Good morning, Mr. Chair and committee members.
My name is Scott Doran, and as the Director General of International Specialized Services within the RCMP's Federal Policing Program, I'm pleased to be here today to speak to you about the RCMP's engagement with INTERPOL. My colleague Sergeant Ross Cameron hails from the Ontario Provincial Police but works for the RCMP at INTERPOL and has been working there for about six years.
To effectively execute the RCMP's mandate across municipal, provincial, territorial, federal and international levels, we must maintain a strong relationship with law enforcement across the country, and almost more importantly, with those across the globe. These relationships are fundamental to our ability to effectively respond to threats to the safety and security of Canada and Canadians at home and abroad.
INTERPOL is one of our top international partners, and it is the world's largest international police organization. Its mandate is twofold: first, to ensure and promote the widest possible international police co-operation; and second, to develop institutions that are likely to contribute to the prevention and suppression of crime.
Each of INTERPOL's 194 member countries, of which Canada is one, is responsible for maintaining a national central bureau made up of expert and highly trained law enforcement personnel.
INTERPOL Ottawa, which is housed within the RCMP in Ottawa, represents Canada's national central bureau. The RCMP is the designated point of contact for Canada and is responsible for managing the bureau. The bureau is staffed by law enforcement officials, civilians and public service personnel from the RCMP, as well as by police officers from other Canadian law enforcement agencies such as la Sûreté du Québec and the Ontario Provincial Police.
INTERPOL Ottawa serves as the front-line responder for Canadian police investigations and government departments requiring international assistance in criminal matters. It also receives and evaluates requests for assistance from member countries. In effect, it serves as a hub for processing and facilitating criminal information exchanges between domestic and international law enforcement in support of criminal investigations.
The RCMP's commitment to INTERPOL and its efforts is evidenced by the recent nomination and successful election of RCMP Deputy Commissioner Gilles Michaud to INTERPOL's executive committee as delegate for the Americas at the 87th INTERPOL General Assembly, which concluded earlier this week in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Deputy Commissioner Michaud is one of nine delegates representing the top levels of policing in their respective countries and regions, and he and his counterparts are responsible for setting INTERPOL's organizational policy and direction, as well as for oversight as it relates to the execution of decisions of the INTERPOL General Assembly. By having representation on the executive committee, we will be able to better understand the challenges facing INTERPOL and international law enforcement co-operation and be better positioned to contribute to effective solutions in collaboration with our international policing partners.
Further, the RCMP contributes two senior personnel to INTERPOL on a full-time basis—one at the INTERPOL headquarters in Lyon, France, and the other at the INTERPOL Global Complex for Innovation in Singapore.
Canada and the RCMP are long-standing contributors to INTERPOL. We are of the strong view that our relationship is mutually beneficial. The INTERPOL global network plays a truly valuable role in the advancement of domestic and international law enforcement operations.
Thank you again for the opportunity to speak with you today. I'm happy to respond to any questions that the chair or the committee may have.
Thank you for being here today.
As you know, there's been a lot of controversy surrounding INTERPOL and the way it functions. I'm hoping that through today's meeting we'll get a better understanding of some of the workings of INTERPOL.
As you mentioned, it was created to establish a non-partisan organization that formalizes police co-operation around the world, but I believe the organization is currently being challenged.
My question is, according to the headlines we have been seeing, how can the head of INTERPOL go to China, be detained without any warning, not be allowed to communicate with his family, and then his letter of resignation is sent, apparently, from what we've heard and read, without any signature? Basically, the world is remaining quiet. We haven't heard much from Canada on this, or from the RCMP.
What is happening?
INTERPOL uses a notice system. There are a number of different notices: red, yellow, black, green and so on. The red notice is the one I suppose that's been memorialized in movies and TV, and is the most well known. Essentially, it is put out to seek an arrest.
If a country seeks to put a red notice on the system, they do an application to the headquarters in Lyon. The application is vetted for a number of different things, to ensure it adheres to the rule of law and the spirit of the United Nations convention on human rights, under which INTERPOL operates, and to ensure it's verified in terms of the authenticity of the request. Once INTERPOL in Lyon deems it acceptable to be on the system, a red notice is issued and that red notice is accessible to all central bureaus.
From a Canadian perspective, a red notice is an alert. However, we do not arrest people on a red notice. When a red notice is issued, it basically gives us a heads-up that a person is wanted elsewhere. If we believe it to be a valid red notice, we do our own assessment process of that as well.
There are two levels of safeguarding. There's the INTERPOL level in Lyon, and then there's the level of vetting that's done here in Ottawa at the NCB. We would be the first to receive the red notice if there were a nexus to Canada. The vetting is done, and—
If you don't mind, I'll answer you in English to make myself understood.
