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Canadians lead the push for a global anti-corruption court

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Canadians lead the push for a global anti-corruption court

There are a number of reasons why Canada would seem an unlikely country to champion an innovative international effort to curb the global scourge of the corruption of large amounts of money that United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres adds at a global cost. annual of approximately $ 3.6 billion. in bribery, tax evasion, embezzlement and bribery.

For one thing, the Trudeau government’s international reputation didn’t exactly come out unscathed from the SNC-Lavalin affair, which resulted in two cabinet resignations and an ethics commissioner found that Trudeau had improperly interfered with a massive corruption case in an effort to replace criminal proceedings. against a liberal-friendly company with a deferred prosecution agreement.

For a time there, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) had Canada on a watch list. SNC-Lavalin eventually negotiated his charge sheet from six counts to a guilty plea to a single count of fraud, $ 280 million in fines, and three years of probation. The case involved $ 47 million in payments to Saadi.Gadhafi, son of Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi, in exchange for lucrative construction contracts in that ruined country.

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But Canada now appears poised to take a leadership role in establishing an international anti-corruption court, borrowing content and process from the International Criminal Court and the Ottawa landmine treaty. This could go a long way towards restoring Canada’s reputation as a serious country on the front lines of corruption and money laundering, no longer the G7 pariah who “washes the snow.”

Four former Canadian cabinet ministers have jumped into the effort.

Three are liberals: former Justice Minister Allan Rock, a law professor at the University of Ottawa who also served as Canadian ambassador to the UN; Lloyd Axworthy, former Foreign Minister who now serves as President of the World Council for Refugees and Migration; and Ujjal Dosanjh, a former liberal health minister who previously served briefly as prime minister of the New Democratic Party of British Columbia. Former liberal leader Michael Ignatieff, now president and rector of the University of Central Europe in Austria, is also among them.

The fourth former cabinet minister is Conservative Peter MacKay, who served as Foreign Minister, Defense Minister, and Justice Minister during the Stephen Harper years.

Canadians are among more than 100 international figures who have turned their backs on the concept of an international corruption tribunal and enabling treaty, formally unveiled this week by the US-based government. Integrity Initiatives International, a global non-profit organization, believes Canada is well prepared to take the initiative.

Among the most prominent personalities supporting the idea: Wolfgang Ischinger, President of the Munich Security Conference; the former president of Colombia and Nobel laureate Juan Manuel Santos; former Tunisian president Moncef Marzouki; and former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt. Among the jurists and international law experts who have joined are the Nobel Prize winner and former judge Shirin Ebadi of Iran; former UN High Commissioners for Human Rights Navi Pillay and Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein; and Bill Browder, pioneer of Magnitsky sanctions laws that have been adopted by the US, UK and Canada.

READ: Dirty money – it’s a Canadian thing

Unlike the Magnitsky laws, which impose travel bans and asset seizures on corrupt officials and human rights abusers, an international anti-corruption court would give comprehensive force and effect to the various anti-corruption statutes that nearly all member states of the The UN finally enacted instead after the adoption of the UN Convention against Corruption in 2005. But in dozens of countries where those laws are on the books, they are not enforced, either because the countries lack the capacity or because the Criminals who carry out the embezzlement are also running the program. The UN does little more than convene important-sounding sessions in which diplomats adopt pre-drafted resolutions.

An anti-corruption treaty would provide a measure of uniformity among advanced democracies that are determined to eradicate dirty money in their own economies, while helping citizens victimized by kleptocrats and Gadhafi-like regimes by freezing stolen assets and money, such as bribes. CNS. -Lavalin paid for Moammar Gadhafi’s son, and the yacht that SNC-Lavalin bought him. The proceeds could then be held in trust for the victims of the world’s globetrotting strongmen.

Until this year, Canada was the only Five Eyes country with no commitment to a publicly accessible “beneficial owner registry,” that is, a national registry that requires corporations to identify who their beneficial owners are. But that is changing rapidly. While scant on detail, the long-overdue federal budget, unveiled in April, contained a commitment to establish a publicly accessible federal registry of beneficial owners.

This is something that Transparency International (TI) Canada has been fighting for for years. The Quebec legislature is considering something similar. British Columbia, which has been fiercely critical of Ottawa’s complacency in the face of a scam involving hundreds of millions of dollars laundered from China through BC casinos to Vancouver real estate, has brought a beneficial owner registry covering real estate. .

The work involved in bringing Canada up to date has taken on some urgency lately, especially now that the G7 foreign ministers have identified corruption as a “pressing global challenge” that will be the focus of the G7 ministerial meetings in September. And on June 3, US President Joe Biden identified the fight against corruOption as a core US national security interest: “Corruption erodes public trust; hampers effective governance; distorts fair markets; undermines development efforts; contributes to national fragility, extremism and migration; and it provides authoritarian leaders with a means to undermine democracy around the world. “

So is Canada up to the task?

“We have been so behind for so many years. We’re taking a series of leaps and bounds that hopefully can put us in a much better position, ”says James Cohen, CEO of TI Canada. As for the idea of ​​the international anti-corruption court, Cohen says he is behind it. “If it turns out that Canada suddenly takes the fight against corruption as a key foreign policy issue seriously, it would be very welcome.”

But the devil is in the details.

One of Canada’s strongest efforts on the world stage in recent years resulted in the adoption by the UN of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine, which came into effect around the same time as the Convention against Corruption. R2P intended to unite UN member states in efforts that included military intervention to prevent genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing.

The devil in the details of the doctrine was the deferral of the authority of the last word to the UN Security Council, where Russia and China, who hold the veto, are generally not inclined to allow even genocide to justify international action. . The lesson here is that sometimes you just have to work around the UN to avoid paralysis in the UN Security Council.

Axworthy in 2000 at the International Conference of Children Affected by War in Winnipeg (Fred Greenslade / CP)

That is why Axworthy had capitalized on a global campaign led by civil society organizations outside the UN framework, which culminated with success in the 1996 conference in Ottawa that ultimately produced a global treaty banning landmines. Almost all UN member states eventually signed, with the notable exception of Russia, China and the United States, which have a veto in the Security Council.

Axworthy’s organizational model has been adopted by legendary Massachusetts federal court judge Mark Wolf, who fights corruption. the President of Integrity Initiatives International. In the US, Judge Wolf is best known for breaking the FBI collaboration in the 1990s with notorious Boston mobster Whitey Bulger, and in 2011 he sent the former Speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives to prison for eight years on extortion and fraud charges.

The plan is to mobilize public interest organizations, public opinion and prominent figures to persuade a critical mass of liberal democracies to sign an international anti-corruption treaty.

“The kleptocrats who steal these fortunes do not want to keep their money in their own countries,” says Judge Wolf. “This is why we really need the leadership of a country like Canada.”

Canada does not have the same type of luggage that the United States carries. But this country has a knack for uniting other rule-of-law countries, as it did when Axworthy led the way with the “Ottawa ban” on landmines. “Ideally then, Canada would take the lead,” Judge Wolf tells me. “That is our hope. Canada is really of crucial importance. “


This article appears in print in the July 2021 issue of Maclean’s magazine with the headline, “How to prosecute the world’s greatest criminals.” Subscribe to the monthly print magazine here.

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