Canada’s Russia sanctions are hitting people with no connection to Putin’s war
Canadian residents are pleading with Ottawa to release assets frozen after sanctions were imposed on banks.
Canada’s economic measures against Russia — which are meant to target the assets of wealthy oligarchs and government officials — are hitting the personal finances of people with no ties to the Putin regime, CBC News has learned.
Some Canadian residents who have no connections to the Russian government and don’t support President Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine say their personal savings have been frozen because of how Global Affairs Canada administers its sanctions.
Acting in tandem with other Western allies, Canada has been blocking all financial dealings and freezing Canadian-held accounts linked to a list of sanctioned individuals and business entities — a list that now runs to over 2,100 names.
CBC News has spoken to four individuals who are not named on this list and are not accused of supporting Putin’s regime. They say they can’t access tens of thousands of dollars in personal savings because the major banks they and their families dealt with in Russia and Kazakhstan were caught up in Canada’s sanctions.
“I support Ukraine in this. A lot,” said Natasha, who’s originally from Belarus but moved to Saint Petersburg for university. She said she and her husband were offered jobs in Canada’s tech sector and left Russia in 2020, looking for a “better and safer life.”
CBC News has agreed not to use her last name or show her face because she’s concerned about her job security.
Natasha and her husband have applied for, but have not yet received, permanent residency in Canada. Because of the strong emotions the war in Ukraine evokes, she said, she also fears online harassment.
In the weeks before Russia invaded Ukraine, Natasha worried about losing the savings she and her husband left behind in Alfa-Bank, Russia’s largest private bank — between $80,000 and $133,000 Cdn, she said.
“Because of the history of where I come from, I just thought that it would be very risky to have anything there,” she said.
She began the process of moving her money to a Canadian account. But the transfer wasn’t complete by Feb. 24 — when Ottawa’s sanctions barred Canadians from doing business with Alfa-Bank. Her money was blocked and frozen.
Her application for an exemption is now part of a growing backlog at Global Affairs, as non-sanctioned individuals plead for ministerial permits to release their personal savings.
“Maybe [Canadian government officials] don’t have enough time to dig into this and to actually see that regular people who are already here, who pay taxes and work hard and are part of this community here, are also affected. And it’s just not fair,” Natasha said.
It’s also not clear that the impact of Canada’s sanctions on non-oligarchs like Natasha is actually accomplishing anything.
“When we look at the purpose of economic sanctions … they are implemented to change behaviour, and in this case to change the behaviour of the Putin regime regarding the invasion and continued war in Ukraine,” said John Boscariol, a trade lawyer who represents businesses and individuals affected by sanctions regulations. (He has not been retained by any of the individuals interviewed for this story.)
“Freezing these personal remittances … [for example] that happened to be sent by grandparents to their grandchildren, do not change and will never change the behaviour of the Putin regime,” he said. “It’s just an untenable situation and absolutely unfair for those that are caught up in it.”
Last month, the RCMP reported that over $122 million Cdn in Canadian assets had been frozen since Russia invaded.
But the RCMP’s tracking doesn’t distinguish between the wealth of oligarchs and the more modest savings Natasha and her husband hoped to use for a down payment on a home.
They aren’t the only small fish caught up in Ottawa’s sanctions net.
Svetlana’s employer transferred her from Moscow to Toronto in 2021. She recently became a permanent resident of Canada. Fearing both for her employer and her personal security, she also asked that her surname and image not appear in this article.
“While I was opening my first bank account, which was obviously one of the first things you do when you come to a new country, I was told that if anything’s wrong with my work permit, then my account’s going to be terminated,” she said.
That’s why she left about $39,000 Cdn in personal savings behind in Russia — a nest egg she reported to Canadian officials during her immigration process to prove she had the means to support herself.
A ‘night full of tears’
“I had signs of severe depression. Life back in Russia was not easy,” Svetlana said. “After I moved to Canada, I had hopes that I could build a better life here. Less stressful, at least.”
A doctor advised her not to follow the news too closely to help manage her stress. On the night Russia invaded Ukraine, she was out for dinner with a Ukrainian friend.
“I got back home and he texted me: ‘Do not read anything. Do not open newsfeeds. Like, just don’t do it.’ And of course I did that immediately after I got that message,” she said.
