Mr. Chairman, members of the committee, like Mr. Kasparov I'm delighted to be here, and I appreciate the invitation to participate in the context of your review of the Freezing Assets of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act and the Special Economic Measures Act. I am doing so against the backdrop of a unanimous House of Commons motion last June and the related private member's bill that I introduced, the global Magnitsky human rights accountability act, calling on the government to enact global justice legislation to, among other things, hold human rights violators to account, including, among others, those Mr. Kasparov addressed in his remarks.
Indeed, this hearing is as timely as it is necessary, for we have been witnessing a resurgent global authoritarianism. It is finding expression in a massive domestic repression on the one hand, in Russia, in Iran, in China, in Saudi Arabia, in Turkey and the like, underpinned by a pervasive and persistent culture of impunity, matched regrettably on the other hand by a democratic contraction, rather than the democracies empowering themselves through legislation to act.
Fortunately, as we meet, the U.S. Congress has just passed global Magnitsky legislation following their adoption of justice for Sergei Magnitsky legislation in 2012, and again as we meet, an all-party coalition of members of Parliament in the United Kingdom is undertaking a similar initiative. Accordingly, I propose to organize my remarks briefly around three themes.
The first is an abbreviated critique of the two pieces of legislation before you. I've read the witness testimony and so I need not elaborate on that critique.
The second is the nature and raison d’être of not only justice for Sergei Magnitsky legislation but really of global justice accountability legislation.
Finally, as a corollary, but not unimportantly, I will speak to the purposes to be served by such legislation. Again, I've read the testimony that has represented the purposes of a sanctions regime. I think there may be some reasons that have not been addressed, which I'd like to put before you.
Beginning first with the Freezing Assets of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act adopted in 2011, there is a major problem and limitation in this legislation, as appeared in the testimony before you. In this legislation, which, as you know, was adopted in the onset of the Arab Spring, the problem is that its application can only be triggered by a request from a foreign state, but it may often happen that the very officials of that state may themselves be beneficiaries of corruption and be complicit in a culture of corruption and criminality. Such a limitation, as the testimony before you gave in one case study of massive corruption in the Maldives, means that the culture of corruption and impunity is maintained rather than held to account through this legislation.
In the matter of SEMA, much of the Canadian sanctions regime under this measure is pursuant to a UN sanctions regime, or Canada associating with a multilateral regime in that regard. However, the threshold for unilateral Canadian sanctions action—again as the testimony before you summarized—is both too high and too general, and therefore has rarely been invoked. It has resulted in only two prosecutions with respect to the SEMA legislation, and those two prosecutions were related to Iran-related activities, suggesting thereby that the triggering of this had to do with the overall sanctions regime of an international character, rather than through Canada being empowered to act where necessary on its own.
That brings me to the second theme, which is the raison d'être for the adoption of global Magnitsky legislation by the U.S. Congress and now the U.K. and the European Parliament, and my own tabling both of justice for Sergei Magnitsky legislation in 2011 and a global human rights accountability act in 2015, following, as I said, the unanimous adoption by Parliament of a motion to that effect.
It's not that I was uninformed of the two pieces of legislation before you at the time. It is precisely because these two pieces of legislation, whose critique I abbreviated for the reasons I mentioned, warranted these two initiatives.
In a matter of justice for Sergei Magnitsky, as you know—and I need not belabour this—Sergei Magnitsky uncovered the largest corporate tax fraud in Russian history. He documented the officials responsible for that fraud. They themselves then arranged for him to be arrested, detained, tortured, and murdered in prison, and then in a Kafkaesque cover-up, prosecuted Magnitsky posthumously for the very fraud they perpetrated, and so “justice for Sergei Magnitsky” legislation was introduced in order to combat what is, in effect, a case study of both the culture of corruption and the culture of criminality and impunity in Russia, one in which the criminals, regrettably, can still travel and still launder their assets and not only be rewarded at home but also be the beneficiaries of their corruption and criminality abroad, including in countries such as Canada.
That is why I introduced the legislation in October 2011 and was joined shortly thereafter by Boris Nemtsov—mentioned as well by Garry Kasparov—the leading democratic opposition leader in Russia, who came to Canada to support justice for Sergei Magnitsky legislation, as he put it, “in order to combat both the culture of corruption, the culture of criminality, and in particular the culture of impunity that underpin both.”
But, you may say, Russia is not the only major human rights violator, and this type of legislation may appear to be singling out Russia for sanctions. I must say this would not be the first time. It's important historically—and I'll be very brief—to appreciate that Russia has been singled out, and I'll take one example, because of the telling impact that had. It was the Jackson-Vanik congressional legislation in the seventies that led to the opening of the gates for immigration from the former Soviet Union at the time, and then the Helsinki final act and other related sanctions, which, it has been said, brought about, if I may borrow a Marxist metaphor, the “withering away” of the former Soviet Union because of an effective sanctions regime that targeted the former Soviet Union as a whole.
