Skip to main content

It seems the Kremlin is apoplectic because Canada's version of the Magnitsky Act – a law imposing sanctions, including asset forfeiture, on officials in other countries who are responsible for violations of their citizens' human rights – has received royal assent.

The law was inspired by the case of Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer who was beaten and died in prison in 2009 after uncovering an alleged $230-million (U.S.) tax fraud involving Russian officials.

Critics of this type of legislation correctly point out it can be overly broad and open to partisan abuse.

This space has been sensitive to those concerns, but Russian President Vladimir Putin keeps casting unwitting votes in the law's favour.

If Mr. Putin and his friends fear and loathe the new statute – "not-very-constructive political games," he sniffed recently – it can't be all bad.

Equally instructive is Russia's treatment of Bill Browder, a U.K.-based financier who hired Mr. Magnitsky to probe his suspicions that government officials with connections to Mr. Putin were bilking millions.

Mr. Browder has also repeatedly stated that Mr. Putin is worth as much as $200-billion, a staggering sum that belies the Russian president's claims that he lives on his government salary alone.

Russian authorities originally retaliated by convicting Mr. Browder in absentia of tax fraud, and then – plot twist! – accusing him of orchestrating Mr. Magnitsky's death.

It's ridiculous, but not funny.

This week, in response to Canada's law taking effect, the Russian government put Mr. Browder on Interpol's wanted list – the fifth time it has engaged in this spot of bureaucratic chicanery. The move resulted in the automatic suspension of Mr. Browder's U.S. travel visa.

Thankfully, the U.S. reinstated Mr. Browder's visa almost immediately. Meanwhile, Ottawa is having none of it.

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, said, to his credit, "Canada will decide admissibility to Canada, not the Kremlin."

Thus, Mr. Browder will be able to attend a Parliamentary ceremony to celebrate the law's passage.

This will displease Russia's embassy to Canada, which has called it "a hostile move" and has threatened "reciprocal countermeasures."

No doubt these will come. But Canada should take them in stride. More and more, Russia is being exposed for its malicious interference, through social media and hacking efforts, in the politics and elections of other countries. Its isolation is growing. Any opinion it might have about what constitutes a "hostile move" is, at this point, laughable.

Interact with The Globe