Government looking into using frozen assets to help refugees
Cash socked away by corrupt foreign officials could help ease strain of global migrant crisis, says expert
The federal government is being asked to consider confiscating frozen assets in Canada to help refugees.
The proposal, which is still in its infancy, comes from the World Refugee Council, an initiative set up by the Waterloo-based Centre for International Governance Innovation.
While final and more formal recommendations will come in a report later this year, the council, chaired by Chrétien-era cabinet minister Lloyd Axworthy, already has floated the idea past government officials, according to documents obtained under the access to information law.
A letter to Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould from the council's special adviser suggests introducing legislation to establish a judicial process for requests to seize and "re-purpose" funds to benefit refugees.
"Such assets are frequently brought to Canada (or elsewhere) by corrupt leaders or their associates," the letter says.
"Since those very leaders are often responsible for forcible displacement as a result of their bad governance, using money stolen by them to assist refugees from their country would provide a certain symmetry."
The council is proposing that Canadian courts be empowered to take those assets and authorize payments to the country of origin (if the government is "responsible and honest"), the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees or a non-governmental organization.
"The order could also include an accountability mechanism, with regular reporting to the court as to the disposition of the funds," reads the letter.
'No shortage of bad leaders'
The government already has the power to freeze assets through the Justice for Victims of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act — a version of the U.S. law popularly known as the Magnitsky Act. It targets the assets of corrupt officials "who have committed gross violations of internationally recognized human rights."
Fen Hampson, director of the World Refugee Council, said the council's proposal would be a next step.
"We've been trying to think of ways to hold bad regimes to better account," he told CBC News. "There's no shortage of bad leaders who are doing terrible things to their populations and creating a major problem for their neighbours, and also globally."
The council has met with officials from the federal departments of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship and Foreign Affairs; the latter department helps to fund the council's work.
"Hopefully, good ideas will sell themselves, but it's up to the government to decide whether it sees an opportunity here to play a global leadership role," said Hampson.
Adam Austen, spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, said in an email the department is "following (the council's) work closely, and look(s) forward to receiving their recommendations as part of their final report.
"Canada is proud to be providing financial support to the work of the World Refugee Council. We share their goal of finding new and creative solutions to better support migrants and refugees worldwide."
The World Refugee Council was created to find creative solutions to help mitigate the global migration crisis.
"We fund the refugee system as if it's a charity ball," Hampson said. "Donors will make pledges, but they're not always fulfilled."