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Justice for Victims of Corrupt Foreign Officials Bill (Sergei Magnitsky Law) - Second Reading

Hon. A. Raynell Andreychuk: Honourable senators, I rise to speak to Bill S-226, the Justice for Victims of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act, known as the "Sergei Magnitsky Law."

This bill, as the summary states, is "to provide for the taking of restrictive measures in respect of foreign nationals responsible for gross violations of internationally recognized human rights."

It also proposes related amendments to the Special Economic Measures Act and the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.

For decades Canada and its citizens, in various ways and forms, have tried to strengthen human rights, locally and internationally.

Canada was instrumental in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and subsequent protocols, covenants and agreements which today form a network of international human rights instruments.

The Senate contributed through the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights to this body of work. In a groundbreaking report entitled Promises to Keep: Implementing Canada's Human Right's Obligations, tabled in December 2001, the Senate committee looked at the instruments available for implementing human rights concerns.

The strengths and weaknesses of the systems were analyzed, and Canada's adherence to these instruments was also part of the study.

I respectfully suggest that perhaps new senators, as well as others, may wish to look at that study to gain a greater understanding of the complexity and the progress made toward international standards for human rights adherence. In other words, the machinery of implementing human rights: words into action.

There are multiple examples of human rights violations around the world that need to be addressed; Canada must continue to be a voice for justice, rule of law and human rights adherence.

Bill S-226 seeks to strengthen the Canadian government's capacity in the protection and promotion of internationally recognized human rights. Threats of illegal detention, torture and death are used to silence political dissidents and human rights activists in their own countries and elsewhere. Moreover, impunity counters the effectiveness of our machinery for human rights protection. Increasingly we see certain countries disregarding international standards, treaties and agreements.

We must continue our efforts through international treaty bodies, the United Nations, regional groupings and every means possible to ensure that the human rights standards are not only adhered to but strengthened for the modern-day situation. Therefore, there is an urgent and apparent need for a renewed effort to protect our international human rights system.

The legislation before you, honourable senators, marks a positive step forward for Canada as we work toward bridging this accountability gap.

In the preamble of the bill, it says:

Whereas adding gross violations of internationally recognized human rights as a ground on which sanctions may be imposed against foreign states and nationals would further Canada's support for human rights and advance its responsibility to protect activists who fight for human rights. . . .

At present, as stated in Bill S-226, the Special Economic Measures Act:

Authorizes the Government of Canada to take economic measures against a foreign state or national for the purpose of implementing a decision, resolution or recommendation of an international organization or association of states, or in cases of a grave breach of international peace and security that resulted or is likely to result in a serious international crisis.

Section 4(1) of the Special Economic Measures Act states that:

(b) by order, cause to be seized, frozen or sequestrated in the manner set out in the order any property situated in Canada that is held by or on behalf of

(i) a foreign state,

(ii) any person in that foreign state, or

(iii) a national of that foreign state who does not ordinarily reside in Canada.

Bill S-226 is adding a sanction provision for gross violations of internationally recognized human rights. This would be a ground on which sanctions may be imposed as contemplated in this act.

This would serve many purposes. First, it would allow the government to indicate internationally that human rights are an equal pillar in our foreign policy framework.

Second, it would signal that Canada would not enable gross violators to utilize Canada as an enabler for these violations.

Third, the bill, enacted, would be an immediate tool and resource for the Canadian government to act.

By way of example, when the Freezing Assets of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act, passed in March 2011, was formulated after the situation in Tunisia. When we piece together a bill in quick order, it often leads to legislation that requires amendments, which causes delays for justice. To have this tool ready and available at the discretion of the government to utilize with the prescriptive conditions sends the right signal internationally and equips Canada to take action positively against perpetrators of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights.

Fourth, it would allow Canada to exercise, defend and promote internationally recognized human rights and freedoms in one more valuable measure internationally.

Bill S-226 seeks to add internationally recognized gross human rights violations into the Special Economic Measures Act or SEMA.

Bill S-226 amends section 4 of the act to include responsibility for or complicity in "extrajudicial killings, torture or other gross violations of internationally recognized human rights committed against any individuals in any foreign country."

Moreover, Bill S-226 amends section 4 of the act to protect those individuals who seek:

(i) to expose illegal activity carried out by government officials, or

(ii) to obtain, exercise, defend or promote internationally recognized human rights and freedoms . . .

In other words, the defenders of human rights.

Furthermore, Bill S-226 seeks to amend subsection 35(1) of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act to render a permanent resident or foreign national inadmissible if found engaging in or instigating any sanctionable offence under SEMA or "for being a foreign national who is subject to an order or regulation made under section 4" of Bill S-226.

Honourable senators will remember the tragic case of Sergei Magnitsky. Bill S-226 is inspired by this case. Sergei Magnitsky was a lawyer living and practising in Moscow. While working for an American investment firm based in Moscow in 2008, Mr. Magnitsky uncovered a $230 million corruption scheme implicating numerous Russian interior ministry officials.

Following his testimony against these officials, Mr. Magnitsky was arrested on comparable accusations of tax fraud. He spent the next years imprisoned, suffering in unsanitary and deplorable conditions.