After a “night full of tears,” she said, she contacted her Alfa-Bank branch back in Russia at 3 a.m. Toronto time to pull her money out. Mere hours later, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his ministers stepped in front of microphones to announce Canada’s new sanctions.
Svetlana’s money never arrived. Just like Natasha’s, it was blocked in transit and never reached her Canadian account — but Alfa-Bank says it no longer holds it. She’s struggled to figure out what happened.
Alfa-Bank suggested to her weeks later that her transfer “most likely” was frozen by the Canadian government. It directed her to a website where she could apply for an exemption.
Global Affairs Canada confirmed it received her application but never explained why her savings are frozen. Svetlana said the only feedback she got from the department was an auto-reply e-mail thanking her for her patience as the department faces a backlog of requests.
“What frustrates me the most is that I don’t see any actions. They do not communicate, they do not provide any time estimations, so we just don’t know what to expect,” she said.
“I did nothing wrong.”
Russian citizens aren’t the only ones being kept from their savings by Canadian sanctions.
Darya — who also spoke to CBC News on the condition that her last name be withheld — is working and raising two young kids, aged five and eight, with her husband in Winnipeg. Their immigration was approved under the provincial nominee program earlier in the pandemic, but they couldn’t move to Canada from Kazakhstan until near the end of 2021.
Darya said she doesn’t support Vladimir Putin either. Her mother is of Ukrainian descent.
When they sold their property in Kazakhstan, they brought some of the proceeds with them and left the rest with Darya’s brother, to transfer later.
When they needed the rest of their money, her brother discovered that only one local bank could send a Swift transfer abroad: Sberbank Kazakhstan, a subsidiary of a Russian state-owned bank that’s been blacklisted by Canada.
Although it was once part of the Soviet Union, Kazakhstan is now an independent country with its own financial system. The bank told her brother that Canadian sanctions would not affect the transfer. But the funds never made it to Darya’s account in Canada.
She applied to Global Affairs for an exemption to release the money — tens of thousands of dollars — in late March. The department told her that her application would be considered. Since then, silence.
“Now it has been ten months and we have nothing,” Darya said. “For us, it’s a large amount of money, and we earned this money in Kazakhstan.”
She said she and her husband were turned down for a Canadian mortgage because they didn’t have enough for a down payment.
“My immigration now … it’s not so pleasant,” she said.
‘We’re slowly losing hope’
Madina Muslimova is another permanent resident of Canada who moved to Toronto from Kazakhstan in 2018.
She’s now working while raising a toddler on her own. She hopes to return to school to do a master’s degree. Her parents, now in their 70s, recently sold some assets so they could help her out financially.
Her mom has a visitor’s visa and comes to help out, but she requires medical treatment that the family must pay for out of pocket while she’s in Canada. Which is why her family tried to move a six-figure sum into Madina’s Canadian account.
Just like Darya, they learned the hard way that Sberbank Kazakhstan wasn’t excluded from Canada’s regulations.
“My parents chose that bank,” Madina said. “It was just across the street … they thought it was stable.”
The Kazakh subsidiary was sold and rebranded last summer to escape from Russian sanctions, but that move came too late for Madina’s family — their funds appear to be frozen too.
“I still have not received any clarification about where my funds are,” Madina said. “We relied on that money … I think we’re slowly losing hope, to be honest.”
CBC News asked Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly what her department was doing to manage its backlog of sanctions exemption requests.
“Our goal is to really target Putin and his enablers. That has been our strategy for Canada [and] for all our allies as well,” the minister said.
“When it comes to individual cases, we’ll do what will work on a case by case basis. You want to make sure that the essence of our approach is respected. And we want to make sure that we have a human approach.”
In a written statement sent to CBC News in December, Global Affairs said that while it cannot speak about individual applications, it “is not seeking to confiscate assets owned by non-listed individuals or entities.”
But how long will it take the department to run due diligence and release the savings belonging to Natasha, Svetlana, Darya and Madina?
“They are really being treated as collateral damage,” Boscariol said.
He said he believes Global Affairs now has a backlog of over 500 applications, with limited resources to tackle it.
Last November, Boscariol appeared before a Senate committee as an expert witness on sanctions measures. He gave the department a failing grade for its administration, saying Canada is missing opportunities to put in place more effective compliance measures.
