Canada’s new anti-corruption law sent a message to Russia and other countries which use state power to protect corruption that “we cannot be intimidated,” former Canadian justice minister Irwin Cotler said in an interview with The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.
Cotler, head of the Raoul Wallenberg Center for Human Rights, discussed Canada’s passage last month of the Sergei Magnitsky Act – commonly known as the Global Justice for Sergei Magnitsky bill.
The legislation is named after tax accountant Sergei Magnitsky, who uncovered a $230 million corruption ring in 2008, and was found dead in his Moscow prison cell in 2009.
According to reports, rather than being praised for his honesty, Magnitsky was arrested on trumped-up charges of tax evasion and placed in prison, where 11 months later he was beaten to death in his cell by eight guards.
“What made it [the law] so notable, apart from the fact that it was adopted, was that it was adopted unanimously,” Cotler told the Post
. “This came after several weeks of Russia threatening Canada.”
Cotler said, “[I] convened the Parliamentary Caucus for Human Rights in Ottawa and told them: ‘We not only need to adopt this, we need to adopt it unanimously, to send a message to the Russians that we cannot be intimidated and that we are not fearful of retaliation.’” The reference to Russian threats was not merely a description of vague intimidation.
The campaign for passing a bill, according to Cotler, took off in 2012, when Boris Menstov “came to Canada to support the legislation. He became a national advocate, until he was murdered in 2015.”
Next, Vladimir Kara-Murza, “a leading Russian intellectual, testified before the Canadian Parliamentary Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs. He was poisoned, went into a coma and almost died.
He came back again, testified again and almost died again.”
Cotler said the legislation’s primary advocate, Bill Browder – the client whose request for clarifications to Magnitsky and his law firm led to uncovering the Russian fraud and who was once the largest private foreign investor in Russia – has suffered character assassination by Russia. Paradoxically it is attempting to blame him for Magnitsky’s death.
He said Canada helped block Russia from abusing Interpol in an attempt to arrest Magnitsky For Canada, the law meant that those violating its anti-corruption provisions “cannot enter Canada freely, launder proceeds here, cannot abuse our sovereignty or our economy. We cannot do anything directly about the culture of impunity in countries where corruption takes place, but we can do something about it in terms of Canada.”
Cotler emphasized the “global” nature of the legislation, saying it was not specifically directed at Russia, but is “targeting major individual human rights violators...
not a particular government.”
The law has also been applied to Venezuelans and South Sudanese.
Cotler said Menstov even argued, “This is pro-Russian legislation because it combats the culture of criminality, corruption and impunity in Russia” on behalf of the common Russian.
The US, UK and Estonia have also adopted the legislation, Cotler said, adding that he and others hope to persuade other members of the G7 like France, Italy, Germany and Japan to do the same.
As for Israel’s role in the global campaign, Cotler said he wrote in 2012 about justice for Magnitsky and lamented that no one in Israel at the time was taking notice. “The issue itself was nowhere on the Israeli radar screen,” Cotler recalled. “It was not part of Knesset discourse or media discussions. I think this still holds true now.”
Cotler, who is generally an advocate of Israel, said not all countries need the legislation if they are not being used by offenders as safe-havens or as a location for laundering funds, but “the fact that it is not discussed in Israel I feel is somewhat troubling.”
He also commented on Monday night’s lecture by Canadian Supreme Court Justice Rosalie Abella at the human rights center he heads.
Abella, who is Jewish and the daughter of Holocaust survivors, “has been an incredible judge, the youngest appointed judge at age 29 in 1976,” he said, noting that she was promoted by both conservatives and liberals, has been awarded 37 honorary doctorates and was recently voted global jurist of the year.
Cotler explained that Abella’s “scholarship and jurisprudence have had a global impact” in drawing attention to “the dangerous indifference of some in the face of evil.” He said her Monday talk was “moving and eloquent in her description of her pursuit of justice and combating injustice.”
He also praised her for “referencing her Jewish identity in her scholarship and her work.”
Abella gained renown in 1984, when she wrote a government report about equality in employment. That report led to “the term ‘employment equality’ entering Canadian jurisprudence,” and made a global impact, Cotler said, noting South Africa as an example.
“Her perspective on equal rights underpinned the whole of Canadian jurisprudence also for the disabled, protecting the vulnerable, immigrants and refugees,” he said.
The lecture series at which Abella spoke, Cotler noted, was inaugurated in 1988 by Nobel Peace Laureate Elie Wiesel to commemorate the humanitarian legacy of Raoul Wallenberg – Canada’s first honorary citizen – “who demonstrated how one person with the compassion to care and the courage to act can confront injustice, prevail, and transform history.”
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