Hill Times | 22Oct2012 | Oksana Bashuk Hepburn

Canada takes lead to keep out criminals

It is critical for democracies to work together and follow Canada's lead in keeping out criminals especially those in high places and shame them as the United States has done. When the terrorist is the state, other states of goodwill must take action.

Canada is taking a decisive step towards keeping undesirables out of the country. The proposed Faster Removal of Foreign Criminals Act will, among others, make it harder for those who abuse human rights to enter the country.

"We want an immigration system that is open to genuine visitors, while at the same time prevents the entry of foreign criminals," says Jason Kenney, minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism about the proposed legislation.

This is manna for democratically-minded Canadians including members of the Canadian Group for Democracy in Ukraine (I'm one) who have been seeking entry restrictions for individuals connected with the violations of human rights in Ukraine. There, selective application of the rule of law is standard practice in arrests and incarcerations of opponents to the regime of President Viktor Yanukovych. The most notable examples are the seven-year sentence handed to ex-prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko and four years to former minister of internal security, Yurij Lutsenko.

Canada's proposed legislation follows months of warnings by Canada and other Western democracies about "serious consequences" should the president fail to live up to Ukraine's Constitution and meet international democratic standards. Now the pussy-footing has stopped. With less than a week left to the Oct. 28, 2012 Parliamentary elections, Canada's legislation puts Ukraine's regime on notice.

Canada is not acting alone. The United States' Senate passed a resolution last month calling on its Department of State "to institute a visa ban against those responsible for the imprisonment and mistreatment of Tymoshenko and the more than dozen political leaders associated with the 2004 Orange Revolution."

Such restrictions are much needed to prod deviant rulers around the globe -- not just in Ukraine -- to abide by their constitutions, and signal a move from warning to naming and shaming. The Senate Resolution specifically names Viktor Pshonka, prosecutor general of Ukraine, and deputy prosecutor General Renat Kuzminsky figures in the demise of Ukraine's independent judicial system.

When passed by Parliament, the proposed legislation will make foreign nationals, who have been playing loose and fast with the rule of law, "inadmissible" to Canada. It specifically cites those dangerous to security, human or international rights violators, or organized criminality. It provides ministerial authority "to refuse entry." Kenney says, "Canadians are generous and welcoming people, but they have no tolerance for criminals and fraudsters abusing our generosity." Most Canadians agree.

Certainly, the Canadian Group for Democracy in Ukraine does. In a letter of Sept. 18, 2012, addressed to Conservative MP Laurie Hawn and a member of the Treasury Board Cabinet Committee -- copied to the Prime Minister, Minister of Foreign Affairs and others -- the group urges the publication of names subject to visa restrictions.

However, the group fears that such public shaming may not be enough: criminals world-wide are using Western states to safe-keep their ill begotten gains. Restricting them does not prevent their money from leaving rogue states and entering safe havens. In Ukraine, publicized information shows that billions of dollars were moved to Cyprus and the British Virgin Islands in 2011. This occurred as Ukraine's 2011 per capita GDP languished around US$ 3,600 -- placing this largest, and one of the richest in natural resources European states near the bottom of the World Bank's scale -- far below its much smaller neighbours Poland, at $13,000 and tiny Slovakia pushing $18,000. Canada's was above $50,000.

Despite pressures to move forward, Ukraine's government is not relenting; rather the opposite.

Late last month, the Cabinet of ministers took measures to control opposition, dissent and the media even further. Prime Minister Nikolaj Azarov signed an order increasing the authority of security and defence entities to deal with "terrorism"acts designed to bring down the state "vlada." A few days later, to underscore the point that it "will because it can", the president's Party of Regions announced its draft legislation calling for up to five years imprisonment of journalists for slander. The media called it a "war on journalists." Due to an immediate media strike and swift and forceful reaction worldwide, the draft has been withdrawn. Many fear that should the regions return to power, restrictions on freedoms, including speech, will continue to be exacerbated.

The concerns with the crack-down are three-fold: the harshness of the measures; that they happened on the eve of the elections for maximum curtailment of freedoms; and, very significantly, there is no recourse to false accusations or apprehensions as Ukraine's judicial system has shown itself over and over again to be corrupt and beholden to the president and his party -- the best evidence of that being the abduction of the former minister of internal security, Yurij Lutsenko. The overarching fear is that the latest steps to suppress hark back to the 1930s when Nikolaj Yezhov, Stalin's head of the NKVD, began an era of purges known as the Great Terror.

Unless there is a regime change, the political situation in Ukraine, dire as it is, may deteriorate even further without intervention from friends. It is therefore critical for democracies to work together and follow Canada's lead in keeping out criminals -- especially those in high places and shame them as the United States has done. When the terrorist is the state, other states of goodwill must take action.

Oksana Bashuk Hepburn is an international commentator and a member of the Canadian Group for Democracy in Ukraine.
[email protected]
The Hill Times