Madam Speaker, today I rise proudly to speak in favour of Bill S-226, the Sergei Magnitsky legislation.
Our government supports this bill. Our support comes with amendments that will strengthen its implementation and its effectiveness and better align it with current Canadian sanctions and immigration policy and practice. These amendments will also align with the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development recommendations that were issued on April 6, 2017.
My support for this bill comes for a few reasons that I will expand upon this evening. The first is my riding of Parkdale—High Park and the constituents within it. Second is my own background in practising constitutional and human rights law and prosecuting internationally with the UN. The third is that it resonates with the foreign policy objectives recently outlined by the Minister of Foreign Affairs.
On the first point, as a prefatory comment, I want to talk about what Bill S-226 seeks to accomplish. It will create a legal mechanism to allow for the imposition of sanctions in response to gross violations of internationally recognized human rights as well as in response to acts of significant corruption. There is currently no Canadian law that authorizes the imposition of sanctions specifically for violations of international human rights obligations in a foreign state or for acts of corruption, including those in Russia, as highlighted in the case of Sergei Magnitsky. Bill S-226 will address this gap.
Furthermore, our government also supports expanding the scope under which sanctions measures can be enacted under the Special Economic Measures Act to include cases of gross violations of human rights and foreign corruption.
Let me turn now to the category that I talked about at the outset, my constituents, the people I represent. As the member of Parliament for Parkdale—High Park, during my tenure and during the campaign two years ago, I have had literally hundreds of one-on-one conversations with constituents of both Polish and Ukrainian descent who live in my riding. The diaspora is very vibrant in my community. We are home to two pre-eminent festivals for both Polish Canadians and Ukrainian Canadians. Those representatives come with deep, passionate, interest in the affairs of Ukraine and of Poland.
This is communicated to me regularly by such stakeholders as the Ukrainian Canadian Congress and the Canadian Polish Congress, as well as by individuals like Marcus Kolga of the Estonian Central Council in Canada. What they tell me is the same thing, over and over again: that eastern Europe is embattled because of Russian aggression. They talk to me about the illegal annexation of Crimea, which our government rejects. They talk to me about the ongoing aggression and military activity in the Donbass and the threat of an ever-expansionist Russia moving across eastern Europe. They also talk to me about the violation of human rights of those who dare to speak out in Russia itself.
It is in the effort to combat such human rights violations that this legislation was developed. By promoting respect for human rights, this legislation captures the sentiments expressed to me time and time again by my Ukrainian-Canadian and Polish-Canadian constituents, who desire respect for basic civil liberties in Russia and who want to curb Russian aggression and expansion in Europe.
The second aspect that I want to discuss this evening is the category of human rights violations. I come to this chamber as a lawyer who practised for 15 years, defending charter rights here in Canada and prosecuting international human rights violations abroad with the United Nations. We are lucky in this country to have many rights, freedoms, and privileges when others around the world face real and constant danger for simply opposing their government or daring to speak out.
I would like to take some time to outline the specific type of international human rights violations this bill will seek to curb or stop outright.
We have heard discussion about this, but the most important component is the case of Sergei Magnitsky himself. He was a Russian lawyer. He was tortured, beaten, and killed in a Moscow prison after uncovering a $230-million tax fraud and testifying against the Russian government officials involved. Despite overwhelming evidence incriminating these prison officials, the Russian government exonerated everyone involved.
As most people know, the people who killed Mr. Magnitsky did so for money. We know that criminals of this kind do not keep their ill-gotten gains in their country of origin. They do not keep it in places like Russia. They know all too well how easily it can be taken away from them. They keep their money in the west.
What will this legislation do to address the situation? For this, I turn to none other than Bill Browder, a well-known advocate for defending gross human rights violations abroad and an advocate for his own employee, Sergei Magnitsky, who died in this context.
