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Russia warns Canada Magnitsky sanctions would be blow to relations

Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland talks to reporters about NAFTA outside the House of Commons on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa, Thursday, May 18, 2017. In a statement published Thursday, the Russian Foreign Ministry condemned an announcement by Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland expressing support for a Senate bill that would establish sanctions against human-rights violators in Russia.

Fred Chartrand/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Russia is warning Canada the adoption of a Magnitsky-style law would result in a significant blow to bilateral relations, while a prominent Russian dissident commends Ottawa's decision to support sanctions against human-rights abusers worldwide.

In a statement published Thursday, the Russian Foreign Ministry condemned an announcement by Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland expressing support for a Senate bill that would establish sanctions against human-rights violators in Russia and around the world, calling it an "unfriendly act." Canada follows in the footsteps of the United States and Britain, which have adopted their own versions of the Magnitsky Act, a law targeting human-rights abusers by freezing their assets and denying them visas.

"In case of endorsement of this … legislative act, relations between our two countries that are already in a rather low phase will suffer a new telling blow," said the Russian Foreign Ministry.

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Related: Liberals to support Magnitsky-style bill targeting Russia for human rights abuse

The statement went on to attack U.S.-born financier and anti-Putin campaigner Bill Browder, who has led the campaign to establish the targeted sanctions in various countries since his lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, was murdered about eight years ago.

"It is Canada that will eventually lose … if its authorities take their cues from the individuals like the U.K.-based financial swindler William Browder, and if they prefer to isolate themselves from Russia instead of developing mutually beneficial co-operation in the economy and in Arctic exploration."

Mr. Browder hired Mr. Magnitsky as the lawyer for his Moscow-based Hermitage Capital Management hedge fund in 2005. Mr. Magnitsky was arrested in 2008 and died in prison in 2009 after accusing Russian officials of theft. Investigations by Russia's human-rights council eventually concluded he was beaten to death by prison staff.

Outspoken Russian human-rights advocate Vladimir Kara-Murza welcomed Ms. Freeland's support for Magnitsky-style sanctions on Thursday.

"I am of course very heartened again by the position taken by the Canadian government. I think it is very important that Canada adopts this bill and I hope very soon to see it signed into law," Mr. Kara-Murza told The Globe and Mail.

He said there is a risk Russia will bite back at Canada's decision, as it did when the United States passed the first Magnitsky Act in 2012. In retaliation, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law banning the adoption of Russian children by U.S. citizens.

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"Nothing shows the true nature of the Putin regime better than what they did [in 2012]," Mr. Kara-Murza said. "Whatever measures the Kremlin is trying to threaten, I certainly think the government of Canada should not succumb to blackmail."

Mr. Kara-Murza continues his crusade for human rights, despite alleged poisonings in 2015 and this past February. Both incidents left him in a coma and he still suffers from nerve damage. He said that while his condition has improved and he no longer needs a cane to walk, his doctor warned him that another poisoning will likely kill him.

U.S. Republican Senator John McCain and Democratic Senator Ben Cardin, who both advocated for the U.S. Magnitsky Act, applauded Ms. Freeland's announcement.

In a speech to the House of Commons on Wednesday night, Ms. Freeland specifically expressed support for Bill S-226, tabled by Conservative Senator Raynell Andreychuk. The legislation, essentially modelled on the U.S. Magnitsky Act, passed the Senate in April. The House is expected to start debating it Friday.

Ms. Freeland said the government will work with parliamentarians to bring forward some "some technical amendments to strengthen the bill." Liberal MP Borys Wrzesnewskyj, who has long advocated for a Magnitsky Act in Canada, said the government will likely focus on two amendments.

The first would strengthen the bill's preamble to cite additional examples of the kinds of threats human-rights defenders face across the world. He said the government would also like to legislate the right to an appeal for individuals sanctioned by the law.

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Ms. Andreychuk said she would welcome any technical amendments that improve the bill.

Mr. Wrzesnewskyj said he is hopeful the bill will pass the parliamentary review process soon and become law before the end of the year.

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Michelle Zilio is a reporter in The Globe and Mail’s Ottawa bureau. Previously, she was the associate producer of CTV’s Question Period and a political writer for CTVNews.ca. Michelle has also worked as a parliamentary reporter for iPolitics, covering foreign affairs, defence and immigration, and as a city desk reporter at the Ottawa Citizen. More

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