’s original bill proposed seizing and redistributing assets by court order, with a judge adjudicating concerns.

C-19 puts more power in ministerial hands, something that is “faster and nimbler,” Omidvar acknowledges, but also less transparent.

During debate in the Senate, Omidvar called on the government to take “politics out of the equation” so Canada would not be accused of inappropriate distribution of funds, “or worse, appropriation of funds for its own use.”

When asked about the legality of these new powers earlier this month, Justice Minister David Lametti said “you don’t have an absolute right to own private property in Canada,” and compared it to other processes of government expropriation.

Adrien Blanchard, a spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly, told CBC News that “necessary checks and balances” are provided in C-19, including a formal judicial process to forfeit any asset.

“Procedural fairness was a key consideration in the development of these measures, and forfeiture proceedings before a judge are not automatic,” Joly’s spokesperson said. 

Privacy rules limit disclosure

Omidvar’s bill would have created a registry with the name of any person or entity associated with a seized asset and its value. There’s no such disclosure requirement in C-19, so this could be a difficult process to track once it starts.

One or more court cases could trigger more public disclosure. 

When the RCMP reported earlier this month that Canadian authorities have frozen the equivalent of $124 million in assets so far, it was unable to reveal what these assets are — cash, bonds, cryptocurrency, corporate shares, real estate or other property — because of the Privacy Act.

The minister of foreign affairs may issue permits on a case-by-case basis to authorize activities or transactions that would otherwise be prohibited, but only to people in Canada or Canadians abroad. When asked if any such permits have been issued related to Canada’s sanctions against Russia, Global Affairs Canada would not comment, again citing privacy concerns.

One of the prominent Russian oligarchs on Canada’s sanctions list, Roman Abramovich, holds around 30 per cent of the shares of Evraz, a global steel manufacturer that employs over 1,800 people at its facilities in Western Canada. 

CBC News asked Evraz North America whether any of its shares or business properties were among assets frozen by Canada so far, but the company did not respond. 

Separate from its powers to seize assets, the budget implementation bill also implements a publicly accessible beneficial ownership registry to make it easier to trace the ownership of anonymous shell companies. That could reveal more about Russian assets in Canada.

However, a business that’s registered provincially instead of incorporated federally would only appear in the national registry if provinces and territories agree to participate — if they don’t agree, there is a potential loophole, Omidvar warned her Senate colleagues during debate.

Who gets the proceeds?

Omidvar’s original bill would have required the recipient of redistributed funds to report back to a court on its use.

C-19 puts the minister of foreign affairs in charge of who gets the money and what happens to it.

“Operationalizing this is going to be a little bit of a challenge,” said fellow senator and former G7 sherpa Peter Boehm. “This is all very, very new.”

The former senior Global Affairs official suggests the government needs to get safeguards in place.

“What is the mechanism? To whom should these assets go? Do they go to individuals? Do they go to state actors?” Boehm said, noting that Canada may want to coordinate with other like-minded countries and UN agencies, like the World Food Program. “There are a lot of questions there… we need to know and the Canadian people would want to know where this money is going and if it’s being properly spent.”

The yacht Amore Vero shown here docked in the Mediterranean resort of La Ciotat, in March, was seized by French authorities after being linked to Igor Sechin, a Putin ally who runs Russian oil giant Rosnef. (Bishr Eltoni/The Associated Press)

The G7 considered asset seizures previously, Boehm said. He expects they could feature in at least behind-the-scenes conversations this week, if not the final communiqué.

“The leaders meetings internationally are timed, I think, very well,” he said.

“Ukraine, historically… has struggled with corruption issues,” said Rachel Ziemba, an adjunct senior fellow with the Centre for a New American Security who advises companies and countries on sanctions policy.  “There have been a lot of strides made… but it’s still not at the level of a developed economy.”

Working through the International Monetary Fund, or setting up a trust fund that would vet recipients and add more reporting to the process could add more certainty, she suggested.

Russian central bank has reserves in Canada

Taxpayers in Canada, the U.S. or other countries don’t want to bear the full cost of this war, Ziemba said, but as governments embark on asset seizures they also have to be concerned about the message it sends on what jurisdictions are safe for foreign investment.

“There are a lot of legal questions ahead,” she said.

According to recent reporting on Russian Central Bank reserves, about $20 billion might be held in Canada — a far more significant sum in the context of Ukrainian reconstruction than the $124 million in frozen assets disclosed so far.

