Canada is sanctioning 40 senior Venezuelan government officials and individuals, including President Nicolas Maduro, who it says are playing a key role in the political and economic crisis in the South American country.
In addition to Mr. Maduro, the Canadian sanctions target members of his cabinet and officials from Venezuela's military, Supreme Court and National Electoral Council. Canada did not have any Venezuelans on its sanctions list until Friday's announcement.
In an interview with The Globe and Mail, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said the sanctions are meant to put pressure on the Maduro regime to restore constitutional order and respect the democratic rights of the Venezuelan people. Canada's sanctions closely resemble those already put in place by the United States, which has sanctioned 46 Venezuelans.
"We are horrified to see Venezuela sliding into a dictatorship," Ms. Freeland said on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.
"It is important to send a signal to the leaders of the Maduro regime that their actions are unacceptable and that these actions have consequences."
Ms. Freeland said Canada will host the next meeting of the Lima Group, a bloc of a dozen countries in the Americas focused on finding ways to restore democracy in Venezuela. The meeting will take place over the next 60 days, but an exact location has yet to be determined.
The Canadian sanctions come after U.S. President Donald Trump strongly criticized Venezuela in his UN General Assembly address, threatening to strengthen economic sanctions if Mr. Maduro "persists on a path to impose authoritarian rule." Mr. Maduro bit back after the speech, calling Mr. Trump "the new Hitler" of international politics.
Mr. Maduro is facing heavy international criticism for creating a constitutional assembly made of up government loyalists, which has essentially replaced the elected Congress, and for using force against anti-government protesters. Several opposition leaders have been removed or ordered arrested by the Supreme Court.
Venezuela's descent into political and economic crisis has accelerated since March, when Mr. Maduro attempted to strip the opposition-dominated Congress of its powers. Protesters took to the streets, demanding Mr. Maduro step down and call new elections; more than 120 people have been killed and thousands injured to date.
Meanwhile, the country is facing triple-digit inflation and desperate shortages of food and medicine. Tens of thousands of people have fled to neighbouring countries, creating fears of a refugee crisis.
Delcy Rodriguez, president of the National Constituent Assembly and former Venezuelan foreign minister, is named on Canada's sanctions list. She is leading Venezuela's side of the negotiations that Canada is hoping will restore democracy and constitutional order in the country.
Ms. Freeland said the government is trying to determine whether any of the Venezuelan individuals targeted by the Special Economic Measures Act have assets in Canada. Assets aside, she noted that the sanctions are meant to send a message to the Maduro regime.
"Canada is a country that has a strong reputation in the world as a country that has very clear and cherished democratic values, as a country that stands up for human rights," Ms. Freeland said. "To be sanctioned by Canada, I think has a real symbolic significance."
The Trump administration most recently added 13 top Venezuelan government officials to its sanctions list in July. Asked why Canada waited nearly two months to follow, Ms. Freeland said the government does not have the ability to do so quickly under its current sanctions laws.
"Currently, the foreign policy toolbox that Canada has to impose targeted individual sanctions is not as effective and fit for purpose as the current international environment requires," the minister said.
The government is working to improve that toolbox through legislation that would give it the power to sanction human-rights abusers around the world. Bill S-226, known as the Canadian version of the Magnitsky Act, is currently before Parliament.
The legislation is named after Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who was hired by U.S.-born financier Bill Browder to represent his Moscow-based Hermitage Capital Management hedge fund in 2005. Mr. Magnitsky was arrested in 2008 and beaten to death by prison staff in 2009 after accusing Russian officials of theft. Mr. Browder has since led an effort to establish Magnitsky-style legislation across the world, including in Canada.
Ms. Freeland, the MP for the Toronto riding of University-Rosedale, said Venezuelan Canadians want Ottawa to sanction the Maduro regime.
"I have some Venezuelan Canadians living in my constituency and they have been really vocal … and have said our family, our friends, they need help and they're counting on Canada to speak up."
