Evidence of meeting #30 for Subcommittee on International Human Rights in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was iran.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Sheryl Saperia  Director of Policy, Canada, Foundation for Defense of Democracies

1:50 p.m.

Director of Policy, Canada, Foundation for Defense of Democracies

Sheryl Saperia

That's fine.

March 29th, 2012 / 1:50 p.m.

NDP

Ève Péclet La Pointe-de-l'Île, QC

You are advocating military action as soon as possible. That is one of the positions taken by your foundation. Your colleague testified to that effect last Tuesday.

What do you think that Canadian military action will accomplish in terms of fundamental rights in Iran? Could Canada not take a softer approach before going into that country and taking military action? What could Canada do?

I find your solution a bit too radical. If we are talking about respecting women's rights, for instance, or freedom of expression and democracy, do you truly think that a major military operation is really the solution that will lead to the government respecting and protecting fundamental rights in Iran?

1:50 p.m.

Director of Policy, Canada, Foundation for Defense of Democracies

Sheryl Saperia

I just want to clarify. If I have given the impression that I am advocating for military action as soon as possible, then I have definitely not been clear, so let me apologize for that.

I don't want to see military action. My goal is very much to avoid that at all costs. For fear of speaking out of turn, I would say the same thing applies to my colleague, Dr. Ottolenghi, who spoke to you a couple of days ago.

But I think generally, from an organizational FDD perspective, we have been at the forefront of advocating for non-military measures. That includes economic sanctions and that includes, very specifically, listing the IRGC as a terrorist organization, for fear of repetition here.

I do not believe that everything has been done that could be done on the sanctions front, on the non-military front, in order to prevent a nuclear Iran. I would very much like to avoid a military strike at all costs.

In terms of Canada's role, that generally isn't discussed. It's usually a question of whether Israel might pre-emptively strike militarily, and whether the U.S. might as well.

Whether any sort of western military strike is going to help Iranians....

I don't remember exactly what your question was. Was it whether it was going to improve the human rights situation?

1:50 p.m.

NDP

Ève Péclet La Pointe-de-l'Île, QC

Yes.

1:50 p.m.

Director of Policy, Canada, Foundation for Defense of Democracies

Sheryl Saperia

The risk of a military strike, for sure, is alienating the Iranian people and sort of uniting them against the west. That is a risk. But if you focus your strikes specifically on where the nuclear weapons or capabilities are being developed—

1:50 p.m.

NDP

Ève Péclet La Pointe-de-l'Île, QC

Can I just stop you? I just want to—

1:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Scott Reid

Actually, I have to stop both of you because we're at nine minutes here. I allowed this to go significantly over time, and I did that in part because we don't have time to do another round. So this will give Mr. Hiebert a chance to do the last thing.

But before you do it, Mr. Hiebert, I'm just going to read.... Our analyst, Melissa, was able to dig up our report from last time. Just to remind everybody, recommendation number eight from our report on Iran said:

The Subcommittee recommends that the Government of Canada, in communicating its condemnation of the human rights violations perpetrated by members of Iran's state security agencies against the Iranian people, use all available tools, authorized by existing immigration and visa policies and legislation, to deny entry to Canada to members of Iran's security agencies, including members of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and the Basij militia.

So that is where we stood organizationally when we did the report.

Mr. Hiebert.... Sorry, we had it down that you were going again.

Madam Grewal, I'm sorry.

1:55 p.m.

Conservative

Nina Grewal Fleetwood—Port Kells, BC

That's fine, and thank you, Chair.

Thank you very much for coming, Ms. Saperia, and informing us on the pressing and substantial issues facing Iran today.

As you mentioned, economic sanctions have become the most adopted measure against Iran by western countries, and Canada should impose tighter sanctions against Iran. However, there has also been some criticism on sanctions negatively affecting innocent citizens more than the regime they are intended to harm. For example, poor citizens are becoming economically impoverished and are failing to obtain their basic needs for life.

So has there been any kind of upgrading in Iran?

1:55 p.m.

Director of Policy, Canada, Foundation for Defense of Democracies

Sheryl Saperia

Has there been...? I missed the last part.

1:55 p.m.

Conservative

Nina Grewal Fleetwood—Port Kells, BC

What I mean is, for example, the poor citizens, when they are not getting their basic needs met, is something like this happening in Iran?

1:55 p.m.

Director of Policy, Canada, Foundation for Defense of Democracies

Sheryl Saperia

Yes, that is a concern. Whether sanctions are hurting the people they're intended to hurt or whether they're hurting innocent people instead, there's no question that the Iranian economy has suffered as a result of the sanctions. Inflation is high. Unemployment is high. Their currency, the rial, has been devalued.

Again I will point out that the Iranian people have not tended to blame the west for their economic conditions right now. They are blaming the government. But secondly, the ideal goal of sanctions is to make life so difficult for the regime that it feels compelled to actually abandon its nuclear weapons ambitions. That may not be realistic, especially given how far they've already come in that. But sanctions might still render the government very vulnerable and unleash domestic Iranian backlash similar to what we saw in 2009, which would revive the internal opposition and topple the regime. It seems that a lot of Iranians would want those things, because they are so disenchanted with their government on so many different levels. So a democratic revolution would optimally, in my opinion, remove the current regime.

There has also been talk about the fact that many Iranians are actually supportive of some sort of nuclear program. Well, other countries have nuclear programs too. This one is scary because of this fourfold threat, because of their involvement in terrorism, and because of their genocidal statements. When you have a peaceful regime, then an ambition to have nuclear capabilities is not nearly as scary for the rest of the world.

1:55 p.m.

Conservative

Nina Grewal Fleetwood—Port Kells, BC

Have you also heard reports of Iranian citizens potentially being executed for their religious associations, such as Youcef Naderkhani, who is the head of the network of Christian house churches in Iran? Are you aware of any political motivations for the executions, or is it merely because of the religious associations? In addition, what other religions or beliefs may be targeted by the regime? Could you tell me something?

1:55 p.m.

Director of Policy, Canada, Foundation for Defense of Democracies

Sheryl Saperia

Certainly part of it can be religious disagreements. Members of Baha'i are certainly a very threatened minority within Iran, and that should be a primary human rights concern for those who are paying attention to human rights violations in Iran.

As for other considerations, the IRGC was formed in 1979, right after the revolution, to consolidate the revolution and to fight anybody who was counter-revolutionary. Religion and politics are all mixed up together. So anybody who is actively working against the revolution's ideals and the Iranian regime is going to be at risk in Iran.

2 p.m.

Conservative

Nina Grewal Fleetwood—Port Kells, BC

Earlier I was talking about the sanctions against Iran, including an oil embargo by the U.S. and the EU. This has proven to be very effective. UN nuclear inspectors were recently permitted to enter the country and shed some light on the issue. Are you aware of their progress or any findings?

2 p.m.

Director of Policy, Canada, Foundation for Defense of Democracies

Sheryl Saperia

You mean the recent visit by the inspectors? I think what they found is that they were once again turned away from accessing very important locations and very important information. So I think that's creating much more fear instead of less. There is a lack of transparency—which was the cause of UN-imposed sanctions in the first place—with regard to their uranium enrichment and in terms of what's happening, where it's happening, and why it's happening.