OTTAWA—Liberal MP and former Minister of Justice, Irwin Cotler, tabled legislation on Thursday to close a legislative loophole that lets foreign officials responsible for torture, genocide, and war crimes committed against Canadians escape justice.
Cotler says current legislation favours the perpetrators of genocide and forces Canada to use taxpayers’ dollars to protect such criminals because of provisions in the State Immunity Act.
Under the act, foreign officials and states can be sued for breach of contract and other commercial issues in a civil court, but cannot be sued for torture, genocide, or war crimes.
“It's an absurdity that has to be corrected,” said Cotler.
In a statement released at the press conference, he said “Our present legislation criminalizes torture, war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide—the most heinous acts known to humankind. But Canadian law does not allow a civil remedy for the victims of such horrific acts.”
Cotler, the Liberal Party’s Special Counsel on Human Rights and International Justice, said the new legislation will create an exemption in the State Immunity Act so that foreign officials and states can be subject to civil litigation in Canadian courts for these crimes.
Canadian citizens, including refugees to Canada who were not citizens when they were victimized, would be able to use their own resources to sue the perpetrators.
Cotler said this will get around the issue of the government not pursuing such suits due to a lack of resources.
This was his fear when he shepherded in the Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act when he was the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada in 2000, he said.
That legislation allowed such crimes to be punishable under the Criminal Code. However, to date there has only been one successful prosecution under that legislation. Moreover, only the government can prosecute such a case.
Last month, Désiré Munyaneza, a 42-year-old Rwandan man, was sentenced to life with no chance of parole for 25 years for his part in the deaths of 800,000 ethnic Tutsis during Rwanda’s 1994 genocide.
Jacques Mungwarere was arrested and charged with genocide under the same act earlier this month.
The new bill aims to make justice available for more victims by not requiring their cases to go through the criminal justice system.
The bill has received support from key MPs in all parties.
Scott Reid, Conservative MP and Chair of the Subcommittee on International Human Rights of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development, has seconded the legislation.
“This is a good, practical step forward in dealing with the worst sort of human rights offences,” he said in the news release.
Cotler was joined at the press conference by NDP Foreign Affairs Critic Paul Dewar, who is also seconding the legislation.
“Torture is always wrong—as are crimes against humanity,” Dewar said.
He said he supported the bill because it would ensure victims of torture and other atrocities could seek justice against foreign officials and their agents in Canadian courts.
Bloc Québécois MP Francine Lalonde, another Foreign Affairs Critic, joined Reid and Dewar in seconding Cotler’s bill.