Marco Levytsky, NP-UN National Affairs Desk.
Bill S-226, Justice for Victims of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act (Sergei Magnitsky Law) unanimously passed third reading in the House of Commons, October 4.
Final vote tally was 277-0.
Bill S-226, which is inspired by the case of Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who died while exposing government officials involved in a $230 million tax corruption scheme, will allow for the Canadian 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.
The United States, United Kingdom and Estonia have previously adopted similar legislation.
Authored by Senator Raynell Andreychuk and passed by the Senate on April 11, Bill S-226 nevertheless has to return to the upper chamber, as amendments to it were made in the House of Commons.
“Should Bill S-226 be passed by the Senate and receive royal assent, it will enable Canada to sanction, impose travel bans on and hold accountable those responsible for gross human rights violations and significant corruption,” Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said in a statement after the vote.
“This will ensure that Canada’s foreign policy tool box is effective and fit for purpose in today’s international environment. It will also provide a valuable complement to our existing human rights and anti-corruption tools.”
“All Canadians can be proud of last night’s unanimous vote on the Sergei Magnitsky Law,” said the bill’s sponsor in the House of Commons, James Bezan, Member of Parliament for Selkirk-Interlake-Eastman on October 5.
“Senator Raynell Andreychuk is an outspoken human rights advocate and is the champion of this Bill in the Senate. All Members of Parliament were able to come together to continue Canada’s legacy as a leader in the pursuit of international justice.
“Individuals that are responsible for gross violations of human rights and corruption should not be able to use Canada as a safe haven,” he added.
The bill was welcomed by the Ukrainian Canadian Congress.
“Yesterday was a truly historic day, and I congratulate all Parliamentarians and advocates who worked so hard on the adoption of this legislation,” stated Paul Grod, National President of the UCC on October 5. “Russia continues to demonstrate its abject contempt for international law and internationally recognized standards of human rights. It is critical that the Government of Canada move swiftly to implement sanctions against Russian individuals and organizations responsible for violations of international law and the rights of Ukrainian and Russian citizens.”
Currently, there are over 40 Ukrainian citizens illegally imprisoned by Russia, including Oleg Sentsov, Ilmi Umerov, Akhtem Chiygoz, Oleksander Kolchenko, Stanislav Klikh, Mykola Karpyuk, and many others. The Russian regime continues to ignore repeated calls by the international community for their immediate release.
The UCC calls on the Government of Canada to:
1. Move swiftly to implement sanctions against Russian judges, prosecutors, investigators and other officials responsible for the illegal imprisonment and maltreatment of Ukrainian citizens;
2. Establish specialized sanctions units at the Departments of Global Affairs and Finance in order to ensure that sanctions are implemented effectively and comprehensively.
Bill S-226 has infuriated Russia, whose foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying that “any anti-Russian actions by the Canadian authorities will not be left without an adequate response.”
But anti-Putin activist Bill Browder, who has been pushing for international implementation of such legislation says Canada shouldn’t put too much stock into Russia’s angry statements.
“The way that the Russians operate is they huff and they puff, and then they carry on with business. I wouldn’t be too concerned with this sort of non-specific threat,” he told CTV’s Power Play, October 4.
“This is one of our biggest pieces of leverage in the West,” said Browder, a financier who once hired Magnitsky to investigate his investment fund and has fought for justice ever since his death in 2009. “We don’t have to go to war with Russia with tanks. We can use banks.”
Browder told CTV that Russian President Vladimir Putin takes Magnitsky-inspired laws “personally” because it could affect his own foreign holdings.
“Putin hates this because Putin is a kleptocrat – he’s a criminal. He’s stolen lots of money, all the people around him have stolen lots of money, and they’re all potentially subject to the Magnitsky Act,” he said.
“All the money that they’ve stolen that they keep in the West could eventually be seized and frozen. And that terrifies him.”
Browder said that “millions” in “dirty money” is in Canada, but would not confirm exactly how much because he is involved with law enforcement.
“We’ve traced some of that money to Canada and we’re now actively engaged with law enforcement in Canada to prosecute and seize that money from the people who have stolen it,” he told CTV.
“What I can say is it’s significant and it’s real, and that’s just one particular situation.”
Testifying before the U.S. Senate’s Judiciary Committee on July 28, Browder said there are two reasons Putin is so fixated on the Magnitsky Act:
The first is purely financial. Browder believes Putin is the richest man in the world, with an assortment of assets worth what Browder estimates to be $200 billion at his disposal, but those assets are “held all over the world” including in America. When the accounts of Putin’s intermediaries are frozen because of the law, that is in effect, freezing some of Putin’s cash flow as well, reported npr.org.
The second is that the banking sanctions imposed by the law devalue Putin’s promises, and so decrease his power. Putin gets his intermediaries to “arrest, kidnap, torture and kill” by promising absolute impunity, Browder said. But the law’s sanctions create a tangible consequence. Not only do the sanctions affect violators vis-a-vis their U.S. dealings, but, internationally, other banks abide by a sanctions list put out by the Treasury Department that includes those found to have violated the Magnitsky Act, Browder explained to lawmakers. “As a result, you basically become a financial pariah,” he said.
“This is a war of ideology between rule of law and criminality,” Browder also told the senators, according to npr.org. “And if we allow all the corrupt money to come here, then it’s going to corrupt us until we end up like them.”