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Independent Senator Ratna Omidvar has tabled the Frozen Assets Repurposing Act with the support of Allan Rock, the former Liberal attorney-general and justice minister who also served as a United Nations ambassador.Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

An independent Canadian senator has proposed a bill that would allow the government to take the frozen assets of dictators and their cronies to help refugees forced to flee their tyranny.

Senator Ratna Omidvar tabled the Frozen Assets Repurposing Act on Thursday with the support of Allan Rock, the former Liberal attorney general and justice minister who also served as a United Nations ambassador.

The bill builds on the recommendation and research of the World Refugee Council, an initiative of the Ontario-based Centre for International Governance Innovation, to put to constructive use the estimated $20 billion to $40 billion seized annually from corrupt officials around the world.

The council, formed in May 2017, is chaired by former Canadian foreign minister Lloyd Axworthy, and its two dozen members include former world leaders, ministers, peace activists, as well as leading business, civil society and human-rights figures.

The new bill would build on Canada’s current Magnitsky Act sanctions that target human-rights abusers, and it comes just after Canadian sanctions against politicians and business people in Russia and Venezuela.

Omidvar said her bill goes one step further than the act because it calls for the confiscation of seized assets so they can be used to help victims of rights abuses, including those forced to flee their homes.

“This will increase accountability in two ways – A, by eliminating the impunity by which corrupt kleptocrats hide their money in safe havens and B, by redirecting their purloined wealth back to those harmed by their misrule,” Omidvar told a news conference on Parliament Hill.

The bill would give Canadian courts the authority to confiscate the frozen assets and repurpose them for the benefit of victims. The bill proposes doing this through an application by the attorney general of Canada, the cabinet post Rock held in the former Liberal government of Jean Chretien.

“The bill she is tabling, if passed, would make Canada a global leader in holding bad leaders accountable for their crimes against the forcibly displaced,” said Fen Hampson, the executive director of the refugee council.

In the case of the ongoing crisis in Venezuela, Hampson said the billions in frozen assets seized from the country’s dictator Nicolas Maduro could be used to pay for the refugee crisis that has forced more than three million people to flee their homes because of the country’s economic and political meltdown.

Canada has imposed sanctions on 70 people associated with Maduro, while the United States has targeted Venezuela’s state-owned oil company with sanctions.

Last week, Canada imposed additional sanctions on 129 people, companies and organizations over Russia’s treatment of Ukraine. Canada said the measures were a response to the ongoing Russian occupation of Crimea and the arrests of 24 Ukrainian sailors in the Black Sea last November.

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