House of Commons Hansard #132 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was fednor.

Topics

Human Rights Situation in Iran
Government Orders

8:20 p.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Madam Chair, I am not overly surprised at the news but I am disappointed.

Regimes such as this remind me of a magician who keeps someone occupied with one hand while picking his or her pocket with the other hand. Sometimes some of the rhetoric and over-the-top expressions or actions externally outside of the country is used to draw attention away from the very nature of what is being done to the people within a country.

We need to keep our focus right now on the Iranian people and the suffering that is happening there and the courage that is being expressed as they take to the streets once more.

Human Rights Situation in Iran
Government Orders

8:20 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Chair, comparisons have been made with the recent situation in Egypt. I am interested in knowing how the member feels about the role of technology, Facebook, the Internet in both of those movements. In Iran in 2009, the people involved in the protest were very well educated and tech savvy. Al Jazeera has a big effect on the instant reporting. It is almost the CNN of that area.

I wonder if the member has any comments or thoughts about these points.

Human Rights Situation in Iran
Government Orders

8:25 p.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Madam Chair, I may be incorrect with the number I am about to give, but I believe that 65% of the population of Iran is under 40 years old.

If we go back to the election of President Obama, the member may recall that a flash mob showed up outside the White House. This was not an announced event. Young people used Twitter and Facebook to tell people to go there. In a country of relative freedom like the United States, they were able to do that and express their joy at the change in their government.

In Egypt and Tunis the use of technology showed dozens of cameras being held high in the air by people recording the events. Fortunately, there were enough western media there able to capture that as well, which we will not see coming out of Iran. The use of these tools is second nature to the generations there that has given life to this. People have been contained for so long by this regime, but they finally have a tool that allows them the connections they need.

The problem with the technology now is that the regime itself will be able to tap into it and to some extent identify people, although it depends on the level of the sophistication of the security forces there. People are at extremely high risk, but they are rising to this occasion. They are expressing the courage needed to change their world. It is up to Canada and countries like Canada to support them.

Human Rights Situation in Iran
Government Orders

8:25 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Chair, the leadership in Tunisia and Egypt was very corrupt. With respect to Egypt, perhaps $70 billion was at question.

Is this the same situation in Iran? Are we talking about a leadership there that is financially corrupt and has amassed some money, or is there a different issue?

Human Rights Situation in Iran
Government Orders

8:25 p.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Madam Chair, I do not think the issue is to the same extent. We understand that the Mubarak family has something like $70 billion. When a leader has absolute power in any country that power is open to abuse. There are bribery systems and demands are made on people in the institutions of power.

I went to Saudi Arabia in 1979 as a contractor with Bell Canada. Bell Canada had 1,500 Canadian managers in that country who were attempting to change the culture relative to the phone company's management style. No offence to those managers, but it was too systemic. A technician would be paid to get someone a telephone number and that telephone number would be connected at the switch centre. If the technician were paid enough of a bribe, there would be no record of that number anywhere. Those young men were driving around in Cadillacs, and in 1979 a Cadillac was selling for $40,000 in that country. The undercurrent of corruption is tied to absolute power.

In answer to my colleague's question, I believe with investigation we would find massive amounts of money.

Human Rights Situation in Iran
Government Orders

8:25 p.m.

Calgary—Nose Hill
Alberta

Conservative

Diane Ablonczy Minister of State of Foreign Affairs (Americas and Consular Affairs)

Madam Chair, part of my duties as minister of state is to look after consular services that are provided to Canadian citizens who travel and live abroad. I want to enter this debate from the aspect of how conditions in Iran impact consular cases and our ability to assist individuals who are suffering tremendous difficulty in that country.

I would like to add my congratulations and thanks to the hon. member for Mount Royal for spearheading this debate. It is important that Canadians know what their elected representatives think, say and know about conditions around the world, particularly in a case like this where we have a very unstable situation and contravention of the values, principles and rights that we as Canadians hold dear.