The office of legal affairs of INTERPOL in Lyon is the one that reviews the requests. There's quite an arduous application process for somebody to put a red notice on.
I won't provide comment on individual countries, but I will say that the INTERPOL system and the constitution under which it operates are meant to mitigate the individual differences of countries and create an even playing field, if you will, for criminal investigations. Again, it operates under the spirit of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and is quite clear in its mandate that it will not entertain requests that are deemed to be political, religious, military or racial in nature. With that, I believe the screening process is quite robust.
On occasion, do some get through that system? I would think so. Like any system, it's not perfect and it could be fallible. That's why Canada has put in a secondary vetting process that is quite robust.
I think it's relevant that while the INTERPOL office may get a request from a foreign agency or be acting on a red notice, the extent of our activity around that red notice, from a policing perspective, would be to identify the suspect or individual, confirm that they are in fact in Canada, potentially advise the foreign country that the person is here and that if they wish to pursue the matter, they are to contact the Department of Justice and enter into the extradition process, or make a request for extradition with the international assistance group. That's when a significant and very robust vetting process would happen, requiring the entire investigation to be turned over to the Canadian—
Thank you, gentlemen, for being here today.
The main reason we're here this morning having this conversation is the angst created by, one, the former head of INTERPOL being arrested in China and then, two, the strong-arm tactics of the rumours of the Russians putting their person in charge of INTERPOL or advocating for that very aggressively.
We know there's political interference. I want to get to a question, but I need to just have some clarity first. You mentioned, Chief Superintendent, that there's an executive committee of INTERPOL. Obviously, the selection of those individuals is done by the member countries. I suspect, then, that selection is political.
Okay, I will answer quickly then.
Essentially, police officers, generally senior executives, can self-identify and put their name in the hat, as it were, to run for a given position. Yes, there's a lot of seeking of support and a lot of back and forth with like-minded countries in the electoral process.
First of all, there's a president, three vice-presidents and nine delegates, all divided by four regions in the world. There's representation from Asia, Europe, Africa and the Americas. Once it goes to the general assembly, it is the 194 countries that vote for the different vice-presidencies, delegates, the president and so on.
I will say, as to your angst about the Russian president, you may know that he's been vice-president for a number of years and that the executive committee operates as a unit and that the president is the administrator, I would say for lack of a better word, of the executive committee but doesn't have any more significant power than any other member.
Therefore, it is really an issue of consensus building and doing what's best for the INTERPOL communities.
Thank you for joining us today.
Red notices and how they've been abused by Russia and the Kremlin is one serious issue. The other issue is that it's been politicized in another way. It's not just being used to target political foes or opponents of the Putin regime. Countries like Kosovo, who are up for application, were blocked by Russian lobbying. That has everything to do with geopolitics.
INTERPOL is supposed to be above politics, yet you see at its assemblies that geopolitics gets played out. Russia lobbied very hard to prevent Kosovo from joining. The State Department has said that what that has created is a gap, and that prevented the international policing structure of INTERPOL from closing a critical security gap in the Balkans. The Balkans are another hotbed for cyber-criminality, narcotics, arms and human smuggling.
I was wondering if you could comment on how Russia has politicized in this case, with geopolitical implications, the structures of INTERPOL.
Thank you very much for inviting me to talk about INTERPOL today. It's quite a topical and important issue, which has risen to the top of the global agenda in the last couple of days; however, it's been on my agenda for a lot longer than a couple of days. I thought it would be useful for the committee to hear my experience with Russia's abuse of INTERPOL to understand where the flaws in the system are.
Many of you will know me from the work that I've been doing over the last nine years in the Magnitsky justice campaign. For those of you who don't know me, I am Bill Browder. At one time I was the employer of my lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, in Russia. Sergei Magnitsky uncovered a massive $230-million corruption scheme. He exposed it and in retaliation he was arrested, tortured for 358 days and killed in November 2009.
For the last nine years, I've been on a mission to get justice for him and that mission for justice ended up focusing on legislation named after Sergei Magnitsky, called the Magnitsky Act. In 2012, I was able to advocate in the United States to get the U.S. Congress to pass the Magnitsky Act in December 2012. I should say that this piece of legislation very much upset Vladimir Putin. It upset Vladimir Putin because the Magnitsky Act freezes assets and bans visas of human rights violators from Russia. Vladimir Putin is a human rights violator and he's a person with a lot of assets. Therefore, he felt personally at risk from this legislation.
