How Canadian companies have responded to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

In our latest newsletter, we explain how reporters Carl Meyer and Emma McIntosh went about tracking down info on Canadian ventures with ties to Russian resources

“A very unfortunate development.” That’s how an executive at Ontario-headquartered Magna International, which employs roughly 2,500 people at car manufacturing facilities in Russia, described Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

Global director of external communications Louise Colledge told The Narwhal on Wednesday that Magna was “respectful to the human aspect of this situation and [wishes] for the best to all those impacted,” but added that the company’s operations in Russia were still running. Just as we were about to press send on this newsletter, Magna reversed course and said it was idling those operations.

You could be excused for wondering how it is that Magna has been doing business in Russia despite all the news of the Trudeau government’s growing list of sanctions against the country’s businesses and oligarchs. But the company is far from alone when it comes to Canadian ventures that appear to have so far avoided sanctions that are evolving by the minute.

Reporters Emma McIntosh and Carl Meyer scoured corporate filings and found a number of Canadian players that have hundreds of millions of dollars invested in Russian mining, manufacturing, oil and gas projects.

Take Montreal-based engineering giant SNC-Lavalin. Carl went to the company with questions about whether the Russia-linked deals the company had outlined in old press releases were still active.

“The company replied that none were — except one, OAO VNIPIneft.” 

“After doing some research on VNIPIneft,” Carl says, “I found one line in an old news story that suggested the Russian government was a shareholder. I followed up with SNC-Lavalin to ask if it still was. That’s when I learned the joint venture partner was Rosneft.”

If Rosneft sounds familiar, that’s because it’s a state-controlled oil and gas company that has been a central target of sanctions by Canada and other countries. SNC-Lavalin says it began divesting from its 48 per cent stake in OAO VNIPIneft a few years ago but that the process is “still ongoing.

The Narwhal's Carl Meyer and Emma McIntosh

I caught up with Carl and Emma to learn about how they whipped up the piece, their first together at The Narwhal but a familiar practice from their time at Canada’s National Observer. “I swear we have only ever shared a byline in similarly dynamic situations,” Emma explains. “So we really just slid into a flow and [extremely East Side Mario’s voice] bada bing, suddenly we had a story!”

Speaking of how the dynamics of this story have been changing on a dime: after Emma, Carl and other reporters began asking Toronto-based Kinross Gold questions about its plans to conduct business as usual with its Russian mines, the company reversed course and said it would be suspending those operations. It’s still declining to share its long-term plans for Russia, but as recently as last month Kinross’ CEO was telling the press the country has “been a great place for us.”

So, how is the federal government planning to deal with Canadian companies that maintain their Russian operations? Well, Global Affairs Canada says it’s not in the business of providing legal advice over whether one company or another’s activities or dealings may run afoul of sanctions. The government’s advice to companies in Russia? Lawyer up. Any violation of the sanctions, which is a criminal offence, can be investigated by the Canada Border Services Agency and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the department noted.

As for Carl and Emma, the pair continue to monitor the latest developments on the Ukraine-Russia front.

“This is definitely not something I ever expected we’d be covering, on our beats,” Emma told me. “But I do think it highlights how often resource extraction interacts with human rights issues, which is a really important discussion.”

Take care and give your pension fund a call,

Arik Ligeti
Director of audience

The Narwhal on the ’gram

Looking for a taste of our journalism in bite-sized pieces? Head on over to our Instagram, where we’re always cooking up some neat ways to showcase The Narwhal’s visuals and reporting. As one of our followers wrote about the above post, on a Mohawk seed sanctuary: “wow yessss I love EVERYTHING about this 🙏” Join us over there, won’t you?

This week in The Narwhal

Document reveals influence of oil and gas lobbyists on B.C. officials after Indigenous Rights ruling

Oil and gas infrastructure in the Blueberry River First Nations territory

By Matt Simmons

Internal documents released through freedom of information legislation show industry lobbyists claim the precedent-setting Blueberry ruling will lead to 10,000 job losses and tens of millions in lost annual revenue for B.C. But government figures and expert analysis suggest calculating the true economic impacts of respecting Indigenous Rights is a more complicated — and potentially more positive — tale than industry is telling. Read more.

Canadian oil and gas isn’t the solution to Europe’s energy problems, Steven Guilbeault says

Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault

By Natasha Bulowski

Sanctions over oil-rich Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have left many nations short on fossil fuel supplies, prompting Alberta Premier Jason Kenney to make a pitch for pipelines. Canada’s environment minister says Europe should be focusing on renewables instead. Read more.

What we’re reading

Discourse article: Indigenous practices are the future — and past — of wildfire prevention
Globe and Mail article: How climate change will change Canada - and how we can make our communities more resilient

GIF of a dog flipping through a book.

When you’re sifting through Canadian corporate filings to look for Russian business ventures. Tell your friends to sign up for reporting that turns balance sheets into compelling journalism.

RCMP were planning raids while in talks with Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs about meeting

The images are familiar now, iconic even: Heavily armed RCMP officers use an axe and a chainsaw to break down the door of a tiny...

Continue reading

Recent Posts

Help us publish three ambitious investigations
Help us publish three ambitious investigations
Get The Narwhal in your inbox!
People always tell us they love our newsletter. Find out yourself with a weekly dose of our ad‑free, independent journalism
Get The Narwhal in your inbox!
People always tell us they love our newsletter. Find out yourself with a weekly dose of our ad‑free, independent journalism