Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to support Bill S-226, also known as the Sergueï Magnitsky law and the justice for victims of corrupt foreign officials act.
The background to this important bill reads like a John le Carré novel. A Russian lawyer uncovered corruption, theft, and tax fraud by a group of senior bureaucrats and police. He reported it and suddenly found himself arrested and imprisoned. Days before he has to be released he mysteriously dies. A former business associate, who had asked the lawyer to look into the corruption, is himself expelled from Russia under threat of criminal charges. Years later, the U.S. agree on sanctions against the perpetrators of the corruption, only to find representatives of the Russian government, people with close ties to the corrupt officials, lobbying a U.S. presidential candidate to repeal the legislation. All of this happened. The lawyer was named Sergei Magnitsky, and after he reported high-level corruption in 2008, he was thrown into a brutal prison where, according to many well-respected sources, he was tortured for months until he died.
The Washington Post wrote:
Independent investigators found, “inhuman detention conditions, the isolation from his family, the lack of regular access to his lawyers and the intentional refusal to provide adequate medical assistance resulted in the deliberate infliction of severe pain and suffering, and ultimately his death.”
In 2012, the United States passed the Magnitsky Act, which named the individuals connected with the corruption and Magnitsky's death, and imposed financial and travel sanctions on them. The European Parliament has passed a similar act, and both the United Kingdom and Ireland are also looking at new laws.
In Canada, a resolution was adopted in 2010 that also imposed sanctions, much to the annoyance of Russian officials, one of whom, according to The Washington Post, called it, “none other than an attempt to pressure the investigators and interfere in the internal affairs of another state.”
I am proud to say that the NDP has long been at the forefront of calling for targeted sanctions against those responsible for human rights violations. We have consistently called for Canada to coordinate our sanctions regime with the United States and the European Union, and to tighten sanctions to address major gaps. We believe that the individuals targeted by sanctions should also be inadmissible to Canada.
Unlike the U.S. and EU versions of the legislation, which targeted individuals connected with the case, the bill that is before us today is a type known as a “global Magnitsky law”, which is broader and meant to be used to impose sanctions on any individual or official from any country, not just Russia. This is an important step in fighting government corruption worldwide.
Last January, I had the opportunity to travel with the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs to Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Poland, and Latvia to cement our diplomatic friendships. On those visits we continually heard from officials and NGOs about their concerns with ongoing Russian aggression and the need for continuing and even increasing sanctions against Russia.
Paul Grod, the national president of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, stated:
Through its invasion of Ukraine, illegal imprisonment of Ukrainian citizens, and widespread and systematic abuse of human rights, the Russian regime continues to demonstrate its contempt for international law and democratic values….The adoption by Canada of Magnitsky legislation, and the sanctioning of Russian officials responsible for human rights violations would be a strong signal that their actions are unacceptable to Canada. We call on Canada’s Members of Parliament to swiftly adopt Magnitsky legislation, and the Government of Canada to enhance sanctions on the Russian Federation, and ensure appropriate enforcement of the sanctions.
I could not agree more, and I am glad to see that our legislation can be applied not only in Russia but also to corrupt officials anywhere in the world. Corruption is a global problem and a global threat. Transparency International, which is dedicated to exposing and ending corruption worldwide, has stated that “the abuse of power, secret dealings and bribery continue to ravage societies around the world.”
They go on to say:
From children denied an education, to elections decided by money not votes, public sector corruption comes in many forms. Bribes and backroom deals don't just steal resources from the most vulnerable—they undermine justice and economic development, and destroy public trust in leaders.
Canada is a signatory to the United Nations Convention against Corruption, the only legally binding universal anti-corruption instrument. It covers five main areas: preventive measures, criminalization and law enforcement, international co-operation, asset recovery, and technical assistance and information exchange. It includes bribery, trading in influence, abuse of functions, and various acts of corruption in the private sector among its definitions.
The Sergei Magnitsky law we are discussing today dovetails perfectly with our international obligations under the UN convention. It does more than commemorate a man who fought a corrupt regime and died for his work. It provides real sanctions against corrupt individuals.
This bill includes the ability to freeze, seize, or sequester the Canadian assets and property of foreign nationals who have been deemed responsible or complicit in gross violations of internationally recognized human rights.
Sergei Magnitsky began looking into the accounts of Russian officials at the request of an American-British financier, Bill Browder, who has taken on global corruption as a lifelong cause. I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Browder last year at a lunch meeting here on Parliament Hill. He is now the head of the International Justice Campaign for Sergei Magnitsky. He wrote:
one of the questions I got at various different stages of my advocacy work in Ottawa about the Magnitsky act was, what does this have to do with Canada? The fact that we found millions of dollars from the blood money of the Magnitsky crime coming to Canada makes Canada directly involved in this thing. This is not a hypothetical or an abstract notion. This is a situation in which a man was murdered for money, and some of that money came to Canada.
I believe that everyone in this House believes that Canada should not have any role in assisting government corruption abroad. This bill will ensure that Canada can no longer be an unwitting accessory to such acts, and it sends a strong message to corrupt officials everywhere: we are watching, we are paying attention, and we will not help you get away with it.