OTTAWA — After trying seven times to get the Canadian global affairs minister to remove his name from a list of foreigners subject to economic sanctions, a Ukrainian man is taking legal action in Canada’s federal court.
Andriy Portnov, who served under Viktor Yanukovych before the Ukrainian president was ousted from power amid 2014 anti-government protests, remains on a list of former officials sanctioned by the Canadian government. Today he is a lawyer working in Austria.
His Canadian legal team says there’s a “very strong case” that he should no longer be among those affected by regulations that freeze assets held in Canada.
Portnov doesn’t hold any such assets. But lawyer John Boscariol at McCarthy Tétrault LLP in Toronto told the Post Tuesday it is “really unusual and frankly unfair” that Canada remains, to his knowledge, the only country in the world that still holds sanctions against Portnov — despite his exoneration in Ukrainian and European Union courts.
“Canada is respected internationally for its view on rule of law and human rights, and it’s a very odd situation to have all other countries either not list him at all or remove him from their lists, but Canada still continues to list him,” Boscariol said. “And that has a significant reputational impact on him.”
An application for judicial review filed with the federal court Friday argues his presence on the list leaves him “publicly humiliated” and has “negatively impacted” his political, business and personal relationships.
The respondent in the case is Canada’s minister of global affairs, Chrystia Freeland. “Global Affairs Canada cannot comment on matters before the courts,” spokesman Brendan Sutton said Monday evening. Political staff in the minister’s office did not respond to requests for additional comment.
Portnov’s current situation originated with a letter Ukraine’s prosecutor general sent to Stephen Harper’s Conservative government in 2014, which listed individuals that the Ukrainian government believed had misappropriated state funds while working under the previous administration.
This gave Canada the legal rationale to place Portnov and 17 other people on a list, under the Freezing Assets of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act, prohibiting them from dealing in any property, financial transactions or services in Canada or with Canadians.
Since then, Boscariol said, Portnov has been exonerated. “We’ve had countries and courts around the world determine that he shouldn’t have been listed in the first place, that there was no basis for including him in that letter. And the government of Canada has been given that information,” he told the Post.
In a different legal action, the General Court of the European Union formally struck sanctions against Portnov in October 2015 (although he had already been delisted), finding that a letter from Ukraine’s prosecutor general contained no details to back up allegations against him. Switzerland and Norway had delisted him from their own sanctions regimes, too.
Following this decision Portnov began communicating with Liberal ministers, according to the application filed Friday, which calls the original accusations against him “politically motivated, unreliable and factually incorrect.”
An initial request to then-minister Stéphane Dion in December 2015 was followed up the following month with Canadians saying they had made inquiries with Ukraine. Relying on a foreign power to determine whether Canada should keep someone on a sanctions list or not “offends against the very concept of sovereign decision making and due process,” the application argues.
After Portnov contacted Dion a second time, it continues, an official responded that Ukraine must make a formal request to Canada for his removal from the list, despite the regulations not containing such a requirement. A third letter from Portnov in spring 2016 received a “nothing to add” response from the foreign ministry.
When Freeland took over the job at the beginning of 2017, Portnov renewed his efforts, contacting her twice before receiving a reply in July that said the ministry was still considering his request. Meanwhile, Ukraine’s prosecutor general notified the prime minister’s office in June that the information provided to Harper’s government in 2014 was “‘unreliable’ and violated Mr. Portnov’s rights,” says the application. But two more attempts to contact Freeland went unanswered.
Boscariol said he’s had no word as yet from the Canadian government. Both sides of the case are expected to file documentation to the federal court in the next few months and Boscariol hopes the court will rule within a year. No decision has been made yet on whether to pursue a separate civil suit to seek damages.