“There’s some good lessons we could learn from our allies on this in the United States and the United Kingdom,” he told CBC News.
The European Union, for example, has exempted personal remittances for people who don’t own sanctioned companies and aren’t government officials.
Boscariol said he also believes Canada could issue a general licence to cut its backlog much faster.
“Our quarrel is not with the people of Russia,” Prime Minister Trudeau said on the day these sanctions were announced. “It is with President Putin and Russian leadership that has enabled and supported this further invasion of Ukraine.”
“I’m a Canadian resident and these sanctions affected us heavily,” Natasha told CBC News. “So I don’t know how to react to that.”
They were turned away at the Canadian border. Now what? – CBC.ca
Toddlers ran through aisles filled with snacks and candies. Adults slumped in chairs. Multiple cellphones were plugged into a single wall socket. Backpacks and suitcases were scattered among the two rows of tables in a corner of this small-town bus stop and gas station.
After they were turned away at the Canadian border and spent three days in detention, the roughly 15 asylum seekers at the Mountain Mart No. 109 in the town of Plattsburgh, N.Y., south of Montreal, on Tuesday afternoon were trying to figure out what to do.
They had tried to get into the country at the popular unofficial crossing on Roxham Road in the hours after a new border deal between Canada and the U.S. came into effect late last week.
Alan Rivas, a Peruvian man who was hoping to reunite with his girlfriend who’s been living in Montreal for two years, said he’d spent $4,000 on making it this far.
“I’m trying to think about what to do now.”
A sense of solidarity emerged as people recognized each other from various parts of their time stuck on the border, along with a sense of resignation and deep disappointment.
“Disappointing and heartbreaking,” said a man from Central Africa, whom CBC agreed not to identify because he fears it could affect his asylum claim process in the United States.
He had shared a cab ride with a man from Chad, who fled to the U.S. after the government of his country led a violent crackdown on opponents last fall.
“It’s unfair. We are not home and we suffer. We’re looking for a better life,” the man from Central Africa said.
The man from Chad looked up and said: “No, looking for protection is not having a better life. I had a life.”
The Chadian was not let into Canada despite his wife and child being Canadian citizens, he said. Having a family member with legal status in Canada is one of the few exemptions to the strict new rules that make it nearly impossible to claim asylum at the Canada-U.S. border. His wife and child fled to a nearby country after the crackdown in Chad, but he explained that his wife’s family is still in Canada.
Other exemptions include being an unaccompanied minor and having a work permit or other official document allowing a person to be in Canada.
“They made me sign a paper without giving me time to read it. They didn’t explain anything,” said the man, whom CBC also agreed not to name because he fears for his family’s safety in an African country near Chad.
The Canada-U.S. deal was implemented swiftly before the weekend, leaving local governments and organizations little time to respond and turned-away asylum seekers struggling to find food, shelter and rides.
The man from Central Africa was trying to round up enough money to pay for a $200 bus ticket to Houston, where he would stay with a friend. The man from Chad gave him the $40 he was missing.
The Central African said he had spent his savings on coming to Canada. His hope was to live here until obtaining residency, and then arranging for his family to come to meet him.
“I know a guy in Houston who hasn’t seen his family in 10 years. He still doesn’t have status,” he said.
A young Haitian mother cradled her baby as her toddler made friends with another child. Her family had paid an acquaintance in New Jersey $300 per adult to get to Roxham Road before midnight Friday, but the driver got lost and they arrived at 12:03 a.m.
Steven, a 24-year-old Venezuelan who attempted to cross into Canada at Roxham early Saturday morning, mingled with the people he’d met in detention. Then he tried to call his mom.
“She doesn’t know,” said Steven, who didn’t want his last name used in this story because of fears it could affect his U.S. asylum claim. “I know I seem happy but I am sad.”
Carmen Salazar, 45, also from Venezuela, watched him from another table.
“It’s hard, really hard,” she said.
The group of asylum seekers at the Mountain Mart had found comfort in finding each other. They all boarded a bus leaving Plattsburgh at 7:45 p.m. Tuesday. Its main destination was New York City.
Others haven’t been so lucky finding a way out of Plattsburgh.
The night before, a woman who was seen at Roxham Road early Saturday, sat alone at the bus stop crying.
