What does Canada have in common with the regime in Sudan, which perpetrated genocide in Darfur, while allying with Iran and providing weapons to the Palestinian terror group Hamas?
In practical terms, they share very little. Ottawa withholds commercial support services and government-to-government development co-operation from Sudan. Canada's parliament also has enforced sanctions mandated by the United Nations Security Council, including an arms embargo, as well as an asset freeze and travel ban on certain individuals.
Yet, somehow, it is legal for Canadian firms to invest in Sudan's oil sector.
Just consider Vancouver-based Statesman Resources. The company owns 50.1% of an African subsidiary, Statesman Africa. In July 2012, Statesman Africa was awarded 75% of an oil exploration area known as "Block 14" in northwest Sudan, along Egypt's southern border.
Preliminary estimates by Statesman Africa indicated that the block might have a "mean potential resource of 600 million barrels." By November 2012, Block 14's prospects looked even brighter. One estimate suggested that it held "1.5 billion barrels of gross un-risked prospective resources."
According to the Associated Press, as of December 2012, Statesman Africa was "in the process of being formally registered in Sudan and opening an operational office in Khartoum." According to the company's CEO, Sudan's state oil company, Sudapet, is "essentially … a joint venture partner." Statesman must also work with Sudan's Ministry of Petroleum, which is the regulatory authority.
To be clear, there is nothing illegal about Statesman's investment in Sudan. Canadian companies are apparently free to do business with Khartoum. But in doing so, they are out of step with Canada's otherwise sensible foreign policies in the Middle East.
Sudan, as noted above, is a patron of Hamas. It allows the group's leaders to fundraise and train on Sudanese soil. It also was the origin point for Iranian-made Fajr 5 long-range rockets that were smuggled into Gaza and subsequently fired into Israel during the conflict in November 2012. This was not the first time Sudan helped Iran smuggle weapons into Gaza, either.
Canada has properly listed Hamas under its criminal code. There are severe penalties for "persons and organizations that deal in the property or finances of a listed entity. In addition, it is a crime to knowingly participate in, or contribute to, any activity of a listed entity for the purpose of enhancing the ability of the entity to facilitate or carry out a terrorist activity."
Yet, somehow, it is legal to engage in business with Hamas' patron, Sudan.
Sudan serves as an important hub for Iran's terrorist training, financial investments, and the distribution of Iranian weapons to jihadi groups across the African continent. Canada has placed strong sanctions on Iran for its global terrorist activity and its pursuit of an illicit nuclear program. Yet, somehow, it is legal to engage in business with Iran's close ally, Sudan.
This dissonance appears to be rooted in Canada's focus on Sudan's civil conflict, rather than its foreign policies. As one official government website notes, "Improved bilateral relations between Canada and Sudan are contingent on the Government of Sudan's willingness to take steps toward maintaining a peaceful relationship with the Republic of South Sudan and its other neighbors, ending the current violence in Darfur and the transitional areas, and improving the overall human rights situation across the country."
The United States, by contrast, lists Sudan as a State Sponsor of Terror. Khartoum earned this distinction in 1993 by allowing al-Qaeda to create its headquarters in the country during the 1990s. However, it remains on the list now for its close and continuing ties to both Iran and Hamas.
But even the United States may need to assess whether its Sudan sanctions are sufficient. Washington currently bans Americans from doing business in Sudan without a license. But it has yet to issue legislation (as it has in the case of Iran) that prevents companies working in Sudan from doing business in America. (Notably, the Vancouver-based Statesman has two projects that are winding down in America while it continues to work with Sudan.)
In either case, Statesman is not the real problem. Rather, it is the ambiguous Sudan policies of the West that must be addressed. And given Khartoum's close ties to Hamas and Iran, those policies should be addressed soon.
Jonathan Schanzer, a former terrorism finance analyst at the US Department of the Treasury, is vice president for research at Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington, D.C.