Denied a proper trial, his arrest and subsequent conviction were marred by a lack of transparency and due process. Despite developing gallbladder stones and pancreatitis, he was repeatedly denied adequate medical treatment.

One evening in early November 2009, several armed guards entered Mr. Magnitsky's cell. As he lay on the cold, damp floor writhing in pain, Mr. Magnitsky was brutally beaten. The injuries sustained from this beating, coupled with his already ailing health, proved too much. On November 16, 2009, at the age of 37, Sergei Magnitsky succumbed to his injuries and died in pretrial custody. He was survived by his mother, Nataliya; his wife, Natasha; and two young sons.

Mr. Magnitsky's case reflects the plight of countless brave individuals working to expose the illegal activities carried out by their governments in the pursuit of freedom, justice and democracy.

Mr. Magnitsky's case was unique due to his meticulous documentation of his treatment and abuse while in Russian custody.

While in prison for 358 days, Mr. Magnitsky produced 450 criminal complaints. Despite this evidence, not one of Mr. Magnitsky's abusers was brought to justice. Rather, he was posthumously tried and convicted by a Russian court on July 11, 2013.

Honourable senators, Mr. Magnitsky's sacrifice reflects the plight of countless activists and dissenters all over the world. Moreover, his case exemplifies the challenges facing our international human rights machinery.

In part, the bill before you today would call on the Government of Canada to seek justice on behalf of Sergei Magnitsky against all those involved in his illegal detention, torture and death. However, the bill moves beyond that: It would enable Canada to take a leadership role toward strengthening effective accountability for violations and crimes under international law. The bill takes into account the need to target gross human rights violators, wherever they or their assets may be hiding. It seeks to utilize internationally recognized human rights instruments, standards and definitions.

So why now for Bill S-226? For many reasons, as I have stated, but one of the most compelling is that the world is now more interconnected. Mobility and cyberspace allow negative activity to penetrate our borders. Therefore, it is important to give our government the tools to prevent, thwart or act to be sure that we are not enabling those who disregard basic human rights.

Vladimir Kara-Murza, deputy leader of the People's Freedom Party and coordinator of the Open Russia Movement, noted the following in an article in The Globe and Mail published on March 10, 2016:

For all the similarities between the Soviet era and present- day Russia, there is one major difference. While members of the Soviet Politburo were silencing dissent and persecuting opponents, they did not store their money, educate their children or buy real estate in the West. Many of the current officials and Kremlin-connected oligarchs do.

Sergei Magnitsky is illustrative of other such cases in the world. This bill contemplates that.

I also want to note that this bill does not bind the government, it empowers it. It gives to the government a tool to add to its deliberations in pursuit of Canada's foreign policy goals.

In adopting this legislation, Canada would join other parliamentarians in calling for justice. I note in particular the adoption of the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act in the United States, passed by both houses and signed into law by President Barack Obama on December 4, 2012; a resolution passed in the European Parliament calling on the European Council to introduce "Magnitsky list" sanctions against Russia; a resolution passed by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe; the unanimous adoption of a motion by the Justice and Human Rights Committee in Poland; a parliamentary petition launched in Sweden; and the unanimous adoption of a resolution by the Dutch Parliament.

I wish to remind honourable senators of actions previously taken in this chamber. Earlier this year, the second report of the Standing Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade was adopted. Our witnesses Mr. William Browder, Ms. Zhana Nemtsova and Mr. Vladimir Kara-Murza outlined the dire human rights situation in Russia and noted countless incidents of politically motivated oppression. Ms. Nemtsova spoke about the death of her father, Boris Nemtsov, a prominent Russian opposition leader who was assassinated inFebruary 2015 near the Red Square in Moscow. Mr. Kara-Murza, another key opposition member, described how he was targeted and likely poisoned, though fortunately he survived.

The committee concluded in its report with the following:

The Committee calls on the Government of Canada to condemn all foreign nationals implicated in the Magnitsky case and to impose sanctions against those individuals and others responsible for violations of internationally recognized human rights in a foreign country, particularly when authorities in that country are unable or unwilling to conduct a thorough, independent and objective investigation of the violations.

I wish to also remind colleagues that this chamber adopted a motion in May 2015 that called for the Government of Canada to seek justice for Sergei Magnitsky and to take action against perpetrators of human rights violations in Russia and beyond. A corresponding motion, introduced by former MP Irwin Cotler, was unanimously adopted in the House of Commons.

Honourable senators, these actions lay the foundation for the adoption of Bill S-226.

Before concluding, I wish to honour and thank Mr. Bill Browder and Mr. Irwin Cotler for their tireless hard work and dedication to this cause. Mr. Browder's passionate crusade to seek justice for his friend and former lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, has shaped policy across much of Europe, the United States and now Canada.

Honourable senators, let us ensure that the bravery of activists like Mr. Sergei Magnitsky and Mr. Boris Nemtsov are not forgotten. Let us continue to uphold Canada's reputation for the protection of international human rights and the principles of international humanitarian law.

I urge the swift adoption of this timely and critical bill.

It should be noted that all major political parties pledged to pass the Magnitsky bill during the election. This bill ensures that we proceed on those promises.

Thank you, honourable senators.