3 nights in a motel and no plan
Across the street, in a small motel, a 34-year-old Haitian man and his pregnant girlfriend had one night left out of three that had been paid for by local emergency housing services. But they had no plan and only $41 to their name.
“We’re here. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but we’re going to look for ways to be able to live. What I’m looking for — nothing more — is a place to rest and a place to work. Nothing else,” said the man, sitting in the lobby of the motel. CBC is not naming him because of fears it could affect his American asylum claim.
The couple had intended to stay in the U.S. after crossing the Mexican border, but the woman became pregnant and developed constant pains. In the U.S., they had to stay with separate family members far from each other and the man worried about his wife and being able to afford medical bills, so they decided to try to get to Canada, having heard it was easier to find work and that health-care was more affordable, he said.
In an interview with Radio-Canada Monday, a man from another Central African country struggled to hold back tears.
He said the confusion after being taken in at Roxham Road by RCMP officers was hurtful because it wasn’t clear if he’d be accepted into Canada or not. When they called his name, he was filled with hope, only to be told he was being sent to U.S. Border Patrol.
“I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know where to go. I don’t have anyone who will take me in,” he said.
The response from U.S. Border Patrol appears to be uneven. Some asylum seekers CBC spoke with had taxis called for them, having to pay another $70 to get to the Mountain Mart. One woman was found on the side of the service road by the border and given a ride by a social science researcher and documentary photographer met by CBC.
The man interviewed by Radio-Canada was part of a group who were given a ride to the gas station by a Greyhound bus heading back to New York from Montreal.
CBC reached out to U.S. Customs and Border Protection on Monday, asking what happens to asylum seekers rejected by Canada, but did not receive a response.
Although in favour of some kind of change to reduce traffic at Roxham Road, one local official wants help from the federal governments to deal with the fallout.
Michael Cashman, supervisor for the Town of Plattsburgh, says Canada and the U.S. to come up with a response to help asylum seekers get to where they want to go in the U.S.
He isn’t against the move to restrict access to Canada at Roxham Road.
“There had to be a change,” he said, noting residents had been asking for one, but compared the way it was done to turning off a light switch before entering a room: “You’re going to bump into some furniture.”
The area is rural and has its share of struggles with transportation and housing, Cashman said.
“There isn’t a robust infrastructure to be able to take on this humanitarian crisis as it develops.”
On Monday and Tuesday, buses coming from New York carried only a few asylum seekers hoping to cross the border. Most knew about the new rules, believing their cases would fit some of the exemptions. Others still did not know.
By Tuesday, cab drivers were no longer ferrying people to Roxham Road, taking them to the official border crossing at Champlain, N.Y., and Lacolle, Que., instead.
What is the grocery rebate in federal budget 2023? Key questions, answered
Canada’s economy might be recovering from the pandemic, but many Canadians are still struggling with the cost of living, thanks, in part, to the impacts of global inflation.
To help offset rising living expenses, the Government of Canada has built some benefit increases and fee reductions into its 2023 budget. Among these measures is a new grocery rebate in the form of a one-time payment for middle- and low-income Canadians that is designed to offset food inflation.
“Our more vulnerable friends and neighbours are still suffering from higher prices,” Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland said after tabling the budget on March 28. “That’s why our budget contains targeted, temporary relief from the effects of inflation for those who need it.”
Here’s what we know about the rebate.
HOW WILL THE GROCERY REBATE WORK?
According to the budget, the benefit will be rolled out through the GST/HST rebate system, once a bill implementing it passes in the House of Commons. This move essentially re-ups and re-brands the recent GST rebate boost.
While no specific date for the payments has been announced, upcoming GST/HST credit payment dates for 2023 include April 5, July 5 and Oct. 5. Because the rebate is automatically rolled into the GST/HST credit, eligible Canadians shouldn’t need to do anything besides file their tax return in order to receive the payment.
WHO GETS THE GROCERY REBATE IN CANADA?
The Grocery Rebate is earmarked for 11 million low- to modest-income Canadians. It will provide eligible couples with two children with up to $467, single Canadians without children with up to $234 and seniors with $225 on average.
The budget doesn’t pinpoint any eligibility brackets based on income, but outlines hypothetical scenarios where a couple earning $38,000 per year and an individual earning $32,000 both received the maximum rebate.
