moved that Bill C-281, An Act to amend the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Act, the Justice for Victims of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act (Sergei Magnitsky Law), the Broadcasting Act and the Prohibiting Cluster Munitions Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Madam Speaker, my apologies for putting you through such linguistic gymnastics toward the end of the session this week and right before Thanksgiving.
On that note, I would like to wish everyone in the chamber and everyone across the country a happy Thanksgiving.
I am honoured today to rise with respect to my private member's bill, which is Bill C-281, the international human rights act. Before I get into the substance of the speech, I would like to start by thanking some important people who have been critical to getting this bill to the floor of the House of Commons.
I would like to thank the member for Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, who was instrumental in coming up with this idea and who worked alongside me. He is constantly fighting for people around the world and pushing for the good causes of human rights.
I would also like to thank the member for Selkirk—Interlake—Eastman, who was a driving force behind getting the Magnitsky act in Canada. His tireless and relentless work for the people of Ukraine is admirable, and I thank him very much for laying the foundations for what most of this bill deals with.
Getting into the substance of this legislation, as Canadians we are incredibly fortunate. We live in a country where democratic and human rights are almost taken for granted. Sadly, there are billions of people in this world who do not have the comfort and security of knowing that their minimal basic human rights are protected. Many of them spend nearly every waking hour wondering what action the government will take or what steps the government is taking against them to violate their human rights and cause them and their family members pain. They live in waking fear of the government just because they want to express their beliefs and thoughts or want to be their authentic selves.
While it may be naive to believe that legislation created here or in any parliament around the world can bring peace and security to people everywhere, it does not mean that we should not start along that journey or that we cannot start the journey toward providing basic human rights wherever we live. Whether someone is born in Canada or Venezuela, everyone should have access to basic rights. No one should have to live in constant fear of their government.
To get into the substance of my bill, it seeks to do two primary things through four significant amendments. First, it seeks to help the government hold to account some of the worst violators of human rights in the world. Second, it seeks to provide a little more peace and security to people in Canada and around the world.
As I said, the legislation contains at least four significant amendments to help those who want to protect the vulnerable in Canada and around the world. The first section imposes certain reporting requirements on the Minister of Foreign Affairs in relation to international human rights. This includes the requirement of a publication about their activities every year. This report would include the names and circumstances of individuals the Canadian government and the Department of Foreign Affairs are advocating for and working to get released. They are prisoners of conscience being held simply because of the beliefs and thoughts they have about the betterment of their countries.
These reporting obligations are not in any way meant to restrict or obstruct the Department of Foreign Affairs and the important work it does. Rather, this section is designed to support the department. We believe that we can bring more oxygen into the room so that NGOs and the public will be in a better position to pressure governments around the world to release these individuals, who are working so hard for the betterment of their countries and fighting for human rights, freedom of expression and freedom of speech.
We ultimately believe as Conservatives that sunlight is nearly always the best disinfectant. By raising public awareness in Canada and abroad about the incarceration and sometimes, sadly, the torture of prisoners of conscience, people who are suffering human rights violations, we can help drive that out. We can change that potentially, leading to the freedom of prisoners of conscience and advocates of democracy, women's rights, LGBTQ2 rights and freedom.
We firmly believe that if we can get this more into the public sphere so that Canadians know of the suffering that is going on around the world, they will become more engaged and involved. We can then bring people like the two Michaels home earlier and reduce the suffering of Canadians and, really, the many people around the world who are being held simply for being who they are.
The next section deals with the Magnitsky act. The Magnitsky act is, of course, named after Sergei Magnitsky. Sergei was a relentless champion fighting against Russian corruption at the time. He saw his country, unfortunately, governed too often by corruption, and he pushed hard and fought back. Unfortunately, the consequences for him were dire. He was imprisoned. His medical conditions were completely ignored by his captors. Eventually, he was tortured and beaten to death for fighting corruption. In his name, Magnitsky acts have been passed by parliaments around the world, in Canada and the United States, among other countries.
The Magnitsky act seeks to put sanctions on individuals who are human rights violators so that these people cannot just walk around our world scot-free without paying the price or without having any accountability for the horrible actions they have committed against some of the best people humanity has to offer.
My private member's bill seeks to amend the Magnitsky act to make sure that, within 40 days of either the House of Commons or Parliament passing a motion to sanction an individual or a group of individuals, the Department of Foreign Affairs will have to report back. That would enforce a greater degree of accountability. If, in fact, either the Senate, the House of Commons or both have deemed that Magnitsky sanctions should be enforced, I think it is at least reasonable for the foreign affairs department to come to a parliamentary committee and explain the reason an individual is not being sanctioned or why an individual is being sanctioned.
