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Canada Backs Magnitsky Bill Sanctioning Rights Violators In Russia

Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland
Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland

The Canadian government will back imposing sanctions on officials from Russia and other nations deemed guilty of human rights violations, Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland announced on May 17.

Freeland told parliament that Canada’s Liberal government supports draft legislation to expand the range of punitive measures that can be taken against foreign officials, including seizing and freezing assets.

The bill is inspired by the case of Russian whistle-blower Sergei Magnitsky, an anticorruption lawyer who died in 2009 after a year in a Russian jail. Magnitsky was imprisoned after accusing officials of a $230 million tax fraud.

"I truly believe this is the direction the world is going, and I think it will send a strong message," Freeland said. “In Canada and around the world, the issue of human rights sanctions and in particular the case of Sergei Magnitsky have drawn strong interest, and rightly so.”

Freeland's announcement came one month after the House of Commons' Foreign Affairs Committee encouraged the Liberal government to broaden Canadian sanctions legislation to include human rights abusers. The previous Conservative government was wary of the move.

The proposed Sergei Magnitsky Act has widespread backing in parliament and is considered likely to become law.

Based on the Russian reaction to other nations that passed similar legislation, it’s likely that the legislation would further cool relations between Canada and Russia.

The Obama administration and the U.S. Congress enacted their Magnitsky Act in 2012, prompting Russian President Vladimir Putin to respond with a law that banned American citizens from adopting Russian children.

Tensions between Ottawa and the Kremlin have risen since Freeland, an outspoken critic of repression in Russia, took office. She is one of the Western officials placed on Russia's sanctions list in 2014 after Western sanctions were imposed on Russia for its annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula.

During Freeland's previous career as a journalist, she called Putin a "really dangerous" authoritarian.

Britain last month passed legislation inspired by Magnitsky's death that would allow authorities to freeze the assets of alleged human rights violators.

The Kremlin's own human rights council has said there was evidence suggesting Magnitsky was beaten to death in jail. But Putin has dismissed allegations of foul play, saying Magnitsky died of heart failure.

With reporting by Reuters, Global News, Globe and Mail, and Canadian Press
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