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

Honourable senators, I rise to speak at third reading tonight on Bill S-226, the "justice for victims of corrupt foreign officials act," the Sergei Magnitsky law. This bill has been before the Senate for quite some time. This was done purposely so that people both outside and within the Senate could learn more about the issue of the bill and what it intends to do.

After some considerable time, with the efforts of the Foreign Affairs Committee, which had studied issues about corrupt officials, particularly about the Magnitsky act, the Foreign Affairs and International Trade Committee have done their work. We exhaustively studied it, reflected on it and it has come before us now on third reading.

For decades, Canada has been present in the process of establishing international treaties and agreements on issues of the protection and promotion of internationally recognized human rights. Bill S-226 builds on that record. The purpose of the 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.

Clause 4 of Bill S-226 enables the Governor-in-Council to make orders or regulations allowing for the assets and property of foreign nationals to be seized, frozen or sequestered if those foreign nationals are deemed responsible for or complicit in gross violations of internationally recognized human rights. Orders and regulations may only be imposed when the Governor-in-Council is satisfied that reliable and appropriate evidence has been provided.

Bill S-226 also proposes related amendments to the Special Economic Measures Act and the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. The bill amends section 4 of the Special Economic Measures Act to include "responsibility for or complicity in extrajudicial killings, torture or other gross violations of internationally recognized human rights committed against any individual in any foreign country." Effectively, this would add a sanction provision for gross violations of internationally recognized human rights to the act.

Further, Bill S-226 amends subsection 35(1) of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act to render any permanent resident or foreign national inadmissible if found engaging in or instigating any of the violations I just mentioned.

Senators may recall that Bill S-226 is inspired by the case of Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer who sacrificed his life in the pursuit of exposing corrupt officials within his own country. While working for an American investment firm in 2008, Mr. Magnitsky uncovered a tax corruption scheme in which a number of government officials from the interior ministry were implicated.

Following his testimony, Mr. Magnitsky was arrested on comparable accusations of tax fraud. While in prison, Mr. Magnitsky was subjected to torture, ill treatment and was repeatedly denied proper medical treatment. He died in pretrial custody on November 16, 2009, at the age of 37.

To date, the pursuit of justice for Sergei Magnitsky continues with great difficulty. Last month, Mr. Nikolai Gorokhov, a lawyer representing the Magnitsky family, fell from the fourth floor of an apartment building near Moscow in extremely suspicious circumstances. His fall took place a day prior to his scheduled appearance before a Russian court to launch an appeal on behalf of Mr. Magnitsky's mother in an investigation related to Mr. Magnitsky's case. Gorokhov sustained severe injuries but, hopefully, he is recovering.

In part, the bill before you today would seek justice for Mr. Sergei Magnitsky. However, beyond that, Bill S-226 would enable Canada to contribute to the protection and promotion of internationally recognized human rights and freedoms here at home.

I would like to reiterate a few earlier points from the speech I delivered at second reading.

First, Bill S-226 would allow the Canadian government to indicate internationally that human rights are as important to our foreign policy framework as other pillars, such as terrorism and matters of security. Second, Bill S-226 would signal internationally that Canada cannot be used to enable or shelter gross violators of internationally recognized human rights. Third, when enacted, Bill S-226 would place a discretionary tool immediately at the Canadian government's disposal in the pursuit of its foreign policy goals. This tool would become readily available, giving our government the means to respond to evolving international crises in a timely manner.

I would like to once again place on the record a quote from Mr. Vladimir Kara-Murza, Deputy Leader of the People's Freedom Party and coordinator of the Open Russia movement. In an article published by The Globe and Mail on March 10, 2016, he stated:

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.

Bill S-226 will ensure that individual perpetrators of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights do not use Canada to shield themselves or their ill-gotten gains.

During our study of Bill S-226, the Standing Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade heard testimony from Mr. Bill Browder, head of the international justice campaign for Sergei Magnitsky and author of Red Notice. In the pursuit of justice, on behalf of his former lawyer, Mr. Browder and a team of investigators tracked $230 million implicated in the corruption scheme uncovered by Mr. Magnitsky.

An article published by The Globe and Mail on October 27, 2016, disclosed the following findings.

