Senior Fellow Marcus Kolga recently provided a statement to the UK Parliament on Nov 16, 2017 about Canada’s recently passed Sergei Magnitsky Law. We are pleased to republish his statement for Inside Policy.
By Marcus Kolga, Nov. 24, 2017
Thank you everyone and a special thank you to MP Ian Austin and to the Henry Jackson Society for the kind invitation and the great honour of having me here today to talk about Canadian efforts to pass the Sergei Magnitsky Law in Canada over the past seven years.
Let me begin by saying that Canada’s Sergei Magnitsky Law is a global human rights law. It does NOT target specific states. It targets individuals. Individuals who abuse the rights of their fellow citizens and profit from those abuses.
Our efforts were immensely challenged and involved the participation of many global human rights advocates: some of whom are no longer with us, and some whom we are lucky have here with us today. Many foreign observers might be surprised to learn that this Canadian human rights legislation took as long as it did to pass.
The first attempt came from former Justice Minister, Irwin Cotler, who introduced a private members motion which, after having been adopted unanimously in Parliament in 2011 called on the Government of Canada to adopt Magnitsky style legislation.
Boris Nemtsov himself, was among the first activists to visit Ottawa in 2012, to petition Parliament to adopt it. Vladimir Kara-Murza, came to Ottawa later that year to do the same.
He came back to Canada, after the first attempt on his life, to convince Canadians to enact the legislation, and then again after the second.
Our efforts were immensely challenged and involved the participation of many global human rights advocates
I’ve frankly lost count of the number of times Bill Browder visited Canada in pursuit of this goal. It is ironic that it took the persistence of a US born, British financier to convince Canada to reclaim its role as a global human rights leader.
When Canadians look in the collective, national mirror, we see a towering defender of global human rights and a grand broker of peace and stability.
Much of this Canadian self-image is rooted in Canada’s contribution in drafting the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. So deeply ingrained is this in our national identity, that our Foreign Ministry website includes this history on its homepage.
The statement, which has endured several changes of Canadian government since the mid-1990s, says that: “Canada has been a consistently strong voice for the protection of Human Rights and the advancement of democratic values from its central role in drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to its work at the UN today.”
It is remarkable that then Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent ordered Canadian diplomats to avoid any role in the deliberations of that declaration, and persisted in obstructing its advance.
So too did Canada’s most recent former Foreign Minister, stall and block Magnitsky legislation.
The former minister’s opposition was so great that he even claimed, incorrectly, that Canada already had the power to sanction human rights abusers and that Magnitsky legislation was redundant. Canada after all, was seeking to reengage with Vladimir Putin, and Magnitsky legislation would further complicate that effort.
In 1948, Canada took a similarly soft position, when it was the only country to side with the Soviet Union to abstain on a final vote on the Canadian drafted Declaration.
The risk of international isolation and embarrassment eventually forced Canada to acquiesce and support it.
Just as Canada’s then position on the Declaration was too shameful to sustain, so too was the Canadian government’s more recent trajectory towards appeasement of modern, repressive regimes and kleptocrats by rejecting Magnitsky legislation.
Last January, in a cabinet shuffle, a new Minister of Foreign Affairs was named. With Chrystia Freeland, the government’s position on Sergei Magnitsky legislation aligned with the overwhelming pro-human rights consensus that had emerged in Ottawa.
As the movement to adopt Sergei Magnitsky legislation gained support and momentum, so too did the Kremlin’s objections intensify.
With Chrystia Freeland, the government’s position on Sergei Magnitsky legislation aligned with the overwhelming pro-human rights consensus that had emerged in Ottawa.
In March 2016, the Kremlin lawyer at the center of the current Trump-Russia investigation, Nataliya Veselnitskaya, publicly attacked Canadian efforts to adopt the law. Veselntiskaya triggered a ripple effect of criticism in Russia’s pro-Kremlin media and even prompted a call from Russia’s lower house to open an official investigation into the Canadian movement.
Vladimir Putin’s hollow foot stomping was echoed by local proxy groups, set up solely to amplify Kremlin messaging.
Progressively malicious public attacks against Canadian parliamentarians and activists lost all mainstream credibility, becoming morbidly desperate when Canadian MPs who supported the legislation including the Minister herself, were accused of harboring neo-Nazi sympathies by pro-Putin, alt-right conspiracy theorists.
Despite the Kremlin’s best efforts to inspire the worst fears in Canadians, The Sergei Magnitsky law, which was introduced and heroically shepherded by two Conservative opposition parliamentarians, Senator Raynell Andreychuk and MP James Bezan; passed unanimously in both the House of Commons AND in the Senate in October.
In a statement released days after Royal Assent, the Kremlin said that “Canada’s decision to extend its anti-Russia sanctions under the false pretext of hypocritically championing human rights is absolutely pointless and reprehensible.” The Kremlin has also claimed to have imposed sanctions on Canadian officials as a retaliatory measure but perhaps unsurprisingly, no list of those sanctioned has ever been released.
In the Kremlin’s macabre world of Orwellian double speak, it is Vladimir Putin who is relentlessly presented as the victim of this human rights legislation, and the human rights activist as unfairly persecuting these regimes.
Yet, Canadians have universally embraced this new law and reclaimed their role as a global human rights leader, just as they did with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Other nations can now use Canada’s example and work towards adopting their own global human rights legislation.
The overheated bluster of Kremlin propaganda and threat of retaliation are to be expected. And quite safely ignored. We cannot allow human rights to be held hostage by hot air.
No one in the United Kingdom or Europe or elsewhere should ever fall for the attempts of the world’s totalitarians and kleptocrats to vilify the norms and principled values that motivate our actions. Accountability for human rights and individual sanctions are a sovereign right that no regime should be allowed to bully another nation into rejecting.
Once again thank you for the immense honour of being invited to speak to you here in The Parliament of The United Kingdom.
I hope that our experiences in Canada will serve you others well in adopting a more complete piece of Magnitsky legislation.
Marcus Kolga is a senior fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute’s Centre for Advancing Canada’s Interests Abroad.