He embarked after that on a vendetta against me, which has lasted up until today. One of the first and most obvious signs of that vendetta was that in May 2013, about five months after the Magnitsky Act was passed in the United States, Russia issued an INTERPOL red notice for me. An INTERPOL red notice is effectively as close as you get to an international arrest warrant, in which Russia asked to have me arrested through INTERPOL any place that I travelled to.
When we became aware of this, my lawyers provided detailed evidence that this request from Russia was illegitimate and politically motivated. I'm a quite high-profile campaigner. My issue was quite high profile and it did rise to the level of being evaluated in INTERPOL through an organization inside INTERPOL called the Commission for the Control of Files. That's the organization that is supposed to look at the legitimacy of red notices if there's a meaningful challenge.
This Commission for the Control of Files, shortly after we filed our documents, about two weeks later, came to the conclusion that Russia's request to have me arrested violated INTERPOL's constitution. INTERPOLS's constitution says that INTERPOL should not be used for political, religious or military purposes. In this particular case, they said it violated the constitution because it was politically motivated and, therefore, they rejected it. Then they informed all 194 member states not to honour this red notice and to delete it from their system.
I thought that was the end of the story. I thought that I would no longer have any trouble with Russia and INTERPOL.
Shortly after that, as part of Putin's vendetta, I was put on trial in absentia in Russia. Not only was I put on trial, but they put Sergei Magnitsky, my lawyer who had been murdered three years earlier, on trial as well, in the first-ever trial against a dead man in the history of Russia. At the conclusion of the trial in July 2013, I was found guilty and so was Sergei Magnitsky, and Russia then applied again, on the same charges that had been rejected before, for another red notice. Again—and it didn't require any intervention from my side at this point—Russia's request was rejected.
At that point, I thought for sure that I was finished with trouble from Russia abusing INTERPOL, but I was not. In 2014 the Russian government applied again through INTERPOL to have me arrested. It was again rejected in 2015. There were two more attempts after that, which were rejected.
Then, in October of last year, the Canadian Parliament—you—passed the Canadian Magnitsky act. Literally a day after the Canadian Magnitsky act was passed, Russia issued another INTERPOL notice. That time, it was a diffusion notice, not a red notice. A diffusion notice is a slightly less vetted type of arrest warrant. It's effectively like a preliminary arrest warrant while they process a red notice. Russia issued a diffusion notice for me. Again, after my applying to INTERPOL and pointing out that this was politically motivated, INTERPOL rejected it about a week later. That was number six. That was the sixth time they went to INTERPOL.
As of Tuesday of this week, the European Union has begun serious discussions on an EU Magnitsky act. On the same day, the Russian government announced a whole number of new charges against me, including the unbelievable and ludicrous charge that I somehow murdered Sergei Magnitsky. They then announced that they were going to INTERPOL for a seventh time. On a serial basis, we have Russia abusing INTERPOL. They just did not get the point after one, two, three, four, five or six times.
What is the moral of this story? The moral of the story is that if a country wants to abuse INTERPOL they can just keep on abusing INTERPOL, and it doesn't really matter how many times they do it.
INTERPOL has in its rule book a set of rules that say that if a country consistently abuses INTERPOL, then that country can be suspended from using its systems. I would say that my case by itself—I'll talk just briefly about other cases in a moment—is a perfect example of serial abuse by a country of INTERPOL. This provision in the INTERPOL constitution has never been activated, but as I would argue, part of my project for the next few months is to put formally in place a request for INTERPOL to suspend Russia from their systems.
Let me finish off by saying one thing, which is that my story tells you about serial abuse. In theory, some people from INTERPOL could argue, “Look, our systems do work, because every time Russia has gone after Bill Browder, we have rejected it.” That's all fine and nice, except that I'm probably the most high-profile person in the world with this problem. I've even written a book called Red Notice, which is an international bestseller. Everybody knows about me, with all my notoriety and my resources, but there are literally hundreds if not thousands of human rights lawyers, activists and opposition politicians in Russia who don't have my notoriety, my resources and my lawyers, and who are being chased down.
Thank you very much for inviting me.
I heard Bill's story, and I've heard it many times. Any time I hear it, I can't believe my ears. If I hadn't lived in Russia, I would probably doubt his words, but I know he was absolutely right. He probably said less than he could have because time was limited.
Russia has no independent judiciary. Russian courts serve Putin, not justice, as you just heard. Russian courts are regularly used to fabricate charges and convictions against regime critics and opposition leaders.
If they live abroad, as so many of us have been forced to do, INTERPOL is often being used to persecute them. It's happened many times. I was shocked when I learned that INTERPOL was just one step away from having a Russian general as the head of its organization.