“The Russian Central Bank and some of its investment funds over the last decade [were] really focused on trying to reduce its exposure to U.S. dollars,” Ziemba explains. Canadian reserve assets and government bonds were attractive because they were both stable and got more yield than comparable investments in Japan or the European Union.

In other words: a small slice of Canada’s debt is held by Russia. “The only saving grace is that the amount they have is not so much they can hold much leverage,” Ziemba said.

Russia’s central bank is on Canada’s sanctions list. Should these reserves be seized and handed over to Ukraine too?

Yellen’s argued against doing this in the U.S., even though it could provide more funds to rebuild Ukraine.

“That might send a message to other countries that are investing in [international currency and bond] markets,” Ziemba said — think of China’s buying power, for example. “That, I think, is why the [U.S.] treasury department and even the [U.S. federal reserve] are wary of these moves.”

Are asset sales imminent?

Earlier this month, CBC News asked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau whether Canada intended to sell the full amount of assets frozen so far. He declined to answer, saying “there are lots of conversations going on” and Canada was “a long way” from deciding how proceeds would be spent.

But when the Senate foreign affairs committee pre-studied C-19 in May, officials said the government will move quickly.

“The intent is definitely to start identifying assets to pursue and to freeze and forfeit them shortly after Royal Assent is received for Bill C-19,” said Alexandre Lévêque, the assistant deputy minister for strategic policy at Global Affairs Canada.

In its report, that Senate committee said the government needs “to monitor on an ongoing basis the ways in which repurposed funds are used and to learn from the early examples of the new powers being implemented.”

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Wolf found dead by roadside, another still missing after ‘suspicious’ B.C. zoo escape

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ALDERGROVE — One of the wolves that escaped its enclosure at the Greater Vancouver Zoo this week has been found dead on a roadside, and a second wolf is still missing, the zoo’s deputy general manager said Thursday.

Menita Prasad said both the zoo’s perimeter fence and the grey wolf enclosure were deliberately “compromised” early Tuesday, allowing the zoo’s nine adult wolves to escape while five cubs stayed inside the enclosure.

All but two of the adults were contained within the zoo’s property, she said.

The zoo in Aldergrove, B.C., has been shut for three days as workers and conservation officers searched for the wolves, while Langley RCMP investigate the incident as a suspected case of unlawful entry and vandalism.

The fences had been cut, Prasad said. An earlier statement from the zoo said the escape was “suspicious, and believed to be due to malicious intent.”

Searchers were “heartbroken” to find a three-year-old female wolf, Chia, dead by the side of 264 Street in Aldergrove on Thursday morning, Prasad told a press conference through tears.

It’s presumed Chia was hit by a car, she said.

A one-year-old female wolf named Tempest is still missing and believed to be in the vicinity of the zoo, Prasad said, adding that the animal, which was born at the facility, has a slim chance of surviving in the wild.

Prasad described Tempest as a “shy wolf” who poses no threat to public safety, though she said she could not say what the wolf might do if a person approached her. She urged anyone who sees the animal not to approach her and instead call authorities to report the location.

The wolf’s prime motivation would be to get back to her family, she said.

“As a result of this senseless act, our wolf pack has lost two family members,” Prasad said. “We watched these wolves grow up. We consider the animals at the zoo a part of our family.”

She said the “search and rescue operation” would continue and is asking for the public’s help “to reunite Tempest with her family.”

“She is a small wolf with grey brown puppy fur and white markings on her muzzle and her brow,” Prasad said.

Anyone who spots Tempest is asked contact the Greater Vancouver Zoo, Langley RCMP or the BC Conservation Officer Service by calling 1-877-952-7277.

The zoo, which is about 55 kilometres outside Vancouver, is set to reopen on Saturday, Prasad said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 18, 2022.

 

The Canadian Press

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COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths in Canada stable, but higher than past summers – Global News

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COVID-19 hospitalizations, deaths and confirmed case counts across Canada are relatively stable after an early summer wave, but they remain far higher than past years, data shows.

As of Wednesday, Canada is seeing an average of 3,475 lab-confirmed cases and 44 deaths per day, according to provincial and territorial data compiled by Global News. Currently, 5,158 people are in hospital with COVID-19, including 305 patients who are in intensive care.

While those numbers are down slightly from the brief wave of infections in June and July, they remain far higher than the rates seen during the summers of 2020 and 2021.

