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Canada Enacts Freezing Assets of Corrupt Foreign Officials ?

posted Mar 24, 2011, 5:45 PM by Esther Matharu   [ updated Mar 24, 2011, 6:15 PM ]

This most recent modification to the wording of the Canada Enacts Freezing Assets of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act fails to provide comfort that Canada is on the side of human rights and justice. On the contrary. It asks many more questions. Even though it is just a change of wording in the title and second paragraph. (No. 118 - Modification - March 23, 2011 - 6:45 p.m. ET)

Here we have the Honourable Lawrence Cannon, Minister of Foreign Affairs, issuing the following statement on the entry into force of a new law giving Canada the power to freeze the assets of former foreign dictators:

“The Freezing Assets of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act today received royal assent and became law. Our government now has more responsive tools in our fight against corruption and the misappropriation of state funds by repressive foreign leaders.

“The legislation allows Canada to act upon the request of a foreign state to temporarily freeze assets that these former leaders and their entourage have placed in Canada.

“This new legal tool enables Canada to fight corruption and support democratic reforms and accountability by ensuring that we can freeze any misappropriated property when the authorities of a foreign state ask us to do so.”

This piece of legislation opens a can of worms, so to say, and generates many questions as the simple folk of Canada continue to wonder how this law was passed so quickly and at this very moment in time.Does it have anything to do with what is going on in North Africa and the Middle East? Is there something we do not know about  corrupt leaders who have assets in Canada?

First of all, it does not tell Canadians who defines who is a dictator? When does a foreign authority pass the line from being a leader of a sovereign state to a dictator, and from a dictator to a former leader? Who decides what is repressive and what is not? Would Canada freeze assets of corrupt foreign officials who are not dictators and with whom Canadian companies enjoy priviledged relations such as weapons sales or other dubious businesses? In this case, would accomplice Canadian companies also fall under the legislation of anti-corruption and misappropriation of property? What are the modalities of returning those assets to the country of origin, where, presumably, the assets were stolen (from whom?), and in which time frame? Finally, who would then ‘own’ the frozen assets of the former dictators? Which instances would recognise a foreign state whose dictator has been ousted and what mechanisms would be set up for a foreign state to receive the returned frozen assets? And one could continue.

This is all very confusing and I hope the Honourable Lawrence Cannon, Minister of Foreign Affairs will take it up and provide us answers to these questions.

To view this document on the department website, click on the following link: