House of Commons Debates
Bill S-226, Justice for Victims of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act
(Sergei Magnitsky Law)
Borys Wrzesnewskyj, M.P. (Etobicoke Centre)
Mr. Borys Wrzesnewskyj (Etobicoke Centre, Lib): Mr. Speaker, it is my honour to speak about Bill S-226, Justice for Victims of Corrupt Officials Act (Sergei Magnitsky Law).
First, I would like to pay tribute to Sergei Magnitsky, who lost his life in a brave campaign to expose massive corruption at the highest levels in Russia. The circumstances surrounding Mr. Magnitsky’s death have made it abundantly clear that state corruption and human rights violations go hand in glove. To protect their ill-received wealth, kleptocratic regimes dismantle the rule of law and then the institutions of democracy. These regimes steal the people’s wealth, then their rights, and in the end their people’s futures.
Like Sergei Magnitsky, countless brave individuals across the globe have suffered violations of their fundamental human rights for speaking out. Like Mr. Magnitsky, many have been victimized by the very institutions and individuals entrusted with protecting them. Like Mr. Magnitsky, many have not seen the perpetrators brought to justice, and instead have found themselves incarcerated, and tortured on behalf of criminals by prosecutors and judges in show trials, not to uphold justice but to uphold the power of the corrupt. Many are eliminated, or murdered, as was Mr. Magnitsky, to send a message to those foolhardy enough to take a stand on behalf of truth and justice.
Human rights are integral to Canada’s international engagements. We stand up for these inalienable rights and we do not hesitate to speak out against human rights violators and abusers, wherever they reside. Speaking out is important. However, words are not enough. That is why Canada needs to, and intends to, have a wide range of tools at its disposal to protect and promote human rights. We will assess the circumstances and then choose the tools that have the best chance of getting the job done for the people directly affected and for the cause of advancing human rights globally.
At the end of the 20th century, with the fall of the Iron Curtain, there were those who celebrated the end of history. Democracy, human rights, and the international rule of law were victorious. Clearly, the celebrating began too soon. Today we find ourselves in a world where too often our shared western principles of democracy, human rights, and the rule of law are being flouted or undermined, not just by small dictatorial countries but also by major powers.
We seem to be entering a world of disorder in which there are those who believe they can disregard the human rights of their citizens, flaunt international law treaties and agreements, or undermine the stability of their neighbours. It is not coincidental that the worst human rights violators, from Syria to North Korea, are also major threats to international peace and security. It is no surprise that a kleptocratic Russia, which killed Magnitsky, has militarily supported both of these states and militarily invaded and illegally annexed neighbouring Ukraine’s territory. This has important and dangerous consequences for all of us.
Canada and our government has and must continue to engage constructively and deliberately. Let me briefly illustrate Canada’s current human rights tool kit, and then speak to how Bill S-226 will make an important contribution to Canada’s ability to lead on human rights and anti-corruption efforts worldwide.
First, no one should doubt that Canada and our government put human rights on the agenda when we talk to other governments at all levels, from officials to heads of state. These dialogues are not finger-wagging exercises. Canada raises concerns, and does so forcefully when needed, privately and publicly. However, we also seize opportunities to learn from each other, and work together to effect positive change. As the Prime Minister said in his speech at last week’s UN General Assembly, we pursue human rights as a partnership through “listening, learning, and working together” as a way to build a better world.
Second, Canada provides funding to multilateral, regional, and civil society organizations to protect and promote human rights. This includes the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, which is the principal human rights focused UN office.
Third, we support human rights defenders. Recognizing their critical role, Global Affairs Canada has recently released the document “Voices at Risk: Canada’s Guidelines on Supporting Human Rights Defenders”. This practical tool helps Canadian officials abroad to provide human rights defenders with the support they need to be more effective advocates and to do so safely.
Bill S-226 would add a new and important tool to this particular tool kit: the ability to take restrictive measures to sanction foreign nationals responsible for gross violations of human rights.
To be effective, sanctions must be used wisely and selectively. During its review of the Special Economic Measures Act and the Freezing Assets of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act, the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development heard from some of the world’s top experts on sanctions and the effective use of sanctions as a tool. As was heard in that testimony, sanctions are a “policy instrument that can be useful in combination with other tools as part of an integrated political strategy.”
The role of sanctions as part of our engagement tool kit was evident recently when the Minister of Foreign Affairs announced sanctions against individuals in the Maduro regime in Venezuela. Doing so sent a clear message that anti-democratic behaviour, the physical abuse and murder of protesting citizens, and incarceration of opposition leaders would have consequences. These sanctions are targeted against people responsible for the deterioration of democracy in Venezuela and are part of the multifaceted effort that the Government of Canada has been undertaking to pressure for a return to democracy.
Bill S-226 would provide another tool to add to Canada’s human rights tool box, by creating a new mechanism to respond to gross human rights violations, as well as significant corruption in a foreign state by imposing sanctions on individuals responsible for these violations.
The government proudly supports Bill S-226 and we are confident it will become a valuable addition to Canada’s efforts to promote and protect human rights internationally.
I would like to say a few words about the importance of the non-partisan nature with which all members of the House have approached Bill S-226. On an issue as fundamental and as important to Canadians as the defence of human rights, it is uplifting to see we can all work together.
In particular, I would like to thank our Minister of Foreign Affairs who so proactively engaged on this file; Senator Andreychuk from the other place, for her passion in bringing this legislation forward; the member for Selkirk—Interlake—Eastman for all of his hard work; and the Chair and members of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development for their diligence and perseverance and their unanimous report which provided invaluable guidance for the legislation.
I would also like to thank Marcus Kolga. His facilitation and advocacy has been invaluable.
Finally, I would like to thank Magnitsky legislation champion Bill Browder, who I came to know during this process. His relentless and principled efforts to honour the memory of his friend Sergei Magnitsky is enshrined in this legislation.
I would also like to thank Natasha and Nikita, the wife and son of Sergei Magnitsky. Their husband and father was by profession a skilled lawyer and principled auditor. However, within this lawyer and auditor resided a hero who would shine a light on the darkness of a corrupt regime. He sacrificed himself and his future for the future of the Russian people.
Вечная ему память.
[May his memory be eternal.]
© 2018 Borys Wrzesnewskyj. All rights reserved.