Mr. Browder has said:
We realized that by preventing these people from storing and spending their money in the West, we could bring an end to the impunity they enjoyed in Russia. By freezing their assets and banning their visas, we could create direct, personal consequences for human-rights abusers, hitting them where it hurts the most — in their wallets. This was the genesis of Magnitsky sanctions — targeted visa bans and asset freezes imposed on individual human-rights abusers.
The Sergei Magnitsky case is not the only case. That is the most troubling aspect. There is the case of Alexander Perepilichny, who suddenly dropped dead in Britain after providing key evidence in the Magnitsky case. There is the case of Vladimir Kara-Murza, who campaigned for a Canadian version of the Magnitsky Law and was poisoned. There is the case of Boris Nemtsov, another Russian opposition politician who campaigned in this very capital for a Canadian Magnitsky piece of legislation in 2012 and was shot dead three years later. In March 21 of this very year, Nikolai Gorokhov, a lawyer for the Magnitsky family, fell four stories from his apartment in Moscow, the fall occurring the night before he was due to give new evidence in court concerning the government cover-up in the Magnitsky case.
What I want to emphasize is that the genius of this legislation is that it is global in reach, and it needs to be, because the problem it targets is indeed global in scope. We are talking about other nations. We are talking about examples such as Buzurgmehr Yorov, a fearless human rights lawyer and whistle-blower in Tajikistan. He was recently sentenced to 23 years of imprisonment simply for doing his job, when he took on the cases of several leaders of the opposition in Tajikistan, the very type of work that I have done here and that many people do around the planet.
Internationally, the global community has responded to these kinds of violations. In 2012 the United States was the first country to adopt such sanctions vis-à-vis Russia itself, passing global Magnitsky legislation and expanding the reach in 2016 with a global act that sanctions human rights abusers from around the planet. Forty-four people from around the world have been banned from the United States under that legislation.
The European Parliament followed suit in 2014. Last year, Estonia passed the first Magnitsky sanctions law in Europe. In Canada, a former Liberal MP, the Hon. Irwin Cotler, a man who was previously our colleague here, introduced in this chamber a Canadian version of the Magnitsky Act in 2011. As members can see, it is important in terms of our international obligations to our partners to enact this legislation and to take action on the underlying issues it seeks to address.
Let me turn to Canada's foreign policy objectives, which were recently announced by the minister. On June 6, the Minister of Foreign Affairs noted that there are:
...clear strategic threats to the liberal democratic world, including Canada. Our ability to act against such threats alone is limited. It requires co-operation with like-minded countries.
When human rights violations occur around the world, they are a threat to democratic values around the world. That is why we must implement legislation such as Bill S-226 in solidarity with other allies and members of the international community. It is only by acting in unison that we can hope to globally curb gross human rights violations and corruption.
In her speech, the Minister of Foreign Affairs also noted that one of the key tenets of our foreign policy has been the basic promotion of human rights at home and abroad. She said:
It is a Canadian, John Humphrey, who is generally credited as the principal author of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1948. That was the first of what became a series of declarations to set international standards in this vital area.
I wholeheartedly concur with this sentiment. As a former war crimes prosecutor with the United Nations who tried cases on the Rwanda genocide tribunal, I can personally testify to the heavy involvement of Canadians at the UN and at that particular tribunal. Canadian involvement in the promotion and protection of human rights abroad is a long-standing tradition, and it is a key priority for our government and for our citizens.
The minister also noted:
These institutions may seem commonplace today. We may take them for granted. We should not. Seventy years ago, they were revolutionary....
Finally, the minister made a simple yet essential statement when she stated:
...our values include an unshakeable commitment to pluralism, human rights, and the rule of law.
That simple statement captures the essence of our democracy and, in my view, why it is only natural for us to pass this much-needed legislation.
To conclude, I support this legislation because it aligns with the beliefs and the convictions of my constituents, because it seeks to curb gross human-rights violations from being perpetrated on individuals around the world, and because it strongly aligns with our new foreign policy framework. I encourage all members of this House to support it as well.