OTTAWA — Despite repeated Harper-government boasting about imposing some of the toughest sanctions against Iran, newly released documents show that Canadian customs agents are stretched thin — and have been missing some shipments intended for Iran’s surreptitious nuclear program.
The documents raise questions about the effectiveness of Canadian sanctions — and whether efforts to prevent Iran from acquiring Canadian technology for its nuclear program are mere rhetoric given a lack of resources and personnel.
Canada and other Western allies have been steadily tightening sanctions against Iran in recent years over the country’s rampant human-rights abuses, ongoing support for terrorism and clandestine efforts to establish a nuclear program.
Its nuclear aspirations have been of particular concern because of fears it is trying to acquire a nuclear arsenal.
The sanctions include prohibitions on the export of anything that could help Iran acquire nuclear weapons, including goods used in the petrochemical, oil and gas industries, as well as items that could be used to build ballistic missiles.
The Canada Border Services Agency is responsible for enforcing those prohibitions — and according to the documents, obtained by researcher Ken Rubin, there have been some successes.
“These shipments were prohibited because they were to listed entities, involved prohibited (listed) goods, or involved prohibited (oil refining and gas liquefaction),” the paper reads. “Other seizes involve nuclear dual use goods.”
The paper states that Canada is a target for “clandestine and illicit procurement activity since it is a recognized leader in many high technology sectors, (including nuclear, aerospace, chemical, electronics).”
But the same paper also made it clear the border agency is facing extreme resource limitations in enforcing sanctions against not just Iran, but the more than a dozen other countries against which Canada has placed export and trade restrictions.
“The number of CBSA staff dedicated to export control are very limited (approximately 53 staff members),” the paper reads. “The number of export shipments that the dedicated export teams must target and examine is overwhelming (8,000 to 10,000 per day).”
The paper said because of these limitations, “most of the efforts of CBSA’s export control program are focused on Iran and known transshipment areas,” though nuclear procurement networks from Syria, China and Pakistan are also operating in Canada.
Meanwhile, a secret memo recently prepared for senior CBSA managers outlines the increasing complexities in monitoring and preventing the export of Canadian technology and goods to Iran for suspected use in its nuclear program.
“Although Iranian procurement networks have been identified as working in Canada,” the memo reads, “intercepting export shipments is becoming increasingly difficult as the networks adapt to the increased scrutiny and sanctions enforcement (by) using more transshipment points and circuitous routes to ship their exports.”
And officials admitted some suspect shipments have slipped past them.
“Despite the latest rounds of international and Canadian sanctions,” the memo reads, “Iranian procurement agents have still been able to export items, albeit with more difficulty, greater costs, but effective nevertheless.”
Even when shipments have been stopped or seized, the documents note that prosecution is extremely difficult, though they add that “success can also be considered when procurement efforts are disrupted and/or delayed.”