Canada backs sanctions against foreign officials in abuse cases

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada backs imposing sanctions on officials from Russia and other nations who are deemed guilty of human rights violations, Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said on Wednesday, pressuring Moscow over the high-profile case of a dead whistleblower.

FILE PHOTO: Canada's Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland gestures as she arrives to pose for a family photo during a G7 for foreign ministers in Lucca, Italy April 11, 2017. REUTERS/Max Rossi

Freeland said Canada’s Liberal government supported draft legislation inspired by the case of Sergei Magnitsky, an anti-corruption lawyer who died in 2009 after a year in a Russian jail.

The proposed Sergei Magnitsky Law would let Ottawa seize the assets and property of foreign officials. The bill, proposed by an opposition legislator, has widespread backing and is certain to become law.

“Our government supports expanding the scope under which sanctions measures can be enacted ... to include cases of gross violations of human rights and foreign corruption,” Freeland told Parliament, citing strong global interest in the Magnitsky case.

“I truly believe this is the direction the world is going and I think it will send a strong message,” she added.

In 2012, the United States adopted a law freezing any U.S. assets of Russian investigators and prosecutors said to have been involved in the detention of Magnitsky, who had alleged major tax fraud by Russian officials. In retaliation, Moscow barred Americans from adopting Russian children.

The Canadian announcement is set to chill ties further with Moscow, which Freeland and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have condemned over the 2014 Russian annexation of Crimea.

Representatives at the Russian Embassy in Ottawa were not immediately available for comment.

The bill says Canada can punish those “responsible for, or complicit in, extrajudicial killings, torture or other gross violations of internationally recognized human rights” against people who try to expose illegal activity by government officials or promote human rights.

Freeland took over as foreign minister in January from Stephane Dion, who showed less enthusiasm for the proposed law.

“We are delighted the government has finally stopped dragging its feet on a global Magnitsky-style sanctions regime,” said Peter Kent, foreign affairs spokesman for the opposition Conservative Party.

Moscow banned Freeland in 2014 in response to Canadian sanctions against Russian officials over Crimea.

Last month Britain formally approved legal amendments allowing authorities to freeze the assets of alleged human rights violators. The measure was inspired by Magnitsky’s death.

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

Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Peter Cooney and Leslie Adler