These individuals are committing some of the most heinous crimes imaginable. If the will of Parliament, ultimately the House of Commons, is the will of the people, and the will of 37 million people is that someone be sanctioned, at the very least, the Department of Foreign Affairs should be able to, within 40 days, come to a parliamentary committee and explain itself.
This bill does not even go so far as to say that we force the Department of Foreign Affairs to sanction someone. All it is asking for is an explanation of why or why not, which makes sense because, in some cases, there may be legitimate reasons for why not. I cannot foresee any, but all we are asking for is that they explain it.
We thoroughly believe that, by having this accountability mechanism and reporting mechanism, we will get more individuals sanctioned. Right now, we are not having enough people sanctioned under the Magnitsky act. Initially, in 2018 when the Magnitsky act was passed, we had a flurry of individuals in Myanmar, Russia, Venezuela and others who were all sanctioned.
Since then, we have had very little activity from the government on that front. In fact, no one has been sanctioned under the Magnitsky act since the initial sanctions, and the last one was in Saudi Arabia. Since then, we have not had any. We want to put this reporting and accountability mechanism in place to encourage the government to utilize the tools it has to sanction those individuals who are committing the most vile of crimes and who are violating people's human rights, like the activities we have seen recently in places like Iran and Russia, and to explain why or why not the government is choosing to sanction these individuals.
At the very least, even if we do not encourage the government to sanction more people, which we hopefully do, we will be putting more transparency and accountability around the Magnitsky sanctions. As I said, the Magnitsky sanctions, as reported by many individuals, are actually our most powerful tool to enforce human rights around the world. If we are not using it, we should at least know why.
In fact, Bill Browder, who is one of the biggest drivers of the Magnitsky act, not just in Canada but around the world, in creating and enforcing the Magnitsky act, actually said before a committee of this very Parliament that the lack of use of the Magnitsky act sanctions should have a parliamentary review.
We are acting on Mr. Browder's great advice and in this private member's bill we are asking for a 40-day review any time this House or the Senate deems that Magnitsky act sanctions should be put in place.
The next section is the Broadcasting Act. The bill states:
...this enactment amends the Broadcasting Act to prohibit the issue, amendment or renewal of a licence in relation to a broadcasting undertaking that is vulnerable to being influenced by a foreign national or entity that has committed acts or omissions that the Senate or the House of Commons has recognized as genocide or that is subject to sanctions under the...(Sergei Magnitsky Law) or under the Special Economic Measures Act.
I have already defined what the Magnitsky act is. The Special Economic Measures Act is the legislation under which the government has imposed sanctions recently on Iran, and we thank it for doing so. We continue to ask that it list the IRGC as a terrorist organization, but at least it has gone this far and we look forward to the government taking a stronger role. Quite frankly, I look forward to its support on this legislation as a way of demonstrating that the government is serious about protecting human rights around the world.
I will go back to the amendment to the Broadcasting Act. In layman's terms, what this amendment would do is take an important step in preventing countries around the world that are either committing genocide or have been found guilty of the most significant of human rights violations from utilizing Canadian airwaves to spread their propaganda. The Government of Canada formally removed Russia Today and RT France from the list of non-Canadian programming services and stations authorized for distribution on March 16 on the basis that the distribution of these services were not in the public interest, as their content appears to constitute abusive comments or is likely to expose the Ukrainian people to hatred or contempt on the basis of race, national or ethnic origin and that their programming is antithetical to the achievement of the policy objectives of the Broadcasting Act.
Conservatives applaud and support the CRTC's decision to pull their licences, but it had to take this broad approach in its definition because there was no current mechanism to pull Russia TV when it was clearly using Canadian airwaves just to spread its propaganda. This amendment would give the CRTC an appropriate mechanism so it does not have to try to wiggle around existing legislation. It will have a specific tool to say that country X is committing genocide and spreading its propaganda in our country and the CRTC does not believe it should spreading propaganda in our country. Instead of having to sort of gerrymander around the rules in order to pull out the propaganda that is for malicious and nefarious reasons, we believe that this modest amendment would allow the CRTC to protect vulnerable Canadians.
The last part of this legislation is the Prohibiting Cluster Munitions Act. Currently, cluster munitions kill thousands of people around the world. In fact recently there was an increase because the Russians have used them in Ukraine, and fully 97% of people caught by these submunitions, which are basically a bomb that blows up and puts smaller bombs all over, were civilians. Of them, 90 of those individuals were children. This is not a weapon of war. This is a weapon of terror that hurts civilians, specifically children. We need to get these banned and that is why I am proud that Stephen Harper took the first step. This step would also deny financing to companies that are building and producing cluster munitions. It would prevent it. This has been successful in other countries, so Conservatives believe this will go a great deal of the way to reducing civilian and children casualties.
I thank the House for what I anticipate to be overwhelming support to help make life a little more peaceful, a little more secure, and to hold the most awful perpetrators accountable.