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Justice for Victims of Corrupt Foreign Officials Bill (Sergei Magnitsky Law) - Amendments from Commons Concurred In

Honourable Senators, I think this bill is historic in many ways, and so it deserves a little refreshment on the background of the bill.

Many people working in the human rights field in Canada have, over decades, been concerned about human rights defenders and the ability of those who grossly violate human rights. We’ve been concerned about their ability to transfer the proceeds and, in fact, move around the world to their benefit, at the cost of lives and issues facing those who wish to abide by the rule of law in their own countries and who wish to have a better life for the citizens of that country. So defending human rights defenders is not new to Canada.

What took on some greater historic momentum was around the Magnitsky case. Sergei Magnitsky was a lawyer employed to work with Mr. Bill Browder, whose money had been taken away from him. Those of you who have not read Red Notice can read the entire book to understand the complexity of what was going on.

Mr. Magnitsky was not known as a human rights activist. He was a lawyer. But, when he took the case on and saw what was going on in his country, he sacrificed his life in attempting to bring justice in his country. Therefore, a motion was put in the Senate, as well as in the House of Commons, to move on the Magnitsky matter and to have a bill in the name of Magnitsky. The bill took on various forms in the House of Commons but did not come to fruition.

Bill S-226 in the Senate, introduced by me, in fact was debated and sent to the Standing Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade. Witnesses were called. Discussion was taken, and there were comments made about some aspects of the bill. So it was, in my opinion, debated fully.

The consensus — perhaps I’m speaking for the entire committee but certainly for the steering committee — was that the intent of the bill was being supported by everyone. The need to have human rights on the same equal footing as other aspects of foreign policy was not in question. I think all members of the committee agreed that human rights is a significant factor.

There was some discussion around whether it would tie the hands of the government. It was never my intent nor, I think, that of the proponents of the bill to tie the hands of the government. It was intended to be a tool for the government to use to signal to the world that human rights is a factor in our foreign policy and that we act on what we say.

While we have been party to many international agreements, we did not have a corresponding law within our statutes that would cover foreign officials who grossly violate human rights from the ability of bringing their assets or coming into this country. That is the effect that Bill S-226 addresses, and it is to ensure that sanctions can be levelled against those who commit internationally recognized gross violations of human rights and attempt to either bring their assets into this country or to come into this country.

In other words, as Mr. Kara-Murza said in his testimony, we become enablers if we, in fact, allow these people to profit and do so on our soil. Therefore, the intent of the bill was to ensure that human rights are protected in Canada to the fullest extent possible, but it was never intended to tie the hands of the government.

From the start of the bill, I invited the government to participate and to bring forward any amendments that they thought were important in the management of such a bill. Consequently, the Foreign Affairs Committee first passed the bill and brought it forward to the chamber. The chamber unanimously voted to pass the bill.

At third reading stage of Bill S-226, I reiterated that I would be consulting with the government and all of those involved with the bill — that is members over in the other house, human rights activists and everyone — to ensure that we maintain the integrity of identifying human rights violators but not to unduly hamper the government in its interpretation of human rights. So we left the discretion in the hands of the government to come forward with amendments that they thought would facilitate but not take away from the intent of the bill.

Once the bill passed the house here, it went over to the other house. I and others involved with negotiations were given the amendments. Some were not proceeded with. Some were negotiated and accepted. Consequently, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development put forward the amendments that were agreed to, and the amendments as passed by their committee were deposited with the House of Commons at the end of June. So the amendments have been posted and available to all in order to provide feedback.

The house, last Wednesday, unanimously passed the bill as amended, and it is now before us.

To sum up all of the amendments, some of them are quite technical, to bring in definitions that would be equal to others under the Special Economic Measures Act. Others are what I would call choices. For example, in the bill we said “property.” The government response was that it would be better to have “property of a person” deleted and to substitute it with a civil law definition of property. This is in keeping with what other economic measures have stated.

In the bill, there were indicators of significant corruption as being indications of human rights violations. That was changed because, quite rightly, the government pointed out that while it was an exhaustive list, it was not fully exhaustive, and, therefore, not naming all of the types of corruption, it would be better to put in “significant corruption” and leave the details for regulations.

In the bill, we talked about “government officials.” The government response was that “foreign public officials” would be a broader term, encompassing more officials of a foreign country. Of course, that was accepted.

There are other amendments, and some of them are what I would call procedural amendments to be in line with what the other aspects of SEMA are like. So the government’s amendments, I think, are not of substance against the intent of the bill but an addition on how it could be administered.

From day one, this bill has been a work-in-progress. It is the first attempt at including human rights in such a Special Economic Measures Act. No doubt, we will continue to follow it, gain experience, and perhaps there will be more changes. I think that would be the way a law in this area should evolve — cautiously, carefully, but allowing for the government to have as much discretion as is necessary on the first tranche.

Of course, much will be in regulations, and it will be up to the Senate and senators to follow the regulations to ensure that the intent of the bill is followed. I believe we can do so.

One other area of concern was that those that may be listed under the Special Economic Measures Act would be dealt with by a ministerial discretion. Well, built into an amendment now, it allows for further action by those that are the subject of the list to be given an opportunity with the minister. There is also some reflection on discretion for the minister to absorb costs on behalf of those people should it be necessary.

Again, these will be fully fleshed out in the regulations.

Suffice it to say, I very much appreciate the work of the Standing Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade. Once the house had passed the bill — and I thought it would be inappropriate if I did it before that because I wasn’t sure what they would do on third reading. As we do not like them preempting us. I did not feel I could preempt them. But I did alert the committee that it was in the works on the other side and that as soon as it cleared third reading in the house, I would alert the committee of the amendments, provide the amendments and ask the committee to provide me any comments with respect to them. I received comments in support only. Therefore, I believe that this bill warrants passing with the amendments as a first start on a long road to continue to have Canada at the forefront of human rights issues.

Obviously, I want to thank the people — and there are entirely too many — across Canada and around the world who have worked on this bill. I have acknowledged them in previous speeches, and therefore I don’t intend to go further.

I want to thank the Standing Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade, and particularly the deputy chair, who was very supportive of this bill from day one, to the extent — and I’m sure he won’t mind me saying so — that I think it cost him a visa for international travel to Russia. That is a commitment that needs to be highlighted and noted, and so I pay tribute to Senator Downe and his tenacity on this bill. Equally, all other members were dedicated and concerned for human rights, but concerned that the right balance be struck; so I certainly want to acknowledge all of them.

I would like to acknowledge Mr. James Bezan, who was the proponent of the bill in the House of Commons. He gave me full rein to deal with the issues and supported me throughout; I very much appreciate that. I appreciate the unanimous resolution in the House of Commons.

I also think there are many senators who have worked on human rights issues who would have brought this bill forward. I happened to be in the right place at the right time. Timing is everything in this place. I thank all of the human rights activists and defenders in this room, including those on the Human Rights Committee, as I look at the chair.

Above all, I thank Mr. Magnitsky. He gave his life for rule of law and democracy.