Canada’s seizure and forfeiture provisions: A new government power

September 26, 2022 | Daniel Kiselbach, Thomas Ghag

Canada has taken a number of measures in response to Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine under the Special Economic Measures Act (“SEMA”) and the Special Economic Measures (Russia) Regulations (“Russia Regulations”). These measures are designed to place economic pressure on the Russian government.

In furtherance of Canada’s commitment to help end the conflict, SEMA was recently amended to enable the Minister of Foreign Affairs (the “Minister”) to apply to the court for an order forfeiting a sanctioned person’s property situated in Canada. Previously, SEMA only allowed for property to be seized or frozen. The new asset forfeiture power is supported by amendments allowing governmental bodies to share, collect and compel the disclosure of information relevant to an order under section 4 of SEMA. The new forfeiture powers apply to the growing number of sanctioned persons and entities under the Russia Regulations.

Purpose and property

The Governor in Council may order property to be seized and subsequently forfeited where:

  1. a grave breach of international peace and security has occurred;
  2. gross and systematic human rights violations have been committed in a foreign state; or
  3. acts of significant corruption involving a national of a foreign state have been committed.

The amendments expand the definition of “property” to mean “any type of property, whether real or personal or immovable or movable, or tangible or intangible or corporeal or incorporeal, and includes money, funds, currency, digital assets and virtual currency.”

Property captured by the amended definition that is “owned – or that is held or controlled, directly or indirectly…” by the sanctioned person may be subject to forfeiture.

Forfeiture orders

Before a forfeiture order can be granted, the court must find that the Minister described the property in an order for seizure and the property is owned by or is held or controlled, directly or indirectly, by the person named in the seizure order. Additionally, notice must be given to any person with an interest in or right to the property in question.

Once forfeited, the Government may pay out the proceeds from the disposition of the forfeited property for:

  1. the reconstruction of the foreign state adversely affected by a grave breach of international peace and security;
  2. the restoration of international peace and security; and
  3. the compensation of victims of a grave breach of international peace and security, gross and systematic human rights violations or acts of significant corruption.

Administration and enforcement

To support the Minister in implementing the new provisions, several measures have been taken to assist information collection and disclosure. Currently, the Russia Regulations require any person in Canada and any Canadian outside Canada to voluntarily disclose any information relating to property owned or controlled by sanctioned persons. The amendments to SEMA enable the Minister to compel any person to provide information about an order.

Additionally, the Commissioner of the RCMP may assist the Minister concerning an order under SEMA or for making an application for forfeiture under SEMA. The RCMP reported that between February 24 and June 7, 2022 approximately $123,031,866.85 of assets in Canada had been frozen as a result of the Russia Regulations.

The amendments also allow various persons to share and disclose information that could assist the Minister in administering, enforcing, or making an order under SEMA and its regulations. Those persons include the Minister of Finance, the President of the Canada Border Services Agency and the Director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.

No formal guidance has been issued on the application or interpretation of the amendments. As such, persons should exercise caution when dealing with foreign persons.

If you have any questions, please reach out to Miller Thomson’s Global Trade and Customs Group.

The authors would like to thank Michael Hanuman, 2022 Summer Student, for his contributions to this article.


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