As well, as someone who represented political prisoners in that former Soviet Union, I know from discussions with them the importance of conveying a message to those who were then in the gulag that they are not alone, that we are with them, that we will be enacting these sanctions, and that we will not relent until they and their country become free.
The resurgent authoritarianism we are seeing today mandates a global human rights act because, as you would readily say and as I acknowledge, Russia, while being a major human rights violator, while being maybe the most threatening of the major human rights violators because of its externalized aggression as well as its domestic repression, is not the only human rights violator, as recognized in the U.S. legislation, the U.K., the European Parliament, and the like.
Indeed, as someone who has represented political prisoners, and continues to do so, in Iran, China, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, as we meet, I can tell you that these political prisoners and their plight provide a looking glass into the culture of criminality and the culture of impunity in these countries. Therefore, I understand the importance of globalizing sanctions.
Let me take one other case study, and then I'll move to my final point. It is the case of Iran. Clearly, the issue of sanctions with respect to Iran helped bring Iran to the negotiating table and helped bring about the P5+1 nuclear agreement with Iran, but what we sometimes ignore and what remains sanitized has been the other fourfold criminal conduct of Iran.
When I say the other “fourfold”, in the first instance I'm referring to Iran as a leading state sponsor of international terrorism, and that is not because I say so, but because the U.S. State Department and others continue to say so.
Second is its regional hegemonic aggression, whether it be in Syria, Yemen, or Iraq and the like.
Third is its state-sanctioned incitement to genocide. I remind the members of this committee that it was the Supreme Court of this country in the Mugesera case in 2005 that held that the very incitement to genocide constitutes the crime in and of itself, whether or not acts of genocide follow, and therefore such global sanctioning legislation could also catch and hold to account those who engage in state-sanctioned incitement to genocide.
Finally, there's the massive domestic repression in Iran, whether it be the fact that Iran is the state that executes more people per capita than any other country in the world, whether it be its prosecution and persecution.... I can go on. You know it that Iran Accountability Week has demonstrated the like. The most disturbing, and indeed astonishing, datum in this regard, as a case study of the culture of impunity, is that the Minister of Justice of Iran, Mostafa Pourmohammadi, remains unsanctioned. He was responsible for the mass murder of dissidents in Iran in 1988, for which this Parliament declared September 1 to be political prisoner day in Iran. He continues to serve without having any sanctions in that regard. There are others I could mention, but for reasons of time, I will not.
Let me at this point conclude with the purposes of the sanctions regime in one-liners.
The witness testimony before this committee has stated that a sanctioning regime is basically organized for the purpose of securing three objectives: one, to coerce a change in behaviour; two, to constrain the activities of individuals or groups; and three, to signal a violation of international norms. However, somewhat ignored or marginalized are a number of other compelling purposes that underpin not only justice for Sergei Magnitsky legislation but my proposal that this Parliament enact a global justice accountability legislation that would be just as comprehensive and inclusive in holding global violators to account.
There would be a number of objectives. The first is to combat the persistent and pervasive culture of corruption, criminality, and impunity. The second is to deter thereby other would-be or prospective violators. The third is to make the Parliament of Canada a pursuant of international justice, just as we seek to be the pursuant of domestic justice. The fourth is to uphold the rule of law and justice and accountability in our own territory through visa bans and asset seizures and the like. The recent evidence of how Magnitsky assets have been laundered in Canada is but one case study of the importance of having this type of comprehensive legislation.
Fifth is to protect Canadian businesses operating abroad. Magnitsky uncovered the largest corporate tax fraud in Russian history, which was perpetrated against a U.K.-based entity, Hermitage Capital, so this type of legislation would protect not only the integrity of commerce in Canada, but also our Canadian businessmen operating abroad.
Sixth, it would operate so as to name and shame the human rights violators, because not only will they not be able to launder their assets, not only will they not be able to travel freely, not only will they not be able to send their children to schools abroad and the like, but banks will not lend to them and businesses will not deal with them. There will be serious reputation damage, and this will uphold the integrity of both the rule of law and the rule of commerce.
Seventh, such legislation would not bind the Canadian government; rather, it would empower the Canadian government. It would allow us to be a protector of human rights, and not an enabler of the violators of human rights.
Finally, and most importantly, it tells the human rights defenders, the Magnitskys of today in Russia or those in any of the other countries that I mentioned, such as Raif Badawi in Saudi Arabia or Leopoldo López in Venezuela or the Baha'i in Iran, that they are not alone, that we stand in solidarity with them, that we will not relent in our pursuit of justice for them, and that we will undertake our international responsibilities in the pursuit of justice and in the combatting of the culture of impunity and criminality in these respective countries.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.