Macdonald-Laurier InstituteAs repression in countries like Russia, Belarus, Iran and China, escalate, and Western nations whose traditional defence of human rights and democracy recede, the world needs Canada’s leadership more than ever.

A good step, writes Marcus Kolga, would be adopting Magnitsky legislation – a law that would, like its counterpart in the United States, help sanction people who commit and profit from the abuse of human rights.

By Marcus Kolga, April 12, 2017

Three years before Russia invaded and illegally occupied Crimea and five years before the Russian hacking scandal in the United States, Russian opposition leader, Boris Nemtsov warned Canadian parliamentarians about the nature of the Putin regime.

In 2012, Nemtsov detailed the serious dangers Russian pro-democracy and human rights activists faced from Putin’s escalating political repressions — including imprisonment and worse. When parliamentarians asked him what Canada could do to help them, he said one word: Magnitsky.

Nemtsov was referring to Magnitsky legislation, named in honour of a Russian lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, who was detained by Russian authorities in 2008 after he discovered a $230 million tax fraud committed by Kremlin tax agents and the Klyuev crime gang. Magnitsky died in prison in November 2009 after being denied medical treatment.

In 2012, the Magnitsky Bill was adopted in the United States, allowing the U.S. government to sanction any Russians who commit and profit from the abuse of human rights, and those connected to the death of Sergei Magnitsky.

Five years after Nemtsov spoke to Canadian legislators, the Canadian Parliamentary Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, has tabled a report that recommends Canada adopts the global version of Magnitsky legislation.

Canadian Magnitsky legislation could not come soon enough for many activists, including Russian opposition leader, Vladimir Kara-Murza, who like Nemtsov, has characterized Magnitsky legislation as being pro-Russian. Like Nemtsov, Kara-Murza has appeared before parliamentarians to ask them for Canada’s help. Unlike Nemtsov, who was shot and murdered on the streets of Moscow in 2015, Kara-Murza has survived two attempts on his life.

The latest attempt came just under a year after Kara-Murza testified in Ottawa for the study tabled on Thursday in the House of Commons. This past December, Kara-Murza was poisoned again after narrowly surviving an even more serious poisoning in 2015.

Supporting and protecting international human rights has always been a Canadian foreign policy objective

In a joint 2012 opinion piece, Boris Nemtsov and Vladimir Kara-Murza wrote that “Canada has an opportunity to lead — just as it has led on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights — by adopting the Magnitsky legislation … The task of democratic change in our country is ours and ours alone. But if Canada wants to show solidarity with the Russian people and stand for the universal values of human dignity, the greatest help it could give is to tell Kremlin crooks and abusers that they are no longer welcome.”

The same sentiment has been echoed by each of the many activists who testified in the House of Commons, including Belarusian opposition leader Andrei Sannikov, who in 2010, was beaten and imprisoned for over a year. Sannikov told Parliamentarians that he believes the threat of sanctions kept him alive, testifying to the strong deterrent effects of Magnitsky sanctions.

Supporting and protecting international human rights has always been a Canadian foreign policy objective and the recommendations in this landmark parliamentary report underscore that fact. We cannot allow ourselves to abandon our principles and core values while we engage with foreign governments.

Ensuring that our partners respect human rights, democracy and the rule-of-law, helps to reinforce our own security and global interests as well. Turning a blind eye to regimes that detain, beat and murder activists and journalists who oppose them; engage in corruption; and even attack neighbouring states, is dangerously short-sighted and exposes Canadian interests to risks.

As repression in countries like Russia, Belarus, Iran and China, escalate, and Western nations whose traditional defence of human rights and democracy recede, the world needs Canada’s leadership more than ever.

The Kremlin’s proxies argue Canada is not a destination for human rights abusers and that they don’t hide their ill-gotten assets in this country. They also argue Magnitsky sanctions offer no meaningful deterrence.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Vladimir Putin has made the repeal of Magnitsky sanctions a foreign policy priority. Why? Because so many of those in his inner circle — and the oligarchs who support him — are exposed to the consequences of human rights sanctions. They travel abroad and send their kids to private schools abroad. They also keep their money abroad — including in Canada.

Until a few years ago, former Russian Senator, Vitaly Malkin, owned tens of millions of dollars in Toronto real estate, despite being barred from entry into Canada due to alleged connections to international organized crime.

We can no longer delay adopting Magnitsky human rights legislation.

One of Putin’s closest supporters and oligarchs, Oleg Deripaska, who is directly connected to the Trump-Russia scandal through Paul Manafort, owned a controlling share of Magna International and recently tried to purchase a major Quebec aluminum refinery.

Kremlin-friendly oligarch, Roman Abramovich’s steel company, Avraz, owns several Canadian plants, and the Kremlin owns one of Canada’s largest uranium mining firms, Uranium One.

Former Canadian justice minister, and legendary international human rights defender, Irwin Cotler, tabled a unanimously adopted parliamentary resolution calling on Canada to adopt Magnitsky legislation in March 2015. We can no longer delay adopting Magnitsky human rights legislation.

By closing our doors to international human rights abusers we provide hope and protection for all of those who share and fight for our common values around the world, such as Vladimir Kara-Murza and Andrei Sannikov. And we honour those who have fallen, such as Boris Nemtsov and Sergei Magntisky.

Marcus Kolga is an expert on Russian disinformation and human rights activist. He is a senior fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute Foreign Policy Centre, a documentary filmmaker, digital communications strategist and publisher of UpNorth.eu