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Frozen Assets Repurposing Bill

Second Reading--Debate Continued

April 30, 2019

Honourable senators, I rise today in support of Bill S-259, An Act respecting the repurposing of certain seized, frozen or sequestrated assets. I wish to begin by acknowledging and thanking Senator Omidvar for her work as sponsor of the bill and the World Refugee Council for its call to action to transform the global refugee system.

If passed, Bill S-259 would allow Canada to more effectively redress human rights violations by foreign officials who try to safeguard ill-gotten gains in Canada. While Canadian law already allows seizure of such assets, Bill S-259 would create the option of re-purposing them to benefit those who have been marginalized and victimized.

Honourable senators, when it comes to the global refugee system, and most particularly when it comes to sexual and gender-based violence, it is clear that accountability is in short supply. Voices of displaced people, especially women, girls and people with diverse sexual orientations and gender identities, are too often ignored. The World Refugee Council reports that more than half of the world’s refugees and internally displaced people are women and girls who are too often viewed solely as victims and excluded from decision-making processes and leadership opportunities.

In addition to their ongoing vulnerability to sexual and gender-based violence before, during and in the aftermath of their displacement, women play a crucial role in keeping their communities and families together through crises.

Sexual and gender-based violence is endemic in refugee situations, most particularly because of the increased marginalization that results from displacement, lack of resources, uncertain legal status and social isolation. As those working with and on behalf of victims of violence in Canada know, those who seek to sexually exploit women and children target those who are most at risk by factors such as race, disability, class and impoverished circumstances.

Stigmatization, as well as targeting for trafficking, forced marriage and domestic violence are also far too common in situations of displacement. These types of constant threats founded on pre-existing gender inequalities increase violence against women and violence on the basis of sexual orientation during displacement. Just as we see with violence against women domestically, gender-specific crimes against humanity, including sexual assault and exploitation, forced pregnancy and forced sterilization, are often particularly difficult to prosecute as crimes against humanity.

There is clearly an urgent need to ensure that international justice mechanisms uphold human rights for all and respond to these systemic violations against the displaced. In this regard, Bill S-259 is a step in the right direction. As Senator Omidvar outlined by providing an independent and transparent process for the confiscation and repurposing of foreign assets, this bill could help eliminate the apparent assumption that foreign officials can use Canada as a safe haven for their illegitimate gains.

The Attorney General, acting on behalf of the Government of Canada and based on reliable facts and reputable sources, could apply to the court for a ruling to confiscate and repurpose assets obtained as part of illegitimate actions. While ensuring due process in a public forum such as by giving notice, hearing witnesses, weighing evidence, including from representatives of the foreign official or entity, and making decisions based on evidence, this depoliticized measure would, for the first time, permit Canadian courts to repurpose assets in order to better support those victimized by international human rights abuses.

The resulting remedial options might include sending resources to a neighbouring country that is managing an influx of refugees, the UNHCR or another non-governmental organization to help address the needs of those displaced. When we allow dictators, human rights abusers and kleptocrats — governments with corrupt leaders — to shelter their assets in Canada we become complicit in their actions. Canada has presented itself internationally as a human rights leader. In order to live up to that reputation, we must uphold the rights of those who are most at risk, both abroad and at home.

As we work to redress the legacy of colonialism and oppression within our own borders, this bill provides us with an opportunity to insist on the protection of human rights internationally. We must promote transparency and accountability, and dismantle and remedy the systemic inequalities, injustice and discrimination in the global refugee system. It is time to recast the system to protect those who are fleeing danger, assist host countries, alleviate fears, hold leaders to account and re-establish international cooperation.

I support this bill in its aims to ensure that Canada does its part in building a more fair and just global refugee system. Thank you. Meegwetch.

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