Speaking to reporters at the UN Thursday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada is committed to working with countries, including the Organization of American States, to help find a solution to the Venezuelan crisis.
"We know that diplomatic and political solutions are the best way to do this and that's why we are going to keep our pressure up," he said.
- With a report from The Associated Press
The list of senior Venezuelan government officials and individuals Canada is sanctioning:
1. Nicolas Maduro Moros, President of Venezuela
2. Tibisay Lucena Ramirez, President of the National Electoral Council
3. Elias Jose Jaua Milano, Head of the Presidential Commission for the Constituent Assembly
4. Tareck Zaidan El Aissami Maddah, Vice-president of Venezuela
5. Tarek Willians Saab Halabi, Ombudsman of Venezuela
6. Nestor Luis Reverol Torres, Minister of Interior, Justice and Peace
7. Roy Antonio Maria Chaderton Matos, Politician, lawyer, and senior diplomat
8. Maria Iris Varela Rangel, Member of the Presidential Commission for the Constituent Assembly
9. Pedro Miguel Carreno Escobar, Member of the Presidential Commission for the Constituent Assembly
10. Diosdado Cabello Rondon, Member of the Presidential Commission for the Constituent Assembly
11. Susana Virgina Barreiros Rodriguez, Judge
12. Freddy Alirio Bernal Rosales, Member of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela
13. Delcy Eloina Rodriguez Gomez, President of the National Constituent Assembly
14. Tania D'amelio Cardiet, Rector of the National Electoral Council
15. Aristobulo Isturiz Almeida, Vice-president of the National Constituent Assembly
16. Jorge Jesus Rodriguez Gomez, Mayor of the Libertador Municipality in Caracas
17. Francisco Jose Ameliach Orta, Governor of Carabobo State
18. Carlos Alfredo Perez Ampueda, Director of the Bolivarian National Police
19. Sergio Jose Rivero Marcano, Commander General of the Bolivarian National Guard
20. Jesus Rafael Suarez Chourio, General Commander of the Bolivarian Army
21. Carmen Teresa Melendez Rivas, Member of Constituent Assembly for Iribarren Municipality in Lara State
22. Bladimir Humberto Lugo Armas, Commander of the Special Unit to the Federal Legislative Palace of the Bolivarian National Guard
23. Gustavo Enrique Gonzalez Lopez, Director of Bolivarian Service of Intelligence
24. Elvis Eduardo Hidrobo Amoroso, Vice-President of the National Constituent Assembly
25. Remigio Ceballos Ichaso, Commander of the Strategic Command Operations of the Bolivarian National Armed Forces
26. Antonio Jose Benavides Torres, Chief of the Capital District in Caracas
27. Hermann Eduardo Escarra Malave, Member of Constituent Assembly for Zamora Municipality in Miranda State
28. Sandra Oblitas Ruzza, Vice-President of the National Electoral Council
29. Socorro Elizabeth Hernandez Hernandez, Rector of the National Electoral Council
30. Maikel Jose Moreno Perez, President of the Supreme Court
31. Gladys Maria Gutierrez Alvarado, Magistrate of the Constitutional Chamber of Supreme Court of Justice
32. Juan Jose Mendoza Jover, Second vice-president of the Supreme Court of Justice
33. Luis Fernando Damiani Bustillos, Magistrate of the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice
34. Lourdes Benicia Suarez Anderson, Magistrate of the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice
35. Carmen Auxiliadora Zuleta De Merchan, Magistrate of the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice
36. Arcadio De Jesus Delgado Rosales, Vice-president of the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice
37. Calixto Antonio Ortega Rios, Magistrate of the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice
38. Andres Eloy Mendez Gonzalez, Director-general of the National Commission of Telecommunications
39. Manuel Enrique Galindo Ballesteros, Comptroller General
40. Vladimir Padrino Lopez, Minister of Defence