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A portrait of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky who died in jail, is held by his mother Nataliya Magnitskaya, as she speaks during an interview with the AP in Moscow. (Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP)
A portrait of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky who died in jail, is held by his mother Nataliya Magnitskaya, as she speaks during an interview with the AP in Moscow. (Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP)

House committee urges Magnitsky-style law to sanction rights abusers Add to ...

A parliamentary committee is calling on the government to impose sanctions on human-rights abusers around the world, following years of pressure from American-born financier and anti-Putin campaigner Bill Browder.

The report, tabled in Parliament by the House of Commons foreign affairs committee Wednesday, urges the Liberal government to expand Canadian sanctions legislation to include human-rights abusers, freezing their assets and denying them visas. The front page of the report bears the name and photo of Sergei Magnitsky, the Russian lawyer whose murder has inspired similar sanctions in the U.S. and the U.K.

Mr. Magnitsky was hired by Mr. Browder’s Moscow-based Hermitage Capital Management to investigate allegations that Russian officials stole from the hedge fund in 2005. He was arrested in 2008 and died in prison in 2009 after accusing the officials of theft. Investigations by Russia’s human-rights council eventually concluded he was beaten to death by prison staff.

“It’s an important moment for the legacy of Sergei Magnitsky, which is what I’ve been working for the last seven and a half years since he was killed. It moves me to see so many people in Canada who have recognized his sacrifice and taken it to do something positive,” Mr. Browder said in an interview with The Globe and Mail.

Among its 13 recommendations, the report says the government should, “in honour of Sergei Magnitsky,” amend the Special Economic Measures Act to expand the scope under which sanctions can be enacted, to include cases of “gross human rights violations.” According to Liberal MP John McKay, who sits on the committee, the measure would give the Canadian government the power to sanction the people who do the dirty work for bad state actors.

“This would be for people who abuse human rights … and may not actually own huge companies and have effectively turned themselves into oligarchs,” Mr. McKay said. “They’re just, if you will, people who are doing the torture in the jails in the dark.”

While sanctions may not have much effect on human-rights violators who don’t have any Canadian assets or reason to travel to Canada, Mr. McKay said the message is important.

“What it symbolizes to the rest of the world is that you cannot profit from abusing human rights, from torture, from murder, from rape, from intimidation, from thugs. That Canada will not welcome you in any way, shape or form,” Mr. McKay said.

The report also calls for the amendment of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act to designate all individuals sanctioned by Canada as inadmissible to the country.

While Mr. Browder is pleased with the report, he is eager for the government to take the final step and pass a Canadian version of the Magnitsky-style legislation. With the report’s recommendations public, Mr. Browder is hopeful that will happen soon.

“I think that they were waiting for this report to come out and I think now that the report is out and it was endorsed by all members of the committee, including the Liberal members, there’s no longer any reason to delay passing a law,” he said.

The Liberals promised during the 2015 federal election to adopt Magnitsky-like legislation, but former foreign minister Stéphane Dion opposed the idea, saying Canada already has laws to deal with corrupt officials. However, Mr. Browder said, the new Foreign Affairs Minister, Chrystia Freeland, a close friend of his, does not share the same views as her predecessor on such sanctions. Ms. Freeland is an outspoken supporter of Ukraine and has been barred from travelling to Russia by the Putin regime.

In an e-mail statement Wednesday, Ms. Freeland’s office welcomed the report’s recommendations.

“The report has only just been released, and we will take the time to read and carefully consider it, including the Magnitsky recommendations about sanctions measures for gross human rights violations,” said Alex Lawrence, a spokesman for Ms. Freeland.

Mr. Browder said the government could pass sanctions soon if it wishes. There are currently two Conservative-sponsored bills – one before the House of Commons, sponsored by MP James Bezan, and the other in the Senate, tabled by Senator Raynell Andreychuk – that are essentially modelled on the Magnitsky Act.

The report comes after months of meetings, where the committee heard from government officials, academics, practitioners and civil-society advocates. Conservative committee member Peter Kent said he was especially struck by testimony from Vladimir Kara-Murza, an outspoken Kremlin critic who alleges he has been poisoned twice for his political activities, most recently in February.

“This is the testimony of a man who escaped death this year and escaped death again at the hands of assassins, which I believe are directly linked to the Putin regime. It was very compelling testimony,” Mr. Kent said. “I think it convinced some Liberal members that there was good reason to examine the sanctions and recommend adoption.”

Former Liberal MP and renowned international human rights lawyer Irwin Cotler has long-called for a Magnitsky Act in Canada. In 2012, the late Boris Nemtsov, then leader of the democratic Russian opposition, and Mr. Kara-Murza, joined Mr. Cotler in Ottawa to call for the sanctions. Mr. Nemtsov was murdered in February of 2015 and, months after, Mr. Kara-Murza suffered his first poisoning.

Mr. Cotler was pleased with Wednesday’s report, which he believes brings the government one step closer to passing a Canadian Magnitsky Act.

“I am hopeful that we are approaching that point,” Mr. Cotler said. “It’s as timely as it significant because it comes at a time of a resurgent global authoritarianism. We can call out a number of major human-rights violator countries.”

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