In past years, there was an average of roughly 350 patients in hospital per day during the summer months. Even as hospitalizations climbed in August 2021 and into September of that year, they peaked at half the current rate.

The current death rate has also vastly eclipsed past summers, when the average number of deaths per day was in the single digits.

Previous evidence pointed to the summer months as predictable lulls in the pandemic, as people spend more time in outdoor spaces where there is less transmission of the virus.

But the more infectious Omicron variant upended that thinking, and further mutations — including the current BA.5 subvariant and its predecessor, BA.2 — have led to more waves of infections this year than in the past.

Read more:

‘We cannot live with 15,000 deaths a week’: WHO warns on rise in COVID fatalities

The World Health Organization warned on Wednesday that BA.5’s dominance has led to a 35 per cent increase in reported COVID-10-related deaths globally over the past four weeks.

In the last week alone, 15,000 people died from COVID-19 worldwide, according to WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

“There is a lot of talk about learning to live with this virus, but we cannot live with 15,000 deaths a week. We cannot live with mounting hospitalizations and deaths,” he said at a press conference.

“We cannot live with inequitable access to vaccines and other tools. Learning to live with COVID-19 does not mean we pretend it’s not there. It means we use the tools we have to protect ourselves and protect others.”


Click to play video: 'COVID guidelines for fall: Expert urges Canadians to look out for flu as well'



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COVID guidelines for fall: Expert urges Canadians to look out for flu as well


COVID guidelines for fall: Expert urges Canadians to look out for flu as well

Canada’s chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam has said the country is in a period of pandemic transition that will likely lead to further waves this year, warning back in June that COVID-19 “has not left the stage.”

Public health officials have shifted their focus toward a potential serious wave in the fall and winter. Planning is underway to provide vaccine booster doses to all adults that request one, while ensuring vulnerable populations receive an extra dose.

Experts say the boosters are important, as current vaccines do not sufficiently protect against Omicron and its subvariants, allowing for “breakthrough cases” and even reinfections among vaccinated people.

“However, there is evidence that if you have the vaccine, more than likely you don’t end up in the hospital,” said Dr. Horacio Bach, an infectious disease researcher and assistant professor at the University of British Columbia.

“People (infected with COVID-19) will say, ‘It’s just kind of a flu, that’s okay, I’ll stay home.’ That is the result of the vaccines.”


Click to play video: 'Expert says Canada can expect a spike in COVID-19 variants cases during fall and winter'



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Expert says Canada can expect a spike in COVID-19 variants cases during fall and winter


Expert says Canada can expect a spike in COVID-19 variants cases during fall and winter

The Public Health Agency of Canada notes that between June 6 and July 3 of this year, unvaccinated cases were three times more likely to be hospitalized and four times more likely to die from COVID-19 compared to vaccinated cases.

Tedros urged everyone who has access to a booster dose to get one, and to continue to wear masks when it is impossible to keep distance from others.

As of Monday, 86.1 per cent of the Canadian population has received at least one dose of an approved COVID-19 vaccine, while 82.4 per cent have received at least two doses. Yet just under half — 49.7 per cent — have gotten at least one more booster dose.

Despite hospitalizations nationally remaining relatively stable, signs are emerging that more patients are being admitted with symptoms.

Hospitalizations are on the rise in Alberta, Manitoba and Quebec, according to the most recent updates. Most provinces besides Quebec have shifted to reporting data weekly, while Saskatchewan is due to release its first monthly report on Thursday.

To date, provinces and territories have confirmed more than 4,125,000 cases of COVID-19 including 43,471 deaths.

— With files from Rachel Gilmore

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Commercial bankruptcies rising in Canada, says business lobby group – CBC News

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A small business lobby group says commercial bankruptcies are rising in Canada and even more small businesses are at risk of closure.

Statistics Canada data shows small business insolvencies have been on an upward trend since May 2021.

But the Canadian Federation of Independent Business says its own survey data indicates only 10 per cent of Canada’s small business owners would file for bankruptcy if their business was no longer solvent.

It says 46 per cent of business owners say they would simply stop operating rather than go through the bankruptcy process.

The CFIB also says more than one in six Canadian small business owners say they are currently considering going out of business.

The lobby group wants government support to help Canada’s small business sector get through the next few months and deal with challenges like pandemic-related debt and supply chain issues.

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