Canadian-led movement aims to seize assets from dictators to remedy refugee crisis

The proposal will be one of the main recommendations of the World Refugee Council, a self-appointed body of two dozen global political figures, academics and civil-society representatives led by former Canadian foreign minister Lloyd Axworthy.

“We’ve put forward a proposition that where there are frozen assets they should be unfrozen through a proper legal process and reallocated to help the victims of the crime and corruption and instability that the bad guys create,” said Axworthy. “It’s a morality play. The bad guys have to pay to help their victims.”

The World Bank estimates the pool of cash to be worth $10 billion to $20 billion per year, Axworthy said in an interview.

The council was established last year by a Canadian think-tank, the Centre for International Governance Innovation, to find new ways to deal with the 21st century’s record-setting migration crisis — the 68.5 million displaced people driven from their homes by war, famine and disaster.

The United Nations will turn its attention to solving the problem at a special session later this fall, and the council plans to offer its input, using the weight of the last Canadian foreign minister to chair a Security Council meeting.

The UN has acknowledged in stark terms that as the number of homeless and stateless people continues to grow around the globe, their suffering is increased by the shrinking pool of money available to help them.

‘Proceeds put for the public good’

Axworthy says there are fundamental structural flaws in how the world’s institutions are set up to cope with the unprecedented forced migration of people, and a big one is how the bills are paid. The system is based on charity — the benevolent donations of people, countries and businesses — and is not sustainable, Axworthy said.

An October report by the United Nations refugee agency said it expected to raise 55 per cent of the $8 billion it needs to support refugees and internally displaced people this year.

Axworthy said the courts in several countries can be used to seize funds that have been frozen there. Canada, the United States and Britain have all passed legislation allowing them to impose sanctions on individual human-rights abusers. These “Magnitsky laws” are named after a Russian tax accountant who died in prison after exposing a massive fraud by state officials there.

The world could start spending the “tens of billions of dollars moulding away in a variety of banks and other places, purloined money from the warlords, from the bad guys, the dictators, the authoritarians,” Axworthy said.

Irwin Cotler, a former Liberal justice minister and human-rights lawyer who has championed Magnitsky-style legislation, said in a separate interview that these laws can allow to go beyond freezing funds, because once the assets are seized, there’s no point to returning them to their corrupt owners.

“What you want to do is have the proceeds put for the public good,” said Cotler, the founder of the Montreal-based Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights.

Legal precedent

Canada’s first round of sanctions under its Magnitsky Act targeted people in Russia, South Sudan and Venezuela, including Nicolas Maduro, the South American country’s president.

The refugee council’s most recent report, released last month, focused on the displacement of millions of people from Venezuela. That report urged the United States to take a leading role in seizing billions of “ill-gotten” assets in the country, including the $2 billion that the U.S. Treasury Department estimates has been stolen from Venezuela’s state-owned oil company.

Fen Hampson, who co-wrote the report and is head of the global security program at the Centre for International Governance Innovation, suggested governments need to go beyond their various Magnitsky laws to repurpose the seized assets of “Maduro and some of his henchmen … to help victims and the host countries that are reeling under this growing refugee and migration crisis.”

The Magnitsky Act, named after a Russian lawyer and auditor who was arrested on trumped-up charges and died in prison, has Russia threatening retaliation against Canada. The proposed law targets those responsible for human rights abuses and corruption. 2:15

The report said there is legal precedent to do this: a civil case against the son of the dictatorial leader of Equatorial Guinea resulted in a $30-million judgement, $20 million of which was later used by a charity to help the country’s people.

In Yemen, where most of the inhabitants of the port city of Hodeida were forced to flee Friday as Saudi Arabia’s three-year war on Shiite rebels continued, the UN World Food Program’s country director said a massive cash influx is needed to repair the battered economy and feed a population on the verge of starvation.

Stephen Anderson said it’s up to others, higher up in the UN, to decide whether that money should be siphoned from a warlord’s frozen bank account.

“We’re 100-per-cent voluntary funded,” Anderson said. “The economic issues need to be addressed urgently because that’s affecting the entire population of Yemen. They were the poorest in the Middle East before the conflict so there’s no safety net.”

Source: Canadian-led movement aims to seize assets from dictators to remedy refugee crisis

More federal action needed to restore lost Canadian citizenship rights: Rock and Axworthy

Former Ministers Alan Rock and Lloyd Axworthy argue in favour of the proposed expansion of voting rights for non-resident Canadians in Bill C-33 and repeal of the first generation limit to the transmission of  Canadian citizenship.