As background on consular matters, our government offers consular services in more than 260 locations globally. On an average day we open 686 new consular cases. These include distress situations such as medical emergencies, arrest and detention, child abductions and custody issues, and deaths abroad.

I would like to highlight for Canadians our deep concerns about many individuals in Iran who have been sentenced to death after highly questionable processes. In addition, we are troubled by the lack of co-operation from Iran when it comes to Canada's ability to provide consular services to dual-citizen Canadians imprisoned in Iran.

One of the greatest challenges is obtaining access to our citizens who are dual nationals. In fact, many countries, and Iran is one of them, do not even recognize dual nationality and do not believe that Canada has the right to access, visit, or even to any information about our citizens. Naturally, Canada firmly believes that our citizens should have access to consular services regardless of what other citizenship they may hold.

We have made consular services part of Canada's controlled engagement strategy with Iran. The Canadian embassy in Iran is committed to providing the best consular services that it can. Unfortunately, we have had very little, if any, co-operation from the government of Iran.

Fortunately we do not have many cases there, but the ones that do arise pose serious challenges. That is why we have made them important priorities for our government.

Canadians may be aware that laws in other countries often limit or sometimes completely prevent the ability of Canadian officials to provide consular services to Canadians of dual nationality who find themselves in distress. Nevertheless, as in the case of Iran, our government continues to press the authorities for due process, fair treatment and consular access to Canadian citizens detained in that country. Canada will continue to advocate on behalf of Canadian citizens who hold dual citizenship.

I would like to talk about a couple of very high profile consular cases in Iran.

One is the incarceration of a journalist, Hossein Derakhshan, who is a Canadian citizen and has been incarcerated for some time. We have made strenuous efforts to assist Mr. Derakhshan.

Last October, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the minister of foreign and European affairs of France issued a joint declaration calling for the release of Mr. Derakhshan and asking Iran to recognize his dual citizenship and guarantee consular access in accordance with the Vienna conventions. We have enlisted other partners in making our concerns heard in Iran. Our government's position has been clear. Iran must release Mr. Derakhshan and other journalists who have been unjustly detained and sentenced, and it must allow media to report freely.

We also continue to be active in the case of another Canadian citizen imprisoned in Iran, Hamid Ghassemi-Shall. Canada has actively sought and continues to seek consular access to Mr. Ghassemi-Shall. Both the Minister of Foreign Affairs and his parliamentary secretary have been in touch with Mr. Ghassemi-Shall's wife to discuss this very troubling case. In addition, the Minister of Foreign Affairs has written and spoken to his counterpart in Iran about the case.

The promotion and protection of human rights is integral to Canada's foreign policy, and it has been under any government in Canada. The protection of human rights is a core element of Canadian values, which is why we are so disturbed about the recent wave of executions in Iran that my colleague from Mount Royal and others have mentioned this evening.

We are also particularly concerned about Saeed Malekpour. Mr. Malekpour is a permanent resident of Canada. He has reportedly been condemned to death after software that he created was allegedly deemed offensive to the regime in Iran. He is one of many Iranian citizens and others facing a harsh sentence imposed for a questionable crime in a country that lacks respect for the rule of law and basic human rights.

As recently as two weeks ago, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs stood in this House and highlighted the case of Mr. Malekpour. Canada continues to be deeply concerned as well by the case of Ms. Ashtiani. As members know, we have taken a firm stand on this case. The House unanimously voted in November to call upon our Minister of Foreign Affairs to take the strongest possible action to demand that the Government of Iran permanently stay the execution of Ms. Ashtiani.

Our government has been a relentless advocate in speaking against a regime that flagrantly abuses the fundamental rights of not only Canadians but its own citizens. We will not be silent. We will continue to speak out and denounce the inhumanity that is so unacceptable to our country and to others around the world.

Human Rights Situation in Iran
Government Orders

February 16th, 2011 / 8:35 p.m.

Liberal

Mario Silva Davenport, ON

Mr. Chair, I would like congratulate the hon. minister on her new file as Minister of State of Foreign Affairs (Americas and Consular Affairs).

