Foreign Affairs Minister Chystia Freeland has said that the government has agreed to create a so-called Magnitsky Act that would expand Canada’s international sanctions law to target gross human rights violators. Freeland announced the decision in the House of Commons.
The move comes after the Commons foreign affairs committee agreed last month to support amending Canada’s sanctions regime to include the rights violators “in honour” of the Russian whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky. Magnitsky died in a Moscow prison in 2009 after accusing officials of a $230-million tax fraud. The decision is bound to further strain relations with Russia, which has reacted strongly to the imposition of Magnitsky-style legislation elsewhere.
The committee decided to take an expanded look at the issues surrounding Magnitsky’s death. Human rights watchdogs say he was beaten in prison and denied medical treatment.
To have done otherwise would have amounted to the committee missing a “piece of reality,” Liberal MP Bob Nault, the committee chair,is reported to have said. The committee heard compelling testimony from lawyer William Browder, whose firm employed Magnitsky; former Liberal MP and human rights lawyer Irwin Cotler; chess legend and Russian democracy advocate Garry Kasparov; and other human rights advocates. Kasparov told the committee that the legislation was important because Russia was working so hard to oppose it. “That’s why Putin and his cronies and his agents and his lobbyists were so aggressive in trying to repeal the Magnitsky Act,” Kasparov said in December. “It is because it will hurt the very foundation of his so-called social contract with the Russian elite,” he added.