moved that Bill S-226, An Act to provide for the taking of restrictive measures in respect of foreign nationals responsible for gross violations of internationally recognized human rights and to make related amendments to the Special Economic Measures Act and the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Madam Speaker, it is indeed an honour to rise today, on my birthday, to bring forward a private member's bill from the Senate, from my colleague, friend, and mentor, Senator Raynell Andreychuk. The short title of the bill is justice for victims of corrupt foreign officials act, Sergei Magnitsky law.
In the last Parliament, before we rose and had the election in 2015, we unanimously passed a motion that was brought forward by our colleague who has since retired, Irwin Cotler. It called on the House to set up a Sergei Magnitsky style of law that would hold corrupt foreign officials and human rights abusers to account for their actions. It would prevent Canada from being used as a safe haven from where corrupt officials could launder their money, buy assets, and hide their families, essentially bringing them here to go to school, to live, and call Canada home, while back home taking advantage of their citizens and pillaging their economies.
The story of Sergei Magnitsky goes back to an individual by the name of Bill Browder. Bill Browder owned a corporation called Hermitage Capital Management. It was one of the first western funds to set up in Moscow and do business in Russia after the fall of the wall. Bill Browder, who was an American, now lives in the United Kingdom. He was able to go to Russia to do business and create a lot of assets and wealth for his clients.
After Vladimir Putin came to power, there was a crackdown on a lot of the western investors. Hermitage Capital Management, and in particular Bill Browder, was targeted for a fraudulent trumped-up charge of tax evasion. He had to flee the country. He was put on red notice on Interpol by Russia. Luckily, it was never acted upon by the international community, because they saw it as nothing more than a way to intimidate Mr. Browder. He hired a lawyer by the name of Sergei Magnitsky.
Sergei Magnitsky had risen up as a lawyer and was well recognized for his continued work on anti-corruption. He was able to uncover the biggest tax fraud in Russian history at that time. He was able to prove that corrupt government officials in Moscow were using this trumped-up charge of tax evasion against Bill Browder to pocket money themselves. It was $230 million that they were able to put into their own pockets. Sergei exposed that. He was arrested in 2008, held on trumped-up charges, tortured, beaten, and left to die on November 16, 2009, at the age of only 37. He is survived by his mother Nataliya, his wife Natasha, and his two young sons.
While in prison for 358 days, Sergei Magnitsky filed 450 criminal complaints against his abusers, and not one of those individuals was ever brought to justice. In the very bizarre world that occurs in Russia today, the Russian state posthumously tried and convicted Sergei in a Russian court on July 11, 2013. That is unheard of and unbelievable.
We have to make it clear that Sergei was fighting corruption in Russia and exposing a huge tax fraud being committed by police, judges, and tax collectors in the Russian state.
The kleptocracy around the Kremlin has crept into all departments across Russia. Bill Browder has written a book on this. He has been active on human rights around the world in trying to get Sergei Magnitsky-style legislation passed. The first country to come onside with that was the United States. The United Kingdom just got it done last month. The European Union's Parliament passed Sergei Magnitsky legislation last year. It is great that today we are debating Bill S-226 by Senator Raynell Andreychuk.
We need to first acknowledge the fact that the other night, while we were in committee of the whole, the Minister of Foreign Affairs indicated that the government will be supporting this legislation, with amendments. I thank her very much for putting her support behind this bill. It is a good piece of legislation. I understand that the government wants to improve upon it, bring in some fairness, as she explained it to me, and make a few technical changes. I, as the sponsor of the bill in the House, and Senator Andreychuk, as the sponsor of this bill in the Senate, will look at those changes. The best place for amendments to be considered is at the foreign affairs committee.
This work has been done for a long time. We have been talking about this in this place since 2013. There have been motions passed supporting Magnitsky-style legislation. Hearings were held at the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and at the Standing Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade, which heard from expert witnesses from around the world about stronger sanctioning and bans for those committing human rights abuses and illegal, corrupt activities in governments in other countries. When we think about all of the work that has already taken place, there is no reason we cannot fast-track this legislation. I encourage the government to put forward those amendments as quickly as it can so that the committee can get its work done.
