Magnitsky Law

With the current situation in Eastern Ukraine resulting in a political climate, causing sanctions to be taken against the Russian government, it was no surprise when Canada’s Liberal Member of Parliament (MP), Irwin Cotler, put forward a motion to adopt the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act (-689). Nor was it surprising that the motion was agreed upon unanimously by the government.

The Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, known as the “Magnitsky Law”, is named after Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer who exposed a massive tax fraud scheme involving high-level Russian government officials. Mr. Magnitsky was jailed in Russia in 2008 on bogus charges, and died in custody within a year. It was later determined by a human rights monitoring group that he had been denied medical care and had been beaten and tortured by officers of the Russian Interior Ministry.

U.S. adopts Magnitsky Sanctions

Magnitsky sanctions were first adopted by the United States in 2012, and have been imposed against 34 individuals, mostly of Russian origin. The European Union (EU) is said to support similar motions, but no individual countries in the EU have yet to pass any legislation.

Canada still to implement

Along with the current sanctions imposed against Russian government officials and their Ukrainian proxies under the Canadian Special Economic Measures Act (SEMA); a Magnitsky Act once implemented would be another tool the Canadian government could use to impose asset freezes and travel bans against the regime responsible for invading Eastern Ukraine.

The government indicated it would present it as a bill that would impose “sanctions against foreign nationals involved in the detention, torture, and death of Sergei Magnitsky”. There was widespread praise when the motion was adopted, however as the weeks stretch into months without any legislation being produced, Canadians now have to wait to see if legislation will be passed when the government returns in the Fall.

Although it is relatively simple for the Canadian government to update sanctions already in place, the reason for the delay is likely because this would be the creation of an entirely new sanctions program. Canada currently institutes sanctions using the authority of several different acts (UN Act, Special Economic Measures Act, Freezing Assets of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act, and the Export and Import Permits Act). The creation of Magnitsky sanctions would require an entirely new Act to be written (i.e. a “Magnistky Act”).

What remains to be seen is whether Canada will use the new act to punish human rights violators from outside the former USSR territories. Canada wishes to be seen as a staunch opponent to countries that repress human rights, and could convince the public this is more than another tool to fight Vladimir Putin by sanctioning countries which have little economic value to Canadian business, but are flagrant abusers of human rights; such as Equatorial Guinea, Gambia, or possibly Cambodia.

Canadian exporters are advised to monitor Livingston Trade News or the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade, and Development (DFATD)’s sanctions website regularly, to keep abreast of both the status of the Magnitsky Law and any other new sanctions coming into effect.

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