Michael MacKay, Radio Lemberg, 23.10.2017
Canada’s Magnitsky law is only five days old and already the reaction from Russia is both overblown and hysterical. Before the Canadian government has even considered sanctioning a corrupt foreign official under the new law, Russia has abused Interpol procedures by issuing an arrest warrant for Bill Browder. Insanely, the Putin regime now accuses Bill Browder of the murder of Sergei Magnitsky. Descended to the depths of paranoia, the Kremlin has spun a tale of Western spies and conspiracies, and even tried to claim the involvement of Russian opposition politicians Grigory Yavlinsky and Aleksei Navalny in a fantastic plot. In fact, corrupt Russian officials murdered Sergei Magnitsky on 16 November 2009, and it is precisely these abusers of international human rights that Canada’s new law targets.
When Russia invaded Ukraine on 20 February 2014, Canada imposed sanctions on Russian individuals and entities for causing a grave breach of international peace and security. To date, 93 individuals and 67 entities have been listed under the category “Russia” and 107 individuals and 39 entities have been listed under the category ‘Ukraine.” Vicious war criminals, such as Anatoly Antonov (currently Russia’s Ambassador to the United States), were barred from travelling to Canada or from doing business with Canadians or from having any assets in Canada.
On 24 March 2014, Russia retaliated by issuing counter-sanctions against Canadian officials. 13 individuals were barred from travelling to Russia. Chrystia Freeland, who is now Canada’s foreign affairs minister, is on the list. Russia refuses to remove Canada’s top diplomat from its sanctions list, even though Russia’s foreign minister Sergey Lavrov is not sanctioned by Canada. Irwin Cotler, who was in 2014 a Liberal Member of Parliament, was among the 13 Canadians sanctioned – he was instrumental in making Canada the fourth country (after the United States, the United Kingdom, and Estonia) to bring in a Magnitsky law against corrupt foreign officials. Also listed was Andrew Scheer, who since 2014 has become leader of the Conservative Party of Canada. Canada’s Magnitsky law received unanimous and all-party support in Parliament, and the 13 Canadians sanctioned in 2014 by Russia supported the passage of Bill S-226 in the Parliament of Canada this month.
Bill S-266 has the short title “Justice for Victims of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act (Sergei Magnitsky Law).” It provides for “the taking of restrictive measures in respect of foreign nationals responsible for gross violations of internationally recognized human rights.” Canada has not yet announced specific regulations – sanctions – under this law, but government officials have forecast that harmonization with the lists of allies will be a policy goal. Even before we know who and what will be on Canada’s Magnitsky sanctions list, Russia has acted recklessly against Bill Browder, friend and colleague of Sergei Magnitsky who was murdered by corrupt Russian officials. Disturbingly, the United States has withdrawn Bill Browder’s visa because Russia successfully abused the processes of Interpol to obtain an international arrest warrant. When Canada does list and name corrupt foreign officials, it is widely expected that the Putin regime will lash out at more Canadians, beyond the 13 it gave a “badge of honour” by sanctioning in 2014. Canada will be acting on principle, and Russia will be acting out of vindictive cruelty when that occurs.
Never forget why this escalating disaster is happening. Russia under Putin turned its back on peaceful co-existence, became a violator of international human rights, invaded Georgia in 2008, and invaded Ukraine in 2014. Magnitsky sanctions on Russians can be lifted when officials responsible for violating international human rights face justice. Sanctions on Russians for invading Europe in Ukraine can be lifted when Russia leaves Crimea and Donbas. Free the hostages. De-occupy the land. That’s what Russia must do.