By the way, as you heard from Bill, Russia isn't going to give up. Prokopchuk, the man who just failed to become the president, is still INTERPOL vice-president. He got 61 votes. Sixty-one national representatives thought it would be a good idea to have a police general from Putin's Russia running INTERPOL. If possible, I would love to see that list.
During the last few days, when there was the massive campaign in the free world for this horrific appointment, we heard analogies such as putting an arsonist in charge of the fire department, or the fox in charge of the henhouse. I don't think they do justice to what almost happened yesterday, because putting a general from Putin's corrupt mafia regime in charge of the global enforcement is much worse.
Following what Bill said, if Canada wouldn't extradite one of Putin's political targets to Russia, why is Russia allowed to issue a red notice? Would you send a North Korean defector back to North Korea?
I don't think it's worth having to decide on a case-by-case basis, when dictatorships can fabricate as many false charges as they like. As you heard a few minutes ago, they can keep fabricating them even when they're rejected. Putin's enemies like Bill Browder or Mikhail Khodorkovsky have both been charged with murder by Russian courts after the original accusations of fraud and theft didn't stick. It's endless.
As Bill said, most of the people targeted by Putin don't have the resources of Mikhail Khodorkovsky or Bill Browder, or their notoriety. Many of them are just being arrested on these red notices and waiting for their extradiction.
Meanwhile, remember some high-profile cases of Russian crimes committed abroad. For instance, Alexander Litvinenko was murdered in London in 2006 with the radioactive isotope polonium and his alleged killer escaped back to Russia. The Brits, in vain, asked the Kremlin to extradite him or at least to question him. The Kremlin didn't allow him to be asked questions or extradite him. Instead, Lugovoi was made a member of the Russian parliament. That's the engagement of Putin.
As you mentioned, the previous INTERPOL president, Meng Hongwei of China, was disappeared by China just months ago, supposedly to be charged with corruption. I believe the Xi Jinping government was widely disappointed at how few names on their global target list he had captured for them. By the way, the Chinese 100 most wanted list is legally called Operation Skynet. It makes clear who is really in charge and that will be the case with Russia as well, including all Russian oligarchs and bureaucrats around the world. They serve at Putin's pleasure, and they and their families live at Putin's pleasure, as his global assassination campaign has made very clear.
The question is this: How did we get here? How did a Russian general become the head of INTERPOL? It was by taking the road paved with good intentions. Since the end of the Cold War, the western part of the mission is to engage with dictatorships and to invite them into groups like G7, INTERPOL, WTO and the rest. The idea was that partnerships and economic ties would liberalize their autocracies and would raise the standards of transparency and their standards of living.
Instead, the flow has gone in the other direction in almost every case. China is now approaching a one-man dictatorship like Putin's, and Russia is a completely authoritarian state. The global freedom index has declined for seven straight years. INTERPOL is just the latest example of what happens when you abandon your standards and your principles in the name of engagement. Instead of spreading liberalization and co-operation, engagement has allowed Russia and the rest to spread corruption in an attempt to drive everyone down to their level.
After inviting such regimes into free world institutions, it will turn out to be harder to remove these countries, but removed they must be if these institutions are to stand for anything. Otherwise, it's only a matter of time before they are subverted and turned against the concept of freedom and justice that they were designed to uphold. For instance, look at the United Nations Human Rights Council with Saudi Arabia, Iran and other infamous human rights violators.
I hope that these hearings will help you to understand the danger of having countries like Russia have so much influence in INTERPOL or in other international organizations, which, as you said, operate by international law, but very often operate by a law of their own, and there is very little transparency, which is also unacceptable.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman and committee members, for arranging this important hearing.
I'm going to give you a little bit of context with regard to Canada.
While the results of yesterday's election of a new INTERPOL president were a positive conclusion, serious problems within the organization persist. With regard to politically motivated abuse of INTERPOL's notice system by various authoritarian regimes, the Putin regime leads among them. Abuse of the red notice system presents considerable risks for critics of authoritarian regimes, as we've heard from Mr. Browder. Canadians, too, could become targets of this abuse if reform of INTERPOL is not undertaken soon from Russia, China and other authoritarian member states.
In the Russian context, legislation restricting free speech, regardless of borders, is used to target and convict critics globally, after which their movements can be restricted using the red notice system. Russian anti-gay legislation that criminalizes public advocacy of gay rights has been used to silence foreign activists in the past. Anyone whose interpretation of Soviet history is divergent from the official Russian state version can also be prosecuted.
