Tory MP Introduces Bill to Support Prisoners of Conscience Abroad, Target Rights Offenders

Tory MP Introduces Bill to Support Prisoners of Conscience Abroad, Target Rights Offenders
Conservative MP Philip Lawrence rises during question period in the House of Commons in Ottawa on May 28, 2021. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)
Andrew Chen

Conservative MP Philip Lawrence has introduced a private member’s bill aimed at supporting prisoners of conscience abroad and targeting rights offenders with Magnitsky-style sanctions.

Presented in the House of Commons on June 13, Bill C-281, or the International Human Rights Act, includes provisions in which the foreign affairs minister would publish, at least once a year, a list of prisoners of conscience for whose release the government of Canada is actively working; request the use of Magnitsky-style sanctions against alleged human rights abusers; and prohibit the renewal of broadcasting licences to entities with foreign influences that are complicit in acts of genocide.

During a June 13 press conference, Lawrence said whether it is advocating for individuals fighting for democracy or freedom in their home countries, or pushing back against cluster munitions that harm children around the world, “it is incredibly important that we advocate and that we take a stand as a country that has a great history of human rights.”

“I’m very, very honoured and delighted to have, hopefully, a small part in furthering Canada’s reputation as a defender of human rights,” said Lawrence, MP for Ontario’s Northumberland–Peterborough South riding.

To address the issues, the bill aims to amend four pieces of legislation: the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Act, the Justice for Victims of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act (Sergei Magnitsky Law), and the Broadcasting Act.

Conservative MP Garnett Genuis said the bill is a game-changer in terms of allowing Parliament to hold the Canadian government accountable when advancing international human rights.

“This is a strong bill with measures that I hope will gain support from all sides of the House,” he said.

“It puts together a number of different kinds of measures, but all around that central goal of strengthening Canada’s role in the world, standing up for justice and human rights, and strengthening the role of parliament in being able to push the government further in the advancement of human rights.”

Genuis noted that under the bill, the minister of foreign affairs would be required to submit to Parliament an annual report on the work the ministry is doing to promote that cause. The minister would also be required to respond to Parliament within 40 days when a parliamentary committee has requested Magnitsky sanctions against an individual.

“This is important because the Magnitsky Act was a sanctions instrument that was proposed by Conservatives, it was passed through Parliament, but the Liberals have been very reluctant to use it,” he said. “The government preserves discretion around that, but it creates important accountability mechanisms for Parliament to be able to push the government forward on these issues.”

In terms of prohibiting foreign entities complicit in genocide, Genuis said the bill would give Parliament the teeth to ensure that the foreign entities involved could “no longer take advantage of Canadian airwaves to broadcast hateful, violent messages through state-controlled media into Canada,” pointing to RT, a Moscow-controlled media, and its role in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Bill C-281 also seeks to amend the Prohibiting Cluster Munitions Act, which would prohibit Canadians from working with or investing in individuals who are known to have used, developed, or transported cluster munitions, explosive submunitions, and explosive bomblets against the Convention on Cluster Munitions—an international treaty that Canada entered into force in 2015 aimed at restricting such weapons.

Lawrence highlighted this aspect of his bill.

“[Cluster] munitions are extremely deadly and non-discriminate pieces of military weapons. What differentiates them from other pieces [of weapons] is they are completely indiscriminate, and they will kill civilians just as soon as they would kill soldiers, children,” he said.

“It’s absolutely incumbent on all of us to advocate and to protect the innocents as we go forward.”