Ukrainian Canadian lawmakers are key players in bill’s progress
OTTAWA – Canada is closer to enacting Magnitsky-style legislation after Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, a Ukrainian Canadian, announced last week that the Liberal government would support a bill sponsored by Ukrainian Canadian Conservative Sen. Raynell Andreychuk that targets global human rights abuses and foreign corruption.
Bill S-226, the Justice for Victims of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act (Sergei Magnitsky Law) that Sen. Andreychuk introduced in the upper chamber last May, would freeze assets and impose travel bans on foreign nationals responsible for gross violations of internationally recognized human rights.
The private member’s bill is named after Sergei Magnitsky, a Moscow lawyer who uncovered the largest tax-refund fraud in Russian history that unwittingly involved Hermitage Capital Management, a company run by Chicago-born, hedge-fund manager Bill Browder.
His tragic story inspired countries, such as the United States and the United Kingdom, to create Magnitsky laws that impose sanctions for human rights abuses and foreign corruption.
The Canadian version won’t just target Russia, but will have a “global application,” said Ukrainian Canadian Member of Parliament James Bezan, who represents a Manitoba riding for the opposition Conservatives in the House of Commons, and who sponsored Sen. Andreychuk’s bill in the House, where it was debated on May 19.
The Magnitsky law would give the Canadian government the ability to freeze the assets and deny visas to foreign governments and officials linked to gross human rights abuses and massive corruption, “whether it’s China harvesting organs from Falun Gong practitioners or Chechnya imprisoning and murdering gay men,” he explained.
“If Russia has nothing to hide, it shouldn’t fear this,” Mr. Bezan said.
But Mr. Bezan added that “corrupt Russian oligarchs profiteering from their positions of influence at a cost to the Russian public will be held to account too.”
Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs called the Canadian government’s support for Sen. Andreychuk’s bill “a means to make unsubstantiated human rights claims” and an “openly hostile move” against Russia.
A statement released from Moscow on May 18 noted: “Should the Canadian Parliament approve this punitive legal act, it would seriously damage relations between our countries, which are not experiencing the best of times already.”
“Canada does not stand to gain from this. Its government, which is following the lead of political agitators like financial con man William Browder from Britain, prefer to distance itself from Russia instead of promoting mutually beneficial… economic cooperation and cooperation to develop the Arctic,” read the statement.
At a personal level, Mr. Bezan said he is unfazed by Russia’s warning.
“If Russia wants to retaliate against Minister Freeland, Sen. Andreychuk and me, they can go ahead. They can’t ban us again,” he said in reference to the list he and the other two parliamentarians are on, along with 10 other Canadian lawmakers and officials (including Ukrainian Canadian Congress President Paul Grod), which the Russian government created three years ago to ban them from traveling to the country in response to Canadian sanctions imposed against Russia in retaliation against its annexation of Crimea.
Mr. Browder, a staunch anti-Putin critic now based in London, doesn’t seem bothered by Russian rhetoric either. Last week, he appeared on Canadian television urging Ottawa to pass the Magnitsky legislation and last year he testified before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development.
He told MPs that a Canadian Magnitsky law would negate “the whole concept that this is an American anti-Russian initiative.” It is, in fact, “an anti-torture initiative, which Canada as a leader should get involved in.”
In 2015, Canada’s House of Commons unanimously passed a motion, sponsored by former Liberal Justice Minister Irwin Cotler, which called for sanctions against human-rights violators.
Mr. Bezan said that Mr. Browder has also identified 30 Russian shell companies that have moved over $20 million (Canadian, or about $14.8 million U.S.) through Canadian banks. “So they’re laundering their money here already,” he told reporters on Parliament Hill on May 19.
Sen. Andreychuk’s bill would, he said, “help stop those corrupt officials from taking their dollars that they got through illicit means and [from] using Canada as a safe haven to launder that money.”
Liberal, Conservative and New Democrat MPs who serve on the House Foreign Affairs Committee have unanimously called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government to implement the changes cited in Bill S-226.
In their report released in April titled “A Coherent and Effective Approach to Canada’s Sanctions Regimes: Sergei Magnitsky and Beyond,” the committee recommends that the 25-year-old Special Economic Measures Act, which allows Canada to impose sanctions against foreign states and individuals regarding grave breaches of international peace and security, also include serious human rights violations. The MPs also want Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Act amended to designate all individuals cited under the Special Economic Measures Act to also be declared inadmissible to Canada.
In a statement released last week, Minister Freeland said the government would propose “some technical amendments to strengthen [Bill S-226] and ensure it can have maximum effectiveness.”
Mr. Bezan told The Ukrainian Weekly that one of the amendments would likely build “some fairness” into the appeal process identified by the Foreign Affairs Committee.
It recommended that the government provide an “independent administrative process” through which individuals identified on the sanctions list “can challenge that designation in a transparent and fair manner.”
Bill S-226 includes a “mistaken identity” clause that allows someone claiming not to be a foreign national to apply to the foreign affairs minister for a certificate stating that they are not subject to an order or regulation under the law.
The government might broaden the appeal mechanism to include family members, who may be estranged from a foreign national on the list, and allow them to conduct business or live in Canada, Mr. Bezan said.
Once the amendments are introduced in the House, where they will likely pass, given the opposition’s support to fast track the proposed legislation, the bill will be sent back to the Senate for its expected approval and could become law before Parliament takes its summer break.
“What’s important to me as a Canadian is we always talk the talk about human rights and corrupt foreign officials,” said Mr. Bezan. “But if we’re going to stand up to individuals profiteering from being human rights abusers and stealing from their own citizens, we need to walk that talk. This legislation allows Canada to do that faster and quicker than it can under the Special Economic Measures Act.”