WRMC welcomes the Canadian Government’s decision to implement Council’s recommendations to the Special Economic Measures Act

Statement — 26 April 2022

The World Refugee & Migration Council welcomes the federal government’s decision to implement one of the key recommendations made by the Council in its 2019 report Appel á l’action : transformer le système mondial d’aide aux réfugiés. The government introduced amendments to the Special Economic Measures Act in its budgetary estimates today that will allow the government not just to freeze but also to seize the assets of persons who are responsible for “gross and systematic human rights violations…in a foreign state or acts of signification corruption.” Importantly, by providing for court supervision of the forfeiture process, the amendments also introduce transparency and an appropriate measure of due process.

The current practice in Canada and around the world is for governments to freeze assets associated with corrupt foreign officials. The Council’s proposal was to go one step further and confiscate and re-purpose those assets for the benefit of refugees, the internally displaced and others who have been harmed or subject to human rights violations by those whose assets are frozen. The Council discussed these proposed measures with officials and legislators in other countries, notably the Federal Republic of Germany and the United Kingdom. 

The government’s proposed amendments are similar to Bill S-217, or the Frozen Assets Repurposing Act, which was first tabled in the spring 2019 as a private member’s bill in the Senate of Canada by Senator Ratna Omidvar, a Council member.

The Council welcomes this pathbreaking legislation, which introduces political accountability and legal due process in the disposition of assets for those complicit in gross human rights violations and/or corruption. The proposed legislation is especially timely given the situation in Ukraine and the need to secure additional resources for the millions who have been forcibly displaced by the actions of the Russian government. 

The innovative measures contained in the legislation demonstrate major Canadian leadership on the world stage and establish a path for other states to follow. 

Apart from achieving greater accountability and providing an important  source of funding for reconstruction, the legislation will also have a significant deterrent effect on those who might otherwise intend to park their ill-gotten gains in Canada.

Image: Superyacht of Russian billionaire Melnichenko mooring near Reykjavik, Iceland, shutterstock/SofyaDushkina