In her new role as the Minister of State of Foreign Affairs for the Americas and Consular Affairs, could she talk about what is happening in Venezuela? In speaking with several officials, I know there is concern about what is taking place there, specifically with the Jewish community, and Iran's influence and involvement in that country and around that part of the world. There have been a series of secret flights taken back and forth. We are not sure what it is about. We are very much concerned and are monitoring that situation. I want to know if the minister has anything new to add on that particular situation.

Human Rights Situation in Iran
Government Orders

8:35 p.m.

Conservative

Diane Ablonczy Calgary—Nose Hill, AB

Mr. Chair, we are very troubled about this situation. As the minister mentioned, there have been some tremendous difficulties in this relation. We are concerned about the shrinking of democratic space, as we might say, in Venezuela. We maintain though a policy of principled engagement with this country. We believe that it is important to bring to bear the opinions and the interaction of our neighbours and friends in the Americas to strengthen democracy and protect the kind of human rights that we are talking about today.

We have had tremendous co-operation from others in the Americas and we will continue to work very hard, not just in Venezuela, but in all countries in our American hemisphere to strengthen democratic institutions and the rule of law. That will promote the kind of economic growth that will provide a strong future for people in that country.

Human Rights Situation in Iran
Government Orders

8:40 p.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Mr. Chair, the report that the Subcommittee on International Human Rights tabled in the House via the standing committee had 24 recommendations but there are two that I would like a response from the minister on. Perhaps she may be aware of whether the government is considering following these recommendations.

The first recommendation is:

The subcommittee recommends that the Government of Canada continue to provide moral support and should increase, if possible, its financial support for Canadian and Iranian civil society organizations and other human rights groups that document and report on human rights abuses committed by the Iranian regime.

The second one is:

The Subcommittee recommends that the Government of Canada consider funding a research chair at a Canadian university dedicated to the study of Canadian-Iranian relations, including the human rights situation in Iran.

As I said in my remarks a little earlier, the important thing that witnesses have told us is about the documentation and information gathering on this regime and the importance of this to them going forward.

Human Rights Situation in Iran
Government Orders

8:40 p.m.

Conservative

Diane Ablonczy Calgary—Nose Hill, AB

Mr. Chair, as the Minister of Foreign Affairs said in answer to a similar question this evening, the recommendations of the report are being carefully studied. We appreciate and commend the work that was done by this committee. It was extremely thorough. We share its outrage at Iran's human rights abuses.

However, the report is being studied and there will be a response tabled in the House when it has been completed. In the meantime, and as part of that, we will continue to call on Iran to live up to its human rights promises. In fact, Iran has made commitments, signed on to international treaties. We call on Iran to live up to its word and keep its promises. We are and will remain on the side of those in Iranian prisons who have been unjustly imprisoned on grounds of their religious, political or social beliefs.

Human Rights Situation in Iran
Government Orders

8:40 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Chair, I, too, would like to add my words of congratulations to the minister on her recent appointment as Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, with specific responsibilities for the Americas and also for Consular Services.

There is no question that all of us in the House are disturbed by the suppressing opposition of the protests that are happening in Iran, the activists who are being arrested, the government's increased crackdown on minorities and opposition groups, Iran's use of intimidation and violence to suppress dissent, and its unjust detention of human rights defenders.

Our responsibility here in this House is certainly to address these situations, and we need to be concerned about all of those in Iran who are suffering, but I think our primary concern as Canadian parliamentarians needs to be the well-being of our Canadian citizens.

I would just like the minister to expand perhaps on her comments earlier regarding Canadians of dual citizenship who are being detained in spite of the lack of due process that was followed in their arrest and detention. Certainly it is important that our government speaks up on their behalf, and I know our minister is working hard in terms of the consular services she is offering them, but I would just like her to expand a bit on her comments about the services that the government it providing to Canadians of dual citizenship who are being unjustly detained in Iran.

Human Rights Situation in Iran
Government Orders

8:40 p.m.

