Ottawa Round Table Part 3 – Canada-DPRK Bilateral Relations by Hartmuth Kroll

Canada-North Korea Bilateral Relations

Ottawa Round Table on Humanitarian Aid in the Current North Korean Context, 5 March 2012


  • Crossed flag pin by Promex GmbH

    Without belabouring the point, the Asia Pacific region matters to Canada, and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK, North Korea) has long been a destabilizing element in the region.

  • In February 2001, with the support and encouragement of its regional allies. Canada established diplomatic relations with the DPRK.
  • This initiative reflected the view that, over the long term, engagement offered the best prospects for integrating North Korea into the international community of nations.
  • Long-term goals for engagement included full denuclearization, improved governance and political reform, improved human rights and enhanced regional security. Nonetheless, there were few illusions as to what could be achieved immediately.
  • Initial success in the Six Party Talks aimed at ending the DPRK nuclear weapons programs encouraged the expansion of the relationship.
  • These plans were derailed by the DPRK’s admission in October 2002 that it was pursuing a secret uranium-enrichment program. Canada placed bilateral relations on a “not business as usual” footing precluding formalized senior-level meetings or other intensification of the relationship
  • Over the next 7 years, this pattern was repeated, as Canadian engagement with the DRPK ebbed and flowed from highs in 2005 (policy adjustments to allow for small-scale, grassroots-level capacity building and training initiatives) and 2007 (authorization of greater engagement in order to promote full denuclearization and advance long-term goals such as political reform, improved human rights and regional security) reflecting progress in the Six Party Talks, to lows in 2006 and 2009, following the North Korean Nuclear Tests (economic and commercial sanctions on North Korea in response to UNSC Resolutions 1718 and 1874.)

Recent Major Developments (Past two years)

  • On 26 March 2010, a South Korean naval ship, the Cheonan, sank following an explosion. A multinational task-force, which investigated the circumstances, concluded a North Korean torpedo had sunk the Cheonan.
  • During routine South Korean military exercises on 23 November 2010, North Korea fired artillery shells across the western sea border at the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong.
  • In mid-November, 2010, North Korea revealed a uranium enrichment facility that it claimed contained 2000 operational centrifuges.

Recent Developments in Canadian Policy towards the DPRK

  • In solidarity with South Korea’s response to the Cheonan attack, in May 2010, Prime Minister Harper announced that trade, investment and other bilateral relations with North Korea would be restricted.
  • On 13 July 2010, Canada added North Korea to the Area Control List (ACL). Under the ACL, the export of goods or technology is prohibited without an export permit, which is generally only granted for exports made in response to a humanitarian need. In addition, Canada has suspended bilateral senior-level contacts with North Korea
  • On 28 October 2010, the Government of Canada announced the adoption of a Controlled Engagement Policy toward North Korea. Under this policy, official bilateral contact with the North Korean government is limited to subjects concerning: (1) regional security concerns; (2) the human rights and humanitarian situation in North Korea; (3) inter-Korean relations; and (4) consular issues. All government-to-government cooperation and communication on topics not covered under the Controlled Engagement Policy was stopped.
  • Nonetheless, it allows Canadian NGOs and academics to continue their engagement with North Korea, thereby facilitating the long-term goal of positive systemic and political change through corrosion, to bring about gradual change in the regime.
  • On 11 August 2011, Canada imposed sanctions against North Korea under the Special Economic Measures Act. The Special Economic Measures (DPRK) Regulations came into force to reinforce the message to the North Korean government that its agressive actions, such as the sinking of the Cheonan, are unacceptable.
  • The Regulations provide for the following:
    • a ban on all exports to North Korea from Canada;
    • a ban on all imports to Canada from North Korea;
    • a ban on all new investment in North Korea;
    • a ban on the provision of financial services to North Korea and to persons in North Korea;
    • a ban on the provision of technical data to North Korea;
    • a ban on the docking and landing in, and transiting of, Canada by North Korean ships and aircraft.
  • Some exceptions are available, including the following:
    • humanitarian efforts and goods, such as food and medical supplies or equipment;
    • stabilization and reconstruction assistance and activities;
    • financial or other support provided by the Government of Canada;
    • non-commercial remittances.
  • In addition, the Special Economic Measures (DPRK) Permit Authorization Order, made pursuant to subsection 4(4) of the Special Economic Measures Act authorizes the Minister of Foreign Affairs to issue to any person in Canada or any Canadian outside Canada a permit to carry out a specified activity or transaction, or any class of activity or transaction, that is restricted or prohibited pursuant to the Regulations.
  • CIDA support for humanitarian and academic interaction with the DPRK has been cut. Support for multilateral initiatives has been reduced. Humanitarian and academic organizations seeking exemptions to the SEMA must apply to the Department of Foreign Affairs.


  • Since 2001, the DPRK has shown a desire to build its relations with Canada. During the periods of convergence, Canadian officials have had good access in Pyongyang, meeting with the DPRK Foreign Minister and senior officials. In response, the North Korean Ambassador also met with senior officials in various Departments, including at the Deputy Minister level. Aid programs were planned, and exchanges undertaken. Participation by Canadian NGOs was encouraged.
  • Throughout this period, the Canadian government repeatedly reiterated its commitment to peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula. It reaffirmed that its ultimate aim was to see North Korea cease its belligerent behaviour, resume adherence to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (the NPT) and to comply fully with its comprehensive nuclear safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Further, Canada consistently supported the Six Party Talks as the best vehicle for addressing the North Korean nuclear issue and creating a stable and secure environment in North East Asia.
  • Episodes of aggression and bad behaviour were met with a withdrawal of Canadian official support for engagement. However there remained an underlying commitment to integrating North Korea into the international community of nations, with the long goals for engagement included full denuclearization, political reform, improved human rights and regional security.
  • Currently, by contrast, under the Controlled Engagement Policy, official bilateral contact with the North Korean government is severly limited.
  • Under the Special Economic Measures Act and the Special Economic Measures (DPRK) Regulations, economic relations between Canada and the DPRK are severely constrained.
  • While academic and humanitarian engagements are not banned, neither are they encouraged. Financing from CIDA for any activity involving the DPRK is restricted.
  • There is little prospect of change in these policies in the immediate future.

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