MONTREAL — Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird seemed open to the idea of Canada introducing sanctions against Russia for the level of domestic repression going on there, according to Liberal MP Irwin Cotler.
Cotler crossed paths with Baird at Flughafen Airport in Frankfurt, Germany, recently while both were in transit and the two discussed various issues, Cotler told repoerters May 2.
One of them was repression and human rights violations in President Vladimir Putin’s Russia.
While Canada promptly imposed sanctions in response to Russian aggression in Ukraine, Cotler said, it has been reluctant to do so regarding Russia’s domestic human rights abuses.
“The two issues… are inextricably linked,” Cotler said in a statement he issued one day earlier. “The same authoritarianism, revanchism and criminality that have characterized the Putin regime’s approach to human rights… have gone unpunished.”
Cotler’s position was also coloured by the case of Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian-Jewish lawyer who was jailed and then allegedly tortured to death in a Russian jail in 2009 for exposing widespread corruption.
The former justice minister has supported the efforts of American human rights activist Bill Browder, the CEO of Heritage Capital Management, who led the effort to have the U.S. Congress pass the Magnitsky Act requiring targeted sanctions against Russians implicated in the Magnitsky affair.
The European Parliament passed a resolution calling on European governments to do likewise, “but progress in Canada appears to have stalled,” Cotler said both in his statement and to reporters.
This is the case, he said, even though in 2012, when Browder visited Ottawa, the all-party house subcommittee for international human rights, which Cotler is involved in, unanimously called on the government to “explore options” regarding imposing visa sanctions and freezing assets of those implicated in the Magnitsky affair.
“It is the time for Canada to sanction people involved in domestic repression in Russia,” Cotler told reporters.
He spoke after returning from an event-laden nine-day overseas trip commemorating the 70th anniversary of the genocide of Hungarian Jewry and participation at the climactic moments of this year’s March of the Living trip.
Cotler said he experienced a “kaleidoscope of emotions” during the extremely poignant and moving trip, which included lighting a yahrzeit candle with Cecilia Ahlberg, great-niece of Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, who is credited with saving 100,000 Jews, and addressing a pro-Israel rally of mostly non-Jewish participants in Budapest.
Cotler also met with Csanad Szegedi, the former Hungarian neo-fascist leader and anti-Semite who found out he was Jewish and became a practising Jew. Szegedi triggered a storm of controversy last November when he was scheduled to speak to a Montreal Jewish group but was only allowed to stay for 24 hours before being obliged to return home.
While Szegedi still has many detractors questioning his sincerity, Cotler said that judging by his words alone, Szegedi “came across as sincere.”
Last month, Cotler accepted Concordia University’s inaugural Romeo Dallaire Award for Human Rights Leadership, and he used the occasion to stress that the international community has a responsibility to prevent genocide and other mass atrocities.
The Rwandan genocide 20 years ago killed at least 500,000 people, and another such atrocity may be looming in South Sudan.
In his remarks at Concordia, Cotler said: “What makes the Rwandan Genocide – not unlike the Holocaust – so unspeakable – is not only the horror of the genocide… but that this genocide was preventable.
“No one can say we did not know. We knew, but did not act.”