Madam Speaker, it is a true honour to speak in support of Bill S-226. I thank Senator Andreychuk for her initiative in another place and I thank the member for Selkirk—Interlake—Eastman for bringing it to the House.
The legislation will effectively add a long overdue dimension to Canada's official sanctions regime by targeting corrupt foreign officials responsible for gross violations of internationally recognized human rights. This act will be forever associated with Sergei Magnitsky, a heroic victim of Vladimir Putin's brutally corrupt regime. He was an auditor who discovered and exposed details of a massive corruption racket involving many mid and high-level Russian government officials, oligarchs, best described collectively as “kleptocrats”.
I will not revisit the tragic details of Mr. Magnitsky's cruel detention, his torture and his death or of the Putin regime's posthumous conviction of Mr. Magnitsky on outrageously confected charges of tax evasion. However, I would recommend, for those unaware of the Magnitsky story, the international best seller, Red Notice, written by his employer, the crusading champion of Magnitsky-style legislation in democracies around the world, Bill Browder, CEO and founder of Hermitage Capital Management.
Bill C-226 lays out very clearly the circumstances under which corrupt foreign individuals, not just in Russia but anywhere in the world, would be listed. Listing would apply to individuals responsible for, or complicit in, extrajudicial killings, torture or other gross violations of internationally recognized human rights, and foreign government officials exposed of illegal activity.
The law would prohibit those individuals from travelling to Canada, investing in Canada or for any funds or properties of these individuals discovered in Canada to be subject to seizure. The law would also provide for penalties against Canadians found to be engaged in activities that would assist the identified corrupt foreign officials.
The Liberal government has come to accept and support the legislation very late in the day, even though in the final days of our previous Parliament, the Liberals joined all parties in unanimously supporting a motion for Magnitsky-style legislation.
The first Magnitsky legislation was passed in the United States in 2012. Other countries have followed such as the United Kingdom and Estonia. The European Parliament has called on member countries to consider imposing entry bans on listed individuals and for co-operation in freezing the assets of listed Russians.
Despite acceptance and implementation of these Magnitsky laws, the former Liberal foreign minister, Stéphane Dion, flatly opposed such legislation last year, saying, more than a little disingenuously, that it was unnecessary. Fortunately, over the past year, encouraged by the official opposition and NDP members of the foreign affairs committee, the Liberal members of the committee came to agree that in fact Canada did need Magnitsky-style sanctions legislation.
Our committee heard testimony from a broad spectrum of witnesses.
Former Liberal justice minister, Irwin Cotler, the sponsor of the House's original Magnitsky motion, said that the main objective “is to combat the persistent and pervasive culture of corruption, criminality and impunity”, and most importantly, to assure victims and defenders of human rights in such foreign countries “that Canada will not relent in our pursuit of justice for them”.
Garry Kasparov, an eloquent advocate of democratic reform in Russia and, of course, former world chess champio, put it this way in his testimony before the committee. He said, “Money is always looking for safe harbour. We are talking about hundreds of billions of dollars, if not more, of this money that will definitely be looking for a place to be invested.” He warned against Canada being considered by corrupt individuals as a “safe haven”.
Zhanna Nemtsova, daughter of the Russian pro-democracy crusader, Boris Nemtsov, murdered on a Moscow bridge in 2015, made clear the importance of targeted sanctions against named individuals. She said, “These are not sanctions against a country or even a government. These are sanctions against specific individuals responsible for corruption and for abusing human rights.”
Equally powerful testimony came from Russian human rights activist, Vladimir Kara-Murza who, after recovering from one sinister attempt to poison him in Russia in 2015, told our committee:
I have no doubt that this was deliberate poisoning intended to kill, and it was motivated by my political activities in the Russian democratic opposition, likely including my involvement in the global campaign in support of the Magnitsky Act.
Mr. Kara-Murza was in Canada a few weeks ago still recovering from a second poisoning attempt on his life. He encouraged Canadian parliamentarians to ensure the legislation was quickly voted into law and then, as importantly, effectively enforced.
That is an important point because, as the foreign affairs committee discovered during our hearings this past year, enforcement of Canada's existing sanction regime is pathetically dysfunctional and ineffective.
The Freezing Assets of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act was created in 2011, to respond to events of the Arab Spring, where governments fell and state assets were vulnerable to corrupt officials suspected of moving ill-gotten wealth to locations abroad.
The Special Economic Measures Act has been used in the creation of a number of regulations that would impose restrictive measures and prohibitions on illegitimate activities, to freeze bank accounts, to block financial dealings and seize property.
Sanctions against Iran for its nuclear adventurism and sponsorship of terrorism are within SEMA, as are sanctions against Russia for the invasion and occupation of Crimea and sponsorship of the deadly rebellion in Eastern Ukraine.
However, testimony revealed that Canadian departments and agencies that were mandated to monitor and to enforce such sanctions, operated in counterproductive silos, that the complexities of sanctions enforcement exceeded the capacity of departments and agencies. Most important, we heard from the RCMP and other agencies that there was a lack of capacity to monitor and investigate compliance and that sanctions enforcement was a much lower priority than say, anti-terror responsibilities.
While we in the official opposition are pleased that the Liberals have accepted our unanimous foreign affairs committee recommendations to add this Magnitsky bill, Bill C-226 to Canada's sanction regimes, there is still much more to be done.
There are 12 other recommendations in the committee report aimed at fixing Canada's dysfunctional sanctions enforcement to increase capacity, coordination, and commitment between departments and agencies. The need for just such action was made clear last month. Where bureaucrats, security agency officials, and financial institution specialists tended to scoff that Russian kleptocrats would want to move illegal funds to Canada or to enjoy those ill-gotten gains in Canada, information provided by Mr. Browder to the RCMP last year and to Canadian journalists more recently proved exactly the opposite.
The CBC confirmed that after following up on Mr. Browder's documents, a powerful Russian crime syndicate, accused of laundering hundreds of millions of dollars around the world, appears to have also flowed millions through nearly 30 Canadian bank accounts, without sanctions enforcers noticing. Some of those accounts belonged to individuals. Others were shell companies created to receive incoming funds and to send laundered money abroad.
Lincoln Caylor, a Toronto lawyer who specializes in complex fraud, was quoted as saying that there was so much documentation proving that millions from a sophisticated Russian tax fraud had moved in and out of Canada, that it was groundbreaking.
We in the official opposition are pleased the government has finally decided to support Conservative legislation, which will target the world's worst human rights offenders, as well as from Russia, to Iran, China, Congo, Venezuela, South Sudan, anywhere perpetrators of gross violations of human rights can be identified. We are pleased with the combination of Bill C-226 and the foreign affairs committee's unanimous recommendations to apply Magnitsky sanctions legislation and to enforce them.
The challenge now is for the often foot-dragging Liberal government to actually act.