Skip to main content
Open this photo in gallery:

Bill Browder, in his testimony to Commons committee on public safety and national security, said that Russia has tried to use Interpol to hunt down critics such as him to stifle dissent.Francisco Seco/The Associated Press

Canada is being urged by Kremlin critics to mount a worldwide effort to suspend Russia from Interpol for allegedly using the global police force to target political enemies and dissidents.

One day after Interpol passed over a Russian police general to take over as president of the international police agency, Canada became the first country to hold hearings into the troubles facing the force.

Critics, including American and Canadian legislators, have alleged Russia uses Interpol, including its extradition requests known as red notice, to arrest suspects, for the purpose of settling political scores and harassing opponents and dissidents.

On Thursday, the Commons committee on public safety and national security heard testimony from Garry Kasparov, a former Russian world chess champion, and Bill Browder, who has led an international effort to adopt sanctions – inspired by the killing of Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky – against members of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s circle and other human-rights abusers. Canada adopted such as a law last year.

Mr. Browder told MPs that Russia has made seven separate attempts to use Interpol to arrest him and bring him to Moscow on trumped-up charges. Although Interpol has so far rejected the Kremlin’s efforts, it has not stopped the Russians from repeatedly seeking his arrest.

“Interpol has a set of rules in its rule book that says if a country consistently abuses Interpol then that country can be suspended from using its systems,” Mr. Browder told MPs. “My case by itself is an example of serial abuse of a country by Interpol.”

The committee also heard from RCMP Chief Superintendent Scott Doran, who played down the threat from Russia and maintained there are sufficient safeguards at Interpol to prevent authoritarian regimes, such as Mr. Putin’s Russia, from arresting targeted political enemies.

Mr. Browder said he is lucky that Interpol has rejected efforts to arrest him, which he credits to the fact that he is a high-profile anti-Putin critic with strong allies in the United States Congress and other Western countries. He is a personal friend of Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland.

But he and Mr. Kasparov said many other people are being arrested or harassed at Russia’s request who are unable to garner international attention.

“Russian courts are regularly used to fabricate charges and convictions against regime critics and opposition leaders and if they live abroad, as so many of us have been forced to do, Interpol is often being used to persecute them and it happens many times," Mr. Kasparov said.

Mr. Browder later told The Globe and Mail that he wants the committee to put a proposal to the government to call on the 192 countries that make up Interpol to suspend Russia from using its police system.

“Russia is the most serial abuser of the Interpol system and they have never borne any consequences,” Mr. Browder said. “Canada can lead the way by calling for Russia’s suspension because there is an appetite for it.”

He noted how the world had taken notice when it appeared likely that Alexander Prokopchuk, a 56-year-old veteran of the Russian Interior Ministry, was likely to be elected as the next Interpol president. The United States and other countries marshalled votes to elect Kim Jong-yang of South Korea. The election was held after Interpol’s then-head, Meng Hongwei of China, mysteriously disappeared on a visit to that country. Beijing later said he had been arrested by anti-corruption authorities.

Chief Supt. Doran rejected the idea that Interpol is being systematically used by Russia to go after its enemies, insisting the organization has checks and balances in place.

He said Mr. Prokopchuk was a vice-president on the nine-member Interpol executive that includes RCMP Deputy Commissioner Gilles Michaud – who Chief Supt. Doran said would stand up to any attempt to misuse the global police agency to target political rivals. Even if the Russian had become president, it would not have been a problem because he would be one among equals, Chief Supt. Doran said.

“I believe the Interpol constitution and the rules that govern the body are significant and aim to ensure the integrity of Interpol," he said. "It is really an issue of consensus building and doing what is best for the Interpol community.”

As for people whom Russia has targeted for red notice arrest warrants, Chief Supt. Doran said they can apply to Interpol’s complaint body, known as the Commission for the Control of Interpol’s Files.

“So a person can apply to that group to have their name considered to be taken off the list,” he said. “Currently we have a strong Canadian representative [Deputy Commissioner Michaud] on the executive committee, and certainly these issues can be brought up in the executive committee for discussion.”

Mr. Browder, who takes security precautions to avoid being assassinated and no longer travels to what he calls “non-rule of law” countries, challenged Chief Supt. Doran’s confidence in how Interpol deals with Russia.

“If he was an activist in Russia or a critic of the Putin regime, he wouldn’t be so comfortable as they are chasing him around the world. I’d like him to live in my shoes for a couple of days,” Mr. Browder told The Globe.

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe