Canadian lawmakers want audit of Hong Kong officials’ assets and ‘personal connections’ under Magnitsky sanctions programme

·4-min read

A group of 20 Canadian parliamentarians are calling on the government to audit the “financial and personal connections” of top Hong Kong officials and their spouses to Canada, a preliminary step to enact sanctions against anyone responsible for “the dramatic erosion of Hong Kong’s freedoms”.

In a letter to Foreign Minister Marc Garneau dated Tuesday, the 14 MPs and six senators say that “thousands of Canadian citizens who are fearful of their future” in Hong Kong are desperate for the Canadian government and allies to act.

The letter says that with “nearly every prominent pro-democracy voice in Hong Kong in jail, awaiting trial, or overseas in exile, it is clear that there is an increased need for a robust and coordinated response against the Hong Kong officials who are responsible for human rights abuses and the crackdown on the pro-democracy movement in the city”.

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“We urge the Canadian government to begin that process now by undertaking an audit of the financial and personal connections Hong Kong officials and their marital partners/spouses have in Canada,” the letter says.

Letter to Marc Garneau: Audit of the financial and personal connections of Hong Kong officials in Canada by Ian Young on Scribd

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It lists 10 potential targets by their positions, including Hong Kong’s chief executive, chief secretary, financial secretary and secretary for justice.

Such an audit is needed “to ensure that Canadian officials and parliamentarians have a clear understanding of the effectiveness of including Hong Kong officials on a Magnitsky sanctions list”, it says.

“We hope that the Government will move swiftly … and work with likeminded partners to enact coordinated Magnitsky sanctions against individuals responsible for the dramatic erosion of Hong Kong’s freedoms, autonomy and the rule of law,” it concludes.

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Signatory MPs are mostly opposition Conservatives, but also include John McKay of the ruling Liberals. Signatory senators Jim Munson and Marilou McPhedran are Liberal appointees.

A spokesman for Conservative MP Kenny Chiu said on Wednesday that the letter was “developed and solicited” by Hong Kong Watch, a British-registered charity that has supported the Hong Kong protest and democracy movements.

The spokesman said the letter went through an editing and revision process before being signed by Chiu, who chairs the Canada Hong Kong Parliamentary Friendship Group. Chiu’s British Columbia constituency of Steveston-Richmond East, in the Metro Vancouver area, is one of the most Chinese parts of Canada.

Canadian MP Kenny Chiu chairs the Canada Hong Kong Parliamentary Friendship Group. Photo: Handout
Canadian MP Kenny Chiu chairs the Canada Hong Kong Parliamentary Friendship Group. Photo: Handout

In a statement, Sam Goodman, Hong Kong Watch Canada’s senior policy adviser, said: “Given the public knowledge of the personal links that a number of Hong Kong officials have to Canada, we welcome this important initiative from parliamentarians.”

Goodman said it was “reasonable and necessary” to conduct the audit “so that parliamentarians and officials can assess the effectiveness of including them on a Magnitsky Sanctions list”.

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The office of Foreign Minister Marc Garneau did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the letter.

Canada’s 2017 Justice for Victims of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act (Sergei Magnitsky Law), targets foreign nationals “responsible for, or complicit in, extrajudicial killings, torture or other gross violations of internationally recognised human rights committed against individuals in any foreign state”.

It bars Canadian people or entities, inside or outside Canada, against having dealings with those sanctioned, and prohibits access to any Canadian property.

In July 2020, a group of 63 Canadian MPs and four senators signed a letter calling on the government to use the act to sanction mainland Chinese and Hong Kong officials “responsible for the human rights atrocities happening in Tibet, occupied East Turkestan (Xinjiang), and Hong Kong”.

On March 22, Canada imposed sanctions against four Chinese officials and one entity over “gross and systematic human rights violations” in Xinjiang. However, the sanctions were imposed via Canada’s Special Economic Measures Act (SEMA) and not the Magnitsky law.

Canada’s House of Commons has 338 seats, while there are 105 seats in the Senate.

Canada has been criticised by some rights advocates for its recent apparent preference for SEMA over the Magnitsky act, which was last used in 2018 against 17 Saudi nationals linked to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.

SEMA was applied against Belarus in 2020, with those measures expanded on Monday after an incident last month in which a journalist was seized from a commercial flight that had been forced to land in Minsk on the pretext of a fake bomb threat.

Another recent target has been Myanmar; longstanding SEMA measures were expanded this year after a military coup.

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