The committee has already produced a great report and I congratulate the committee on that report. I know all members on that committee, under the tutelage of the chair, were able to put together 13 strong recommendations on how to properly implement and resource this type of legislation. I understand and appreciate that we need to especially look at recommendation 8 on providing an appeal mechanism for those placed on the sanctions list by the Government of Canada.
If we recall, in its first form, this bill was brought forward by our friend and former colleague Irwin Cotler. I tabled similar legislation in this Parliament, Bill C-267, and felt I had improved upon it, because I provided a role for parliamentarians to play in both the Senate and the House, allowing committees to look at that sanction list every year to see if people should be added or removed based upon their actions and how situations evolve. Senator Andreychuk, in her version, took it even one step further. She has really opened it up to make sure that it has a strong global focus and concentrates on going after those who are committing human rights violations around the world.
The penultimate paragraph in her preamble sums it up better. It states, “And whereas all violators of internationally recognized human rights should be treated and sanctioned equally throughout the world”. I know there are some who criticize the bill, saying this legislation is just part of Russophobia. We heard from the Russian embassy yesterday, which said that Canada will face push-back if we pass Bill S-226, but we have to remember that this is not just about the corruption in Russia. This has application to other places around the world.
The bill is supported strongly by a lot of different diasporas in Canada. People keep saying that it is just another Ukrainian issue that we are rallying around. However, I have met with the Vietnamese community. It wants human rights abusers in the Communist government of Vietnam held to account for what it has done to its citizens.
I have heard from the Russian community. It wants democracy and human rights protected in Russia.
I have been meeting with organizations like Falun Gong. They want to see those individuals in China who have used the political system to arrest Falun Gong practitioners and then harvest organs and tissues from them after they have had them executed. It has turned into a cash cow for those individuals who are involved in that atrocity.
We need to ensure that these sanctions are enforceable. We need to ensure that the organizations in Canada have the ability to go out there and stop these individuals from using Canada to launder money and hide their families. That includes resources for the RCMP, the CBSA, and CSIS. Our financial institutions are there.
When we talk about the situation today, some of the human rights situations and some of the corrupt officials, we need look no further than the assassination of Boris Nemtsov, the opposition leader in Russian. He was shot down on the bridge right in front of the Kremlin. His deputy, Vladimir Kara-Murza, who has been here and has met with the foreign affairs committee, in both the House and the Senate, runs the organization, the Open Russia Movement. He has now survived two assassination attempts on his life.
When he was here last year, what he said to the Globe and Mail in March summed it up best on what was happening in Russia today. He said that for all the similarities between the Soviet era and present day Russia, there was one major difference. While members of the Soviet Politburo were silencing dissent and persecuting opponents, they did not store their money, educate their children, or buy real estate in the west. Many of the current officials and Kremlin-connected oligarchs do. We we need to sanction those individuals.
The way it works today, and a good example is what is happening in the Ukraine, is that Canada, as a member of NATO, a member of the United Nations, a member of the OSCE, acts upon resolutions that are passed at those different organizations. Then we can implement the Special Economic Measures Act and sanction individuals who are tied to aggression, corruption and human rights abuses. They are targeted through those types of resolutions. Then we can also use the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act to go after the travel bans that we need to implement to ensure those individuals and their families do not come to Canada and travel throughout the west.
What we are trying to do with Bill S-226, and something all parties support, is providing the tools to the government. We love to talk the talk on human rights and about cutting down on corruption. This bill would allow us a to walk that talk. We can, independently as a country, now sanction and ban those corrupt foreign officials who are enriching themselves through illicit means, through embellishing stories and embezzling money from the governments within which they operate, and committing atrocities, abuses and aggression in places around the world, whether it is in Iran, Saudi Arabia, or in China.
I ask that we move this in an expedited manner so we can get it to committee, where it can do the good work that it has done already on making the amendments the government has requested, and we can get it back to this place as quickly as possible and passed.