This puts Canadians and other foreigners at risk of potential prosecution in Russia in abstentia, and at subsequent risk of application of either diffusion or red notices. The Kremlin has no issue with trying critics in abstentia, and we've seen them do this many times in the past, including in the case of Bill Browder, and even posthumously with Mr. Browder's lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky.
Currently, INTERPOL's red notice system allows the Kremlin and other authoritarian regimes to extend the reach of their repression around the world, and while local authorities are responsible for choosing whether to execute these notices, they do represent a significant threat to activists, who are at risk of being targeted by laws intended to silence them.
For instance, in 2014 Vladimir Putin signed into law legislation that effectively allows the Kremlin to prosecute and jail, for up to three years, anyone who disagrees with its version of Soviet history. The Russian law criminalizes the “dissemination of deliberately false information on the activities of the Soviet Union during the Second World War.”
The Canadian communities and central and eastern European communities that gather each August 23 to commemorate the signing of the Hitler-Stalin pact, which triggered the coordinated Nazi and Soviet invasions of Poland and the start of the Second World War in August and September of 1939, would potentially all be found guilty under this legislation.
In 2016, Vladimir Luzgin, a car mechanic from Perm, Russia, was convicted under this legislation for a blog post he wrote in which he stated, factually, that both the Nazis and the Soviets invaded Poland in 1939. Mr. Luzgin has since applied his case to the European Court of Human Rights.
Should Russian authorities and the Kremlin feel threatened by Canadian activists in the local Russian, Ukrainian, Polish or Baltic communities, they could use the same legislation to try them in abstentia and apply to use a diffusion or red notice disrupter movement, or in the worst-case scenario, extradite them from a friendly country.
Another risk to Canadians is Russian's anti-gay propaganda legislation, which outlaws any advocacy for gay rights or criticism of state policy, such as the systematic incarceration of gay men in the Russian province of Chechnya into concentration camps. The legislation specifically makes illegal any propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships. Under the legislation, foreigners who are convicted of breaking this law can be imprisoned for up to 15 days, despite the fact that INTERPOL's article 3 strictly prohibits any intervention in activities of a political or discriminatory nature.
Regimes like the one governed by Vladimir Putin continue to use INTERPOL's notice system to target its critics. As a 2017 parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe report on the abuse of INTERPOL stated, the red notice system has clearly been abused “in the pursuit of political objectives, repressing the freedom of expression or persecuting members of the political opposition beyond their borders”. The same report states that, for the red notice system to properly function, it relies “on mutual trust between the various actors and the belief that member States would only use INTERPOL in good faith, solely for the purposes for which the Organisation was established.” When it comes to the Russian government, this trust has been irreparably damaged by serial use of red notices against multiple political targets, including Bill Browder.
The severity of the crimes of those targeted by red notices applied by authoritarian regimes varies as well.
Alexander Lapshin, a Ukrainian travel blogger, was arrested in Minsk on a political red notice applied by the Government of Azerbaijan in December 2016 for commenting on visits he took to Nagorno-Karabakh in 2012.
Natalia Bushuyeva was detained in Moscow based on a politically motivated Uzbek red notice in July 2016. She was a correspondent for Deutsche Welle and covered the Uzbek government's massacre of protestors in Andizhan in 2005.
In 2013, Russia issued a red notice for Estonian parliamentarian and a leading critic of Vladimir Putin, Eerik-Niiles Kross, days before an election he was participating in.
It should also be noted that on Tuesday, the host of a popular Russian news panel show Olga Skabeeva, told viewers that once the Kremlin takes over the presidency of INTERPOL, they'll put the entire Government of Ukraine in prison.
My own activities here in Canada and abroad advocating for Russian humans rights, opposition activists and for Canadian Magnitsky legislation, has made me a target of Kremlin trolls and propaganda. As early as 2008, I received death threats for publicly criticizing the Kremlin's invasion of Georgia and the subsequent occupation of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
In 2016, I organized a conference at the University of Toronto in memory of assassinated Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov. Bill was among the participants. Vladimir Kara-Murza, Boris's daughter Zhanna and Irwin Cotler were among them as well. Shortly after the event the Kremlin lawyer who organized the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting, now at the centre of the U.S. Mueller probe, Natalia Veselnitskaya, publicly criticized the event motivating a member of the Russian Duma, Yevgeny Yevgeny Fedorov to issue a formal request to Russia's prosecutor general to investigate my activities in Canada.
While I have not run into any immediate problems as a result of this, it does demonstrate the Kremlin's willingness to threaten activists and critics regardless of where they are.
I hope that this government and committee will initiate a much deeper investigation into INTERPOL reform and the notice system that is being so readily abused today by the Kremlin.
Thank you for inviting me today to testify and for arranging this very important emergency hearing.