The main weaknesses in their arguments:

  • Reinforces a global, more instrumental concept of citizenship, without a meaningful connection to Canada;
  • C-33 only requires a citizen to have been born in Canada in order to have voting rights, irrespective of how little time spent in Canada;
  • Repealing the first generation limit means a further weakening of the meaningfulness of citizenship and connection to Canada, as again the second or subsequent generations could retain citizenship without having lived in Canada;
  • Immigrants wishing to become citizens to be physically present in Canada (four out of six years currently, three out of six as proposed in Bill C-6) and retention after the first generation should, at a minimum, require residency;
  • Like others, they exaggerate the number of Canadians with connections to Canada. Passport data shows about 630,000 active non-resident adult passport holders, not the 2 to 3 million cited. This is a minimal connection test (taxation data shows about 130,000);
  • The exemption to the first generation limit for public servants serving abroad recognizes the fact that they work directly for the government, rotate regularly back to Canada, and pay Canadian taxes. This is quite different from those who spend their entire life abroad, do not return regularly for more than short visits, and for the most part, don’t pay Canadian taxes; and,
  • Largely targeted towards globally mobile professionals, Ministers Rock and Axworthy’s proposal fails to consider the implications for the broader population, whether it be the many non-resident Canadians who simply live their lives abroad without making “important global contributions” or resident Canadians who may feel that granting citizenship without residence devalues the meaning of being Canadian. 

    Their proposal is largely targeted towards those globally mobile professionals without considering the implications to the broader population of non-resident Canadians.

Canada’s former Minister of Democratic Institutions, Maryam Monsef, recently observed that in the 21st century, there are many good reasons why Canadians choose to live overseas, and that there is no reason to create barriers to their participation in democratic processes.

We agree, but would go further. Canadians living and working overseas face government barriers not only in participating in democratic processes, but also in passing along citizenship. These must be addressed.

The occasion for the comments made by Ms. Monsef – recently appointed Minister of Status of Women – was the introduction of legislation to repeal provisions of the federal Fair Elections Act. Adopted in 2014, this statute provides, amongst other things, that Canadians living overseas can vote only within five years of leaving Canada, and must have the stated intention of returning home.

In repealing this provision through Bill C-33, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act, the federal government will remove one important penalty for Canadians living and working overseas. However, it is overlooking a potentially even greater disincentive.

A little-known 2006 amendment to the Citizenship Act limits Canadian citizenship to just the first-generation of children born to or adopted by Canadians who live outside Canada. Thus, children born to or adopted by Canadian parents who are travelling, studying, or working abroad become citizens of Canada at birth or at the time of adoption, but their children are not entitled to Canadian citizenship if they are born outside Canada.

This is harmful for at least two reasons.

First, the amendment to the Citizenship Act strikes us as discriminatory, and out of step with the principle that “a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian,” as articulated by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The amendment effectively creates two classes of Canadians: those who can pass along citizenship to their children and those who cannot. Furthermore, the amendment discriminates in favour of federal employees and military personnel who serve outside Canada. Under the current legislation, they are explicitly exempted from the limits on citizenship imposed by the amendment.

Second, Canada is deeply interconnected economically, socially and culturally with communities and countries around the globe. Canadians have a long history of important global contributions in international finance, peacekeeping, United Nations’ service, and humanitarian action, to name a few. We should be encouraging Canadians to venture beyond our borders to contribute to the broader global community, whether this be as students, travellers, or professionals – now, more than ever. Unfortunately, the current provisions of the Citizenship Act may have the opposite effect, by deterring Canadians from going overseas to work.

To date, the government has sought to justify this provision based on “simplicity and transparency.” We respectfully submit that any administrative advantages are substantially outweighed both by the principles of fairness and equity required by Canadian law, and by the importance of maintaining Canada’s standing in, and contributions to, the community of nations.

In terms of scope of impact, it is worth considering that at any point in time, 2-3 million Canadians live, work, or travel overseas. If even 0.5 per cent of these people have children overseas, this would amount to 10,000-15,000 children whose rights are limited and whose options are narrowed by this legislation each year. These numbers underscore the urgency and importance of addressing this matter quickly.

As the Government moves to restore voting rights to Canadians living overseas, it should also restore another fundamental birthright by allowing foreign-born descendants of Canadians who were themselves born outside our country to begin life with Canadian citizenship.

Source: More federal action needed to restore lost Canadian citizenship rights – The Globe and Mail