Let them eat sanctions, by Erich Weingartner

Photo by Erich Weingartner

On 15 August—the day that both Koreas celebrate their liberation from Japanese colonial rule—the Canadian Government enacted new sanctions against the DPRK. According to John Baird, Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister, these are additional punishments “in a series of steps our government has taken in recent years to forcefully declare Canada’s opposition to aggressive actions by the current North Korean regime.”

The new round of sanctions bans all exports and imports, including technical data, to North Korea, as well as all new investment in the country. It also bars the provision of financial services to North Korea and to persons in North Korea, although personal remittances of less than $1,000 continue to be permitted. Presumably this is to allow North Korean refugees and defectors to support families back home.

“This is a regime that shows contempt for international will through its belligerent actions,” adds Minister Baird, “and that chooses to fund military and nuclear programs while the basic needs of the North Korean population go unmet.”

Speaking of the needs of the North Korean population, what is Canada doing to stem the tide of food shortages in North Korea? The UN, the EU, the USA and numerous NGOs have done assessments of the food situation and warned of dire conditions. The EU and some NGOs have responded with shipments of food. Although the USA has not yet decided on food aid, they have announced a pledge of $900,000 for emergency aid for this summer’s floods.

In contrast, Canada’s response seems to be, “Let them eat sanctions.”

Other than stating that the current measures do not prohibit humanitarian assistance or the supply of food and medicines, the Canadian Government contents itself with largely symbolic trade sanctions (Canadian trade with the DPRK is all but non-existent) and the completely symbolic boycotting of the UN Conference on Disarmament (because North Korea is chairing it for a month).

Can Canada not afford even a symbolic contribution of food aid? Would it hurt our national interest if we were to send a signal that beyond our Government’s ideological posturing, Canadians do care about the people of North Korea?

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