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Canada - Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

North Korea

The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea) is an authoritarian state governed by the Korean Workers’ Party under the dynastic leadership of Kim Il Sung (1948-1994), his son Kim Jong Il (1994-2011), and his grandson Kim Jong Un (2011–present). North Korea declared itself a state in 1948. Its current border with the Republic of Korea (South Korea) was defined under the armistice agreement that brought an end to hostilities in the Korean War. During the war, Canada contributed more than 26,000 soldiers to the United Nations Command (UNC), the multinational force that countered North Korean aggression. Canada continues to contribute to the UNC today as a symbol of its enduring commitment to peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula.

North Korea is the only country to have carried out nuclear tests in the 21st century. It first tested a nuclear device in 2006 and has conducted six such tests to date. The origins of the nuclear crisis began when North Korea declared its unilateral withdrawal from the Non-proliferation Treaty in 1993. Negotiations that followed between the United States and North Korea led to the 1994 Geneva Agreed Framework. However, tensions rose again in 2002 when North Korea admitted to developing highly enriched uranium for use in nuclear weapons. Negotiations to denuclearize North Korea began in 2003 under the framework of the Six-Party Talks, which continued until 2009 when North Korea announced its withdrawal from that process. In 2016 and 2017, North Korea conducted three nuclear tests and dozens of ballistic missile launches, all contrary to UN Security Council resolutions. This led the international community to impose significant additional sanctions. To date, the UNSC has adopted 10 separate resolutions imposing sanctions on North Korea, including four in 2017 alone.

North Korea has continued to conduct ballistic missile launches, contrary to multiple United Nations Security Council Resolutions.

In January 2018, Canada and the U.S. co-hosted the Vancouver Foreign Ministers’ Meeting on Security and Stability on the Korean Peninsula. The meeting was attended by representatives from 20 countries with the shared goal of advancing diplomatic efforts towards a stable, secure and denuclearized Korean Peninsula. Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs reaffirmed Canada’s unequivocal commitment to diplomatic efforts that create the conditions for a negotiated solution.

In 2018, Canada also advanced the North Korea nuclear issue during its G7 Presidency. We also increased our contribution of personnel to the UNC in South Korea. Lt.-Gen. Wayne D. Eyre from the Canadian Forces was the first non-American to have been appointed Deputy Commander of the UNC, and served from 2018 to 2019. 

At the Olympic/Paralympic Winter Games in PyeongChang in 2018, athletes from both North Korea and South Korea participated together in the Opening Ceremony under the Korean unification flag. The PyeongChang Games were followed by a number of high-level meetings between South and North Korea, resulting in the Panmunjom Declaration in April 2018 and the Pyongyang Declaration in September 2018, which included military-military confidence building measures aimed at reducing the risk of armed conflict on the Korean Peninsula.

In 2018, the United States and North Korea began talks aimed at denuclearization. U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un held summits on the nuclear issue on two separate occasions. The Singapore Summit in June 2018 marked the first meeting and the second summit in Hanoi, Vietnam, was held in February 2019.

Bilateral Relations

Canada recognized 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. They are maintained through the Embassy of Canada in Seoul (cross-accredited to North Korea), and North Korea’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations in New York. Sweden acts as Canada’s protecting power in Pyongyang.

North Korea’s aggressive actions in 2010 led Canada to adopt a Controlled Engagement Policy toward North Korea, which remains in place. Under this policy, official bilateral contact with the North Korean government is limited to:

  • regional security concerns
  • the human rights and humanitarian situation in North Korea
  • inter-Korean relations
  • consular issues

Canada remains gravely concerned by North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and ballistic missile programs, and calls on North Korea to:

  • cease all related activities
  • resume adherence to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty
  • comply with its safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency
  • completely, verifiably, and irreversibly abandon its WMD and ballistic missile programs
  • continue dialogue toward a negotiated, political solution

Canada also calls on North Korea to accede to the Chemical Weapons Convention and the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty.

Canadian Sanctions Related to North Korea

In 2011, the Government of Canada imposed autonomous sanctions against North Korea under the Special Economic Measures Act (SEMA). The SEMA sanctions include:

  • an import and export ban
  • a ban on all new investment in North Korea
  • a ban on the provision of financial services to North Korea and to persons in North Korea

Some exceptions exist for the provision of humanitarian goods, and Canadians or persons in Canada can also apply for a permit or a certificate authorizing them to carry out activities in North Korea that would otherwise be prohibited.

These sanctions are in addition to those imposed by the UN Security Council.

Increased missile and nuclear testing by North Korea in 2016 and 2017 resulted in a number of successive UN Security Council resolutions strengthening UN sanctions measures. Canada has incorporated the necessary measures of all relevant UNSC resolutions into domestic legislation under the United Nations Act.  

For additional information on sanctions against North Korea, please consult the Canadian Sanctions Related to North Korea page on the Canadian Sanctions website.

North Korea uses increasingly sophisticated tactics to evade international sanctions, including theft and other malicious activities in cyber space. North Korea’s state-sponsored cyber actors conduct disruptive attacks around the world and have stolen hundreds of millions of dollars from financial institutions, corporations, and individuals. North Korea also circumvents sanctions on its imports through the use of ship-to-ship transfers of petroleum and other products banned by UN Security Council resolutions. Canada contributes to a multinational effort to counter North Korea’s maritime sanctions evasion. In April 2019, the Prime Minister announced that Canada will periodically deploy ships, aircraft and personnel to the Northeast Asia region over a two-year period under Operation NEON.

Through Global Affairs Canada’s Weapons Threat Reduction Program, we provide funding to numerous projects:

  • to build the capacity of states in key regions to implement UN Security Council Resolution sanctions on North Korea
  • to build up the capabilities of the International Atomic Energy Agency to monitor and verify denuclearization efforts in North Korea when conditions allow
  • to conduct open sources investigations into North Korea’s sanctions evasion efforts and entities that are a part of North Korea’s proliferation networks

Human Rights

Canada remains very concerned about North Korea’s egregious human rights violations. We have been outspoken in advocating for an improvement in the protection of human rights in North Korea. We regularly call on North Korea to address systematic human rights abuses and urge it to abide by international human rights laws and standards.

We continue to support resolutions raising concerns on the human rights situations in North Korea at the UN Human Rights Council and the UN General Assembly’s Third Committee. Canada also engages actively in the Universal Periodic Review process. See Canada’s 2019 recommendations.

Canada is also supportive of the work of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. The Special Rapporteur’s latest report on North Korea can be found at the website of the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Humanitarian Assistance

North Korea has suffered widespread food shortages during the past two decades. Since 2005, Canada has provided $38.9 million to support the international humanitarian response in North Korea. Our humanitarian assistance funding is channelled through experienced multilateral partners such as the UN World Food Programme and UNICEF, whose work is guided by the humanitarian principles of humanity, impartiality, neutrality and independence. Canada does not provide any humanitarian assistance funding to the Government of North Korea nor to North Korean organizations. We closely monitor this multilateral programming through interactions with partners and through regular and ongoing reporting. A small number of Canadian NGOs continue to provide humanitarian assistance to North Korea within the framework of Canadian and international sanctions.


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