Mr. Speaker, prior to meeting Bill Browder, the name Sergei Magnitsky was just another name in the news, one more Russian dissident to be tortured or killed by Russian authorities when he or she got too close to the truth about Russian corruption. There is a long and sad list of people tortured or killed for standing up for the basic freedoms that we in Canada take for granted.
Last year, Bill Browder asked to meet us. He told us the Sergei Magnitsky story, and he gave us his book. I made a point of reading it. Briefly, Sergei Magnitsky had the opportunity to leave Russia. He believed, however, that the law would protect him when he exposed a massive $280-million fraud scandal involving some of the most powerful in Russia. There is a fine line between naïveté and bravery, and some might argue that one has to know where the line is. He paid for that with is life. Very simply, Sergei Magnitsky died at the hands of Russian authorities, because he exposed financial malfeasance at the highest levels in the Russian government.
The second meeting on the subject was with Vladimir Kara-Murza and the daughter of Boris Nemtsov, an assassinated Russian activist. Kara-Murza walks with a cane. He was poisoned by Russian authorities for being a Russian voice for democracy. Little did I know at the time that we would meet again and that he would be poisoned a second time, and only through an incredible set of circumstances is he alive today. There is no doubt that his bravery, superb intelligence, and persuasive testimony before the foreign affairs committee brings us to where we are today.
I took some satisfaction in contributing to the foreign affairs committee report entitled “A Coherent and Effective Approach to Canada's Sanctions Regimes: Sergei Magnitsky and Beyond”. I was particularly pleased with recommendation 12, which says:
In honour of Sergei Magnitsky, the Government of Canada should amend the Special Economic Measures Act to expand the scope under which sanctions measures can be enacted, including in cases of gross human rights violations.
That leads me back to my first conversation with Bill Browder. What good will this sanctions regime do? The short answer is to hit them where it hurts. The unique part is that sanctions can now be tailored and applied to those who torture and abuse human rights for financial gain, whether or not they can be linked directly or indirectly to any government of the day. Now there will be no place in Canada for gross abusers of human rights: no condos, no companies, no stocks, no banks, no access to bonds or investments, nothing. They can take their filthy blood money and keep it.
I would have thought that every right-thinking person would support the report of the foreign affairs committee, the minister's initiative, and the bill before us. Therefore, it was with some surprise that I received the following letter from the Russian Congress of Canada, dated June 15, signed by Igor Babalich, president. It would be interesting to know whether the Russian embassy saw this letter before it was sent.
I believe it would be instructive for members to see the letter, and I would be quite willing to table it. In the meanwhile, however, I will use my remaining few minutes to read from it. It is titled “Statement of the Russian Congress of Canada regarding the announced adoption of the so-called Magnitsky Act (Bill S-226)”. It states:
The Russian Congress of Canada calls upon the Canadian government to withdraw its support for the proposed legislation.... [as it] would set a dangerous precedent...further closing dialogue with Russia at [this] time....
...[The Foreign Affairs Minister] announced...that the Canadian government has agreed to endorse a Canadian version of the...Magnitsky Act.... [It] would punish Russian officials, allegedly involved in human rights violations and it would provide for expanding sanctions
That is true. It then goes on to criticize the member for Selkirk—Interlake—Eastman. I cannot imagine why. It gives three reasons that this bill should not be supported. The first is apparently because it mirrors the U.S. law:
...[it] will not serve Canada's national interests or demonstrate its leadership in the vital area of human rights protection. This copycat adoption of the U.S. legislation...under the pressure from the most overzealous representatives of the Ukrainian nationalist diaspora will set a dangerous precedent...and will further...[deteriorate] dialogue with Russia at [this] time
The second reason is “the Foreign Affairs Committee...heard only one side of the Magnitsky controversy...William Browder and a few long-time opponents of the Russian government who had little success in trying to get elected to a public office.” These members of the so-called Russian opposition in reality are fully marginal to the Russian political process and have very limited political support among the Russian population. Possibly they have limited success in Russian elections because they are either tortured or killed. Possibly if they stop being tortured, killed, or poisoned, they might have more success.
The third reason is that the bill is named after the Russian Sergei Magnitsky. “He was an accountant...but has often incorrectly been identified...as a lawyer.” For some reason, that is very important to the writer, that he has been incorrectly identified as a lawyer. It went on to say, “Magnitsky was arrested and put in a pre-trial detention facility. After 11 months in detention, he died in November 2009.” That is true.
“The official Russian investigation of Magnitsky's death did not find any evidence of maltreatment or torture.... The reports of his beating by prison officials, which were circulated in the West, have not been based on any empirical or documentary evidence.” Well, maybe that has something to with the fact that nobody can gain access to the evidence.
Then, in a really interesting statement, it says, “The Russian law has changed, so that no criminal investigation can now be opened against those facing their first criminal accusation of tax evasion and an accused would not be detained during the processing of their case by the authorities.” Somehow that is not as comforting as possibly the writer would hope, but I suppose it is an argument to say they are getting better.
His fourth argument is even more interesting. He says, “The death of Sergei Magnitsky was unfortunate indeed.” It certainly was. He then analogizes that in Canada, 43 prisoners died in 2014, that prisoners die in our facilities as well. As far as I know, none of them have died while being tortured.
He says, “we can not support [a bill that is ill-informed by individuals] with personal animosities against Russia that drag Canada into a campaign of wholesale demonization of Canada's partners and neighbours in the Arctic who also bear shared responsibility for the state of affairs of the region, and must see each other as strategic partners but not enemies.”
He urges that the government withdraw itself from its support of the Magnitsky legislation as it “will be detrimental to such a dialogue and counterproductive with regard to its announced purpose.” I do not quite know what Mr. Babalich hoped to accomplish by his letter to parliamentarians, but it seems to me that it is exactly the opposite of what he intended to accomplish.
I am very pleased to know that colleagues on both sides of the aisle from all three parties will unanimously support the bill.