Hermitage investigators found total transfers of $220,000 (U.S.) from two firms that received the proceeds of the fraud to four companies and individuals in Canada, and $1.5 million (U.S.) in wires to Canadian accounts from companies that were part of an alleged money-laundering network set up by the fraudsters. The investigation also identified $12.6 million (U.S.) in transfers from Canadian accounts linked to the network.

These findings reinforce the urgent and apparent need for Bill S-226 in Canada.

In adopting this legislation, Canada would join other jurisdictions who have undertaken similar actions. At second reading, I noted a number of these actions. Since then, I note the actions of other countries.

In December 2016, the Estonian Parliament unanimously adopted a Magnitsky amendment to its 1998 Obligation to Leave and Prohibition on Entry Act to prohibit the entry of those deemed responsible for human rights violations.

On December 8, 2016, the United States Congress extended the scope of its 2012 Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act with the adoption of the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act.

Similarly, a Magnitsky amendment to the Criminal Finances Bill was adopted by the British House of Commons on February 21, 2017, to be studied shortly by the British House of Lords. This amendment would enable the government to freeze the assets of those responsible for human rights abuses.

Passing Bill S-226 would build on actions already taken by both the Senate and the House of Commons.

In May 2015, this chamber adopted a motion calling on the government to seek justice for Sergei Magnitsky and to take action against perpetrators of human rights violations in Russia and beyond. A corresponding motion was unanimously adopted in the House of Commons.

In March 2016, the Standing Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade heard testimony from Ms. Zhana Nemtsova. In her appearance, Ms. Nemtsova recounted the death of her father, Boris Nemtsov, a prominent Russian opposition leader who was assassinated in Moscow in February 2015. Mr. Vladimir Kara-Murza described how he fell gravely ill in May 2015, likely from ingesting poison.

Honourable senators may be aware that Mr. Kara-Murza suffered a second serious organ failure this past February, reportedly due to poisoning by an unidentified substance. Mr. Kara-Murza has since then emerged from his coma and is slowly recovering; however, doctors have cautioned that he is unlikely to survive any third attempt on his life.

This testimony led to the adoption in the Senate of the committee's second report, Taking Action Against Human Rights Violators in Russia. Our report, and I remind you, indicated:

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.

It should be also noted that all major political parties pledged to pass the Magnitsky bill during the last election.

The Standing Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade undertook a review of the Freezing Assets of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act and the Special Economic Measures Act in April 2016. That committee's final report entitled A Coherent and Effective Approach to Canada's Sanctions Regimes: Sergei Magnitsky and Beyond was tabled last week.

Committee members across all parties unanimously recommended the following:

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.

The committee further recommended that the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act be amended to "designate all individuals listed by regulations under the Special Economic Measures Act as inadmissible to Canada."

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

I want to underscore that while I have concentrated on Sergei Magnitsky, it is only by way of example and in honour of Mr. Magnitsky and thousands of others around the world who stand up against corruption and pay with their lives. We in Canada are never called to that extent, usually, for our beliefs on human rights.

The bill is crafted to be a generic bill. It is in honour of Mr. Magnitsky, but it is not targeted to any particular country or individual at this time. It is targeted to allow a discretionary tool in the hands of the government. By an order-in-council the government will have the authority as to how they implement this bill.

It will be controlled under Article 4 to determine what internationally recognized violations of human rights are. It is discretionary for them, to be available for them immediately, but not necessarily used if, in fact, other issues of foreign policy deem it to be more important. The discretion remains in the hands of the government. It is meant to be a tool. It is meant to put human rights on the same level as every other pillar of foreign policy, but it allows the government the flexibility and the discretion to use it when and how it deems appropriate in the best interests of Canada.

It signals that what we preach about human rights when we go overseas and into the United Nations, we are delivering at home. It may be a tool and a necessary one. It will be an available tool, but more than that it is a signal of the importance of human rights. I am very pleased that the reception so far to a generic bill rather than a pointed bill has been favourably received in many quarters.

If we proceed with this bill, the minister and the government would have before them the report from the House of Commons and our generic bill to contemplate what changes, if any, it needs. This bill is not being presented as a fait accompli, where every word is measured, because there are value judgments in there. Most of the value judgments are for the government. The one value judgment that is not there is that we must adhere to international standards, standards that we helped deliver to an international order and ones that we maintain today at a time when many other countries are less than certain that the international order is important. It would signal that Canada maintains that these international rights are at the core of Canadian values.