The Korean Peninsula was divided into two states following the end of the Korean War (1950-1953): the Republic of Korea (South Korea) and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea). The Democratic People's Republic of Korea is an authoritarian state nominally governed by the Korean Workers’ Party under the dynastic leadership of Kim Il Sung (1953-1994), his son Kim Jong Il (1994-2011), and his grandson (Kim Jung Un (2011–present).
Canada recognized both the Republic of Korea in 1949 and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in 2000. Diplomatic relations between Canada and North Korea were established in 2001, on the premise that engagement offers the best prospect for bringing North Korea into the international community. However, North Korea’s more recent pattern of aggressive actions has led Canada to impose increased restrictions on the relationship. In October 2010, the Government of Canada announced the adoption of a Controlled Engagement Policy toward North Korea. Under this policy, official bilateral contact with the North Korean government is limited to subjects concerning: (1) regional security concerns; (2) the human rights and humanitarian situation in North Korea; (3) inter-Korean relations; and (4) consular issues. All government-to-government cooperation and communication on topics not covered under the Controlled Engagement Policy has been suspended.
In addition, in August 2011, the Government of Canada adopted economic sanctions against North Korea under the Special Economic Measures Act (DPRK). These sanctions are in addition to existing Canadian sanctions passed under the United Nations Act. The Special Economic Measures (DPRK) Regulations were enacted to reinforce the message to the North Korean government that its aggressive actions are unacceptable to Canada. Canada's sanctions include a ban on all imports from and exports to North Korea, with certain humanitarian exemptions.
For additional information on sanctions against North Korea, please consult the website Canadian Economic Sanctions – Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
The Canadian Ambassador resident in Seoul is responsible for relations with North Korea, while North Korea's Permanent Representative to the UN in New York is typically responsible for relations with Canada. Currently neither one is accredited to the other country. Canada’s consular interests in North Korea are protected by Sweden under a protected powers agreement. North Korean consular interests in Canada are protected by Cuba.
Canada remains gravely concerned about North Korea’s human rights violations, and has been outspoken in advocating an improvement in the protection of human rights in North Korea. Canada has regularly called on North Korea to address issues of human rights and human security, urging it to abide by international human rights standards and to allow visits by UN Special Rapporteurs. In March 2013, Canada co-sponsored the Human Rights Council resolution establishing a Commission of Inquiry (COI) to investigate the systematic, widespread and grave violations of human rights in North Korea and renewing the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in North Korea. At the United Nations General Assembly in November 2014, Canada co-sponsored a resolution expressing serious concern with the human rights situation in North Korea, which took note of the sobering findings of the COI’s final report, urged North Korea to respect the human rights and fundamental freedoms of its citizens, and emphasized the need to ensure accountability for perpetrators of human rights abuses.
In 2011, the Department’s inaugural John Diefenbaker Defender of Human Rights and Freedom Award was presented to Reverend Benjamin H. Yoon, representing the Citizen’s Alliance for North Korean Human Rights. The Citizens’ Alliance for North Korean Human Rights works internationally to draw attention to the difficulties faced by North Koreans, to improve their lives, and to offer educational programs and social support to North Korean refugees settling in the Republic of Korea.
Since 2005, Canada has provided over $20 million in humanitarian assistance to respond to critical needs in North Korea, entirely through international organizations such as the World Food Program and the Red Cross to meet the immediate needs of the most vulnerable food-insecure populations in North Korea as the agricultural sector is not able to meet national food requirements. Canadian experts also participate regularly in food aid monitoring visits.
Negotiations to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula began in 2003 under the framework of the Six-Party Talks, which include China (chair), North Korea, South Korea, Japan, Russia and the United States. The Six-Party Talks covered phased denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, economic aid to North Korea, the eventual normalization of Pyongyang’s relations with the United States and Japan, and a peace and security architecture for Northeast Asia. The process has stalled since North Korea’s announcement on April 14, 2009, that it would no longer acknowledge the Six-Party Talks, and that it was embarking on a path of re-nuclearization.
Since then, North Korea has engaged in numerous provocations, including two missile tests in 2012, North Korea’s third nuclear test in February 2013, and the recent restart of operations at the Yongbyon nuclear complex. North Korea launched over 100 short-range missiles and rockets in 2014. So far in 2015, North Korea launched five anti-ship missiles in February and short-range missiles were also launched on a number of recent occasions, including in March.
While North Korea has periodically indicated a willingness to resume dialogue on nuclear issues without pre-conditions, the country has not taken concrete steps toward denuclearization, a key stumbling block for the restart of talks. Canada continues to support peaceful negotiation, including via the Six-Party talks, as the only way to resolve peace and security issues on the Korean peninsula.