Human rights activist and former Liberal attorney general Irwin Cotler is calling on the Canadian government to take action to prevent government officials from working for China after leaving office.

Cotler made the remarks on Thursday during a panel discussion on Chinese human rights abuses hosted by the Macdonald-Laurier Institute. 

“We’ve instituted in Canada certain restraints and regulations with respect to parliamentarians being able to lobby the Canadian government after their retirement from office. Since we have those kinds of initiatives which we have already instituted with respect to domestic lobbying, I think we can certainly explore, and at the very least have transparency, with regard to engagement with foreign countries, particularly, when we are dealing with countries that may be part of a pattern of gross human rights violations,” said Cotler. 

Cotler, who has been a leading voice on confronting China, has also called for the government to punish those Chinese officials who played a role in covering up the extent of the coronavirus during the early stages of the pandemic.

Critics have slammed several former senior government officials who have gone to work for Chinese companies upon retiring from public service. 

Among those implicated with having done work for Chinese organizations after leaving office is disgraced former Canadian ambassador to China John McCallum.

During a 2020 testimony before the Commons committee on Canada-China relations, McCallum denied ever receiving money from the Chinese government but did admit to taking a paid consulting job for various Chinese companies. 

Last year it was revealed that former Quebec premier Jean Charest took a job advising the Chinese tech giant Huawei on the extradition trial of the company’s CFO Meng Wanzhou, who is wanted by US authorities for violating sanctions on Iran.

Cotler and others of a like mind have also proposed that Magnitsky-style sanctions should also be imposed on any individuals or businesses that have participated in China’s varying human rights abuses. Magnitsky sanctions refer to the Sergei Magnitsky Law adopted by Canada in 2017 to punish international human rights offenders by freezing assets or banning them from entering the country. 

“You can’t on the one hand have Magnitsky sanctions seeking justice and accountability but at the same time say former parliamentarians and even worse government ministers can instantly begin to engage with those that are being targeted for Magnitsky sanctions. I think this is something that is worth exploring and in fact developing codes of conduct in that regard,” said Cotler.