Since the rebate will be rolled into the GST/HST credit, the eligibility criteria for that credit might offer some insight into who will be eligible for the maximum Grocery Rebate amounts.
The GST benefit is reduced as income rises. It’s phased out entirely once income reaches just over $49,000 for a single person, $50,000 for a couple without children and more than $60,000 for a couple with four children.
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST TO FEED A FAMILY OF 4 IN CANADA?
The average family of four will spend up to $16,288.41 on food this year, according to the latest Canada’s Food Price Report, published by the Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University.
“For a family of four, their food bill will increase by about $1,100 this year,” the lab’s director, Sylvain Charlebois, told CTV News Calgary on Tuesday.
The cost of staple grocery items based on March 2023 prices listed on Fortinos.ca. (CTV’s Your Morning)
The most substantial increases will be in the cost of vegetables, dairy and meat, according to the report. Food inflation has softened somewhat in recent weeks, Charlebois said, but even with that softening and the extra cash in their pockets from the grocery rebate, Canadians aren’t out of the woods yet.
“We are expecting things to be a little more manageable for households probably in the summer, (but) not before then,” he said. “We are expecting to finish the year with a food inflation rate of about four to five per cent. It’s still high, but it’s better than 10 per cent.”
HOW CAN I SAVE MONEY ON GROCERIES IN CANADA?
As finance commentator Pattie Lovett-Reid pointed out during an interview on CTV’s Your Morning on Tuesday, a maximum grocery rebate of $467 for a family of four doesn’t even offset half of the additional $1,100 families can expect to spend on groceries in 2023.
“It’s a small amount that will help a family of four,” she said. “But, is it enough? No, it’s not, we’ve got to get inflation down.”
With their spending power significantly weakened, a growing number of consumers are looking for new ways to save on their grocery bills.
According to a March 22 report published by the Agri-Food Analytics Lab, in partnership with Angus Reid, some of the methods Canadians are using to save money at the grocery store include reading weekly flyers, using coupons, taking advantage of volume discounting and using food rescue apps such as Too Good To Go and the Second Harvest Food Rescue App.
– With files from Senior Digital Parliamentary Reporter Rachel Aiello
International selling Pop Reggae artist, D Howell Drops New Single “Man Dem”
By way of Spanish Town
Toronto, On – International selling Pop/ Reggae artist, D Howell drops his new single, “Man Dem “available now, on all major music platforms. The release featuring Ding Dong & Nicky B follows a long list of hit music from the talented pop-reggae artist. Howell’s single, ’Wine Bounce” with Jamaican born reggae artist Dominant ft. Nick B was picked up by Universal Music, solidifying Howell’s career with the likes of Sean Paul, Elephant Man and Sarani. The artist contributes his Jamaican roots to the success of his brand. Keeping his early beginnings in Spanish Town, Jamacia close to his heart, “Man Dem” (meaning multiple men) was created. The single is inspired by the multicultural people of Toronto with special consideration to the immigrants from Jamaica. Their specific style of talking is heard on every street corner in Toronto. The new generation have made it their own, a way of bringing and keeping their heritage alive. Howell’s music speaks to that, making the heritage & the music one. The highly anticipated release of “Man Dem” will take you home to Spanish Town.
DJ, producer and artist, D Howell knows what it takes to make hit singles. It’s not just talent that makes a single a hit, but the chemistry & respect for your fellow artists. Knowing what works and what doesn’t between artists is key. Mixing different instruments, sounds and styles to create his always evolving pop reggae sound has made Howell an in-demand producer and artist. From the super hit ‘Jumanji’ to a lineup of multi-selling collaborations featuring his unique reggae influence, Howell makes it work. Collaborations with Karl Wolf (“Fall in Love”), Danny Fernandes (“Party”) and the man himself, Sean Paul (“Time to Party”). Howell writes for and brings together a wide range of artists from different genres into his studio to create a combination of sounds that works on the music charts today. D Howell brings the love, nurture & music of his early beginnings to his seat at the industry table. “Man Dem” takes you on that journey…
Listen to Man Dem”
Follow D Howell:
Sasha Stoltz Publicity:
Sasha Stoltz | Sasha@sashastoltzpublicity.com | 416.579.4804
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