Marco Levytsky, National Affairs Editor.
Two weeks ago, we reported that an Edmonton group has started an online Parliamentary petition intended to spur direct action by the Canadian government in support of Ukrainian political prisoners including filmmaker Oleh Sentsov and other Ukrainian political prisoners being held in Russia.
The group, which is called Support for Political Prisoners of Russian Aggression in Ukraine, notes that Sentsov, Volodymyr Balukh and Oleksandr Shumko are risking their lives in standing up for basic human rights in Russian-occupied Crimea and eastern Ukraine. All three are in critical health after staging lengthy hunger strikes to demand the release of about 70 Ukrainian nationals who are being beaten, tortured and held in terrible conditions in Russian jails.
Edmonton Strathcona MP Linda Duncan has agreed to sponsor this petition and both table it and speak to it in the House of Commons, when Parliament resumes sitting on September 17.
“I am honoured to be asked to sponsor an online petition in the House of Commons from Canadians calling for Canada to demand that Russia release political prisoner Ukrainian film maker Oleg Sentsov. It is abhorrent to charge him with fabricated charges of terrorism for just speaking out against the illegal Russian invasion and annexation of his homeland of Crimea. Canada must seek the voices of other nations to demand his release and those of other detained Ukrainians. We must all speak out for Mr. Sentsov who has suffered beatings and torture and over 125 days of fasting in support of other imprisoned Ukrainians,” said Duncan.
There is an urgency to get this petition tabled as quickly as possible given the critical state of the hunger strikers’ health.
This newspaper is solidly behind this humanitarian effort to end human rights abuses by Russia and we are urging our readers to sign this petition, which can be found at https://petitions.ourcommons.ca/en/Home/Index
In order to get as much support for this petition as we can, we need as many signatures as possible. That way the government may have to move on it.
Please note that signatories must be residents or citizens of Canada and may not use a Government of Canada e-mail address.
So, what do we want the Government of Canada to do? The answer is, much more than it has done to date, which has been limited to making public statements condemning Russia.
As Parkdale High Park MP Arif Virani told this newspaper in an August 23 interview in Kyiv, “Sometimes people say that is not enough but I think the second foreign strongmen think that the world is no longer watching them, is when you can have the most dangerous consequences and the most dangerous results.”
True enough, but Canada now possesses legislation that allows our government to do much more than simply make statements. It’s called the Justice for Victims of Foreign Corrupt Officials Act (Magnitsky Act) which received Royal Assent a year ago. The Magnitsky Act provides “for the taking of restrictive measures in respect of foreign nationals responsible for gross violations of internationally recognized human rights.” To date, the Government of Canada has taken no action against Russian officials responsible for the illegal imprisonment and egregious violation of human rights of Ukrainian political prisoners.
As Ukrainian Canadian Congress National President Paul Grod stated in an August 8 press release: “Canada has taken no actions against the Russian officials responsible for the illegal imprisonment and maltreatment of Oleh Sentsov and many other Ukrainian citizens. “Statements calling on Russia to release these prisoners are not enough. Canada and the international community need to significantly increase pressure through increased economic and diplomatic sanctions on the Russian regime in order to ensure that Sentsov and all other illegally imprisoned Ukrainians are returned home.”
Among the sanctions Canada can impose under the Magnitsky Act are asset freezes and financial prohibitions.
An asset freeze aims to prevent an individual or entity from gaining access to property or other assets they may hold under Canadian jurisdiction. It prohibits persons in Canada and Canadians outside of Canada from dealing in any property held by, or on behalf of, a person named in the relevant sanctions regulation. It also prohibits facilitating or providing financial services related to such a dealing.
Financial prohibitions prohibit persons in Canada and Canadians outside of Canada from conducting financial transactions with, or on behalf of or at the direction of, certain listed persons. Equally, they may target specific types of financial transactions with listed individuals or entities.
Members of Support for Political Prisoners of Russian Aggression in Ukraine also call on the Canadian government to condemn the unjust treatment of political prisoners and to employ diplomatic and economic sanctions against Russian authorities to secure their release.
Sanctions are a powerful tool, especially as corrupt Russian oligarchs channel most of their ill-gotten gains into Western banks and other financial institutions. And they are the foundation of Vladimir Putin’s power base and his dictatorial kleptocracy.
We have the legislation in place to do so. So, let’s use our legislation.
And the way to get the government to start implementing the Magnitsky Act against Russian officials responsible for the illegal imprisonment and egregious violation of human rights of Ukrainian political prisoners, is to sign this online petition so it can be brought to the House of Commons. And the more signatures we can get on this petition, the stronger our case will be. Therefore, we not only urge our readers to sign this petition, we also urge them to spread the word among their friends. There is also an online version of this editorial. Send the link to your friends. Post it on your social media. Make a difference.