Madam Speaker, I am going to start by tipping my hat both to Fridays and the Senate today.
For those who think that nothing important ever happens here on Fridays, this bill will show that in fact we do important work here on Fridays, things that might otherwise get swept aside in the daily business of the House of Commons. People know that I am sometimes a very strong critic of the Senate, but I have always said that there are some senators who work very hard and some senators who bring forward important measures, for example, Senator Andreychuk and this bill. I am, again, saluting both Fridays and, for once, the Senate.
I talked earlier with people about how, if I actually read the full title of the bill, the 42-word title, twice, I would not have any time to actually speak to the bill, so I am glad to refer to it either as Bill S-226 or the justice for victims of corrupt foreign officials act, which is the short version of the title.
New Democrats are very proud to be supporting this bill. We have been calling for this legislation for a very long time. It gives Canada a chance to join world leaders in the defence of human rights. We are coming a bit late to the table, but better slow than not arriving.
Since I have been in the House, I think the first time we talked about this was in 2013. In fact, in the last Parliament, we unanimously approved a motion that called for adopting legislation like Bill S-226. All parties supported that. That was more than two years ago. Now I am going to praise a Liberal. It was through the hard work of the former Liberal member of Parliament Irwin Cotler, who was the Liberal human rights critic at that time. I believe he made a very persuasive case that this is what we really need to do in response to the proliferation of the use of torture around the world; that is, when sanctions against governments do not work, and they often do not, we apply these sanctions to the individuals responsible for these acts and who profit personally from these acts. That is really what we are talking about in this bill.
It is something that came about in response to a very specific case. We are calling it the Sergei Magnitsky act. Why? He was the lawyer for a man who was investigating corruption in Russia, a Russian lawyer who ended up imprisoned and tortured for nearly a year, who was denied medical treatment, and eventually died in prison in 2009. Why was he in prison? He was in prison because he was the lawyer for a man who had uncovered massive fraud in Russia. This attempt to fight corruption resulted in his imprisonment.
Mr. Cotler had served as the chair of a group called Justice for Sergei Magnitsky, an interparliamentary group which had 21 parliamentarians from 13 countries. Each of them committed to try to get their countries to take some effective action. So far, I believe we would be only the third country, if we do adopt this bill, to take the action that those 21 parliamentarians were working toward.
The United States did in fact pass a narrow version of the Magnitsky act in 2012, which provided financial and travel sanctions specifically on those Russians involved in the Magnitsky case. This was the first version of the act. However, that U.S. legislation was broadened in 2016 to apply to any foreign nationals involved in gross human rights abuses and profiting from those abuses.
The 2015 motion that we passed in this House called for that broader version of legislation, and that is what we see in Bill S-226 today. However, we are still calling it the Magnitsky act to honour Sergei Magnitsky and the sacrifice he made in the fight against corruption and human rights abuses in Russia.
On April 6, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development issued a unanimous report, which was entitled, “A Coherent and Effective Approach to Canada's Sanctions Regimes: Sergei Magnitsky and Beyond”. It had the specific recommendations, again, that are included in Bill S-226, to amend the Special Economic Measures Act to add situations where sanctions can be enacted to include individuals involved in cases of gross violations of human rights.
What does that mean in practical terms? It means that Canada would be able to freeze and perhaps seize assets of those corrupt foreign officials who are bringing the benefits of that corruption and the benefits of those human rights violations here to Canada by stashing assets here or by sending members of their family to live here on what one might call the avails of crime, the avails of human rights violations. They seek out safe countries like Canada as places to take advantage of the gains they have made through human rights violations.
It would also allow us to attack money laundering here in Canada and to deny entrance to Canada of those individuals who have been involved in gross human rights violations.
This is important for Russia, because what we all recognize now is that Russia is well on its way to becoming the greatest kleptocracy in modern history. Those around President Putin have enriched themselves to unbelievable levels through the corruption in the Russian system and through violating the rights of any who dare to oppose the system and oppose that corruption.
Those listening might ask what this has to do with Canada. We can go back to the original investigations by Bill Browder, the person who did the investigations for which Sergei Magnitsky has paid the price. He found more than $20 million being laundered by Russian banks in Canada.
We can point to others close to Putin, such as Oleg Deripaska, one of the closest associates of Putin. He formerly owned a controlling interest in Magna International, a car parts firm here in Canada, and recently tried to purchase a controlling interest in a major Quebec aluminum smelter. We could look at another Putin-friendly oligarch, Roman Abramovich, whose steel company, Evraz, owns several subsidiary steel companies here in Canada. We could look to companies like Uranium One, one of Canada's largest uranium mining firms, which is owned by Russian interests associated with Putin.
This is a real thing. It is not just a theory that they are trying to use Canada as a way of benefiting from their corruption and their human rights violations. This is taking place now, so it is important for us to advance this legislation, even if, as I said, we are a bit late to the table.
It is not just the lawyer Magnitsky who has suffered human rights violations. We could talk about others. Opposition leader Boris Nemtsov appeared here before the foreign affairs committee in 2012, asking us to adopt legislation like this. He did this just a little over two years before he was murdered in the streets of Russia.
We could talk about other Russian opposition leaders who have testified here, such as opposition leader Vladimir Kara-Murza. I forget the year he appeared here, but I think it was also in 2012, a bit after Mr. Nemtsov. He was mysteriously poisoned in 2015. While one could accept maybe one mysterious poisoning, a year later he was poisoned again. He survived two attempts on his life through poisoning after speaking here at this institution in favour of legislation like this. The importance of our proceeding is easy to see.
There are other areas in which we could use legislation like this. I have one that I would like to talk about briefly, and that is Chechnya. The President of the Chechen Republic, Ramzan Kadyrov, has been in office since the assassination of his father under various titles because he was too young to assume the presidency at the beginning. He has been in power in Chechnya since 2006. Earlier this year he began a campaign against gay men in Chechnya. Human rights organizations have now documented that this campaign has resulted in the arrests of over 200 gay men in Chechnya, with three confirmed deaths as a result. As I have said before in the House, probably the most pernicious aspect is that the leader of Chechnya has called on families in Chechnya to murder the gay members of their families to protect their honour.
We would be able to use legislation like this to place sanctions on him and those around him so they could not freely travel around the world, so they could not come to Canada, so he could not invest the profits he has made out of the corruption in Chechnya here in Canada.
Right now there are more than 40 Chechen gay men in hiding. They are seeking emergency visas to get out of Russia, which is also not friendly to gay men, and the United States has just refused those visas.
Canada could act very urgently in this case, but once we pass this legislation, we will have an important tool to act against human rights violators like this one.