Conservative

Diane Ablonczy Calgary—Nose Hill, AB

Mr. Chair, the best way to answer his question is to use as an example a very current case, the case of Mr. Ghassemi-Shall. Mr. Ghassemi-Shall is actually a citizen of Canada and, as I mentioned, was arrested and imprisoned in Iran for a website that he designed that somehow offended that regime. Mr. Ghassemi-Shall's wife who is in Canada is very distraught, as everyone can appreciate. We are doing everything we can to assist Mr. Ghassemi-Shall and his wife.

We have run into some real difficulties, which will not surprise anyone. The regime does not recognize dual citizenship, let alone permanent residency, but we will continue to provide assistance to the family. Since learning of the arrest, we have been in contact with Iranian authorities, both politically and diplomatically, including by diplomatic notes. We have sought consular access to Mr. Ghassemi-Shall.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs has written to his counterpart, Iran's foreign affairs minister, demanding that Canada be afforded consular access. Our officials at the embassy in Tehran continue to seek consular access consistent with the provisions of the Vienna Convention on consular relations, which Iran signed on to. We will continue to seek access and provide every possible assistance to his wife and family.

It is of tremendous concern to us that these situations arise. This is just one example but there are others. We are active, we do not let up and we continue to press the case forward for these individuals.

Human Rights Situation in Iran
Government Orders

8:45 p.m.

Liberal

Mario Silva Davenport, ON

Mr. Chair, we have all watched the developments in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen and other countries that are experiencing considerable political and social unrest. Citizens are demanding greater freedom and political accountability and there are signs in many cases that change is indeed coming.

In recent days, the people of Iran have taken to the streets of Tehran and other cities calling for change. Yet again we have seen from the Islamic Republic of Iran the brutal suppression of those who seek freedom of expression and political change. President Ahmadinejad's regime practises wanton disregard for human rights, the rule of law and international standards of behaviour.

Take, for example, the ongoing case of Saeed Malekpour, a permanent resident of Canada being held in the notorious Evin prison. He was forced through torture to make a false confession and is under constant threat of execution. This is but one instance of the total contempt the Iranian regime has for the rule of law domestically and internationally.

As a member of the foreign affairs Subcommittee on International Human Rights, my colleagues and I have had the opportunity to study and report on the realities of the Iranian human rights violations and the seemingly endless reprehensible conduct. It was made clear in its December 2010 report that the committee firmly believed the Iranian regime's policies and activities within its territory and those it projects internationally constituted gross violations of its obligations under international law.

The litany of oppression and irresponsible international behaviour literally grows by the day. In recent days we have received reports of the terrible oppression of legitimate and peaceful dissents in Iran. The utter hypocrisies of the Iranian regime is incomprehensible.

Human Rights Watch remarks:

Just days ago the Iranian government claimed to support the popular aspirations of millions of Tunisians and Egyptians who peacefully demanded an end to dictatorship...Now Iranian security forces are using batons and teargas to disperse Iranians peacefully demonstrating in support of their Arab neighbors.

The suppression of these peaceful demonstrations was accompanied by the detention of numerous opposition leaders across Iran.

This pattern of intolerable conduct is completely consistent with the regime's human rights records and its intolerable foreign policy objectives. Throughout testimony for the report on Iran, concerns about the policy of Iran's governing regime's on human rights related policies was expressed strongly. Particularly notable among these concerns was its support of various terrorist organizations, its incitement to genocide, its belligerent stance towards Israel, the dehumanization and the intentions of its nuclear program.

In various conflicts throughout the Middle Eastern region, and indeed around the world, the footprints of the Iranian regime are fully in evidence whether it is the support of terrorists or other violations of international law. Its endless contempt and outrageous attacks on Israel are completely unacceptable and must be condemned.

Within Iran itself, we have witnessed for some time now the personal price paid by those who oppose the regime or simply violate its reprehensible standards of intolerance.

As with Mr. Malekpour, these include Canadian journalist Zahra Kazemi who died tragically in Iranian custody in 2003 for taking a photograph of a protest outside a prison. Her son, Stephan, put it eloquently by saying:

Through her art, she wanted to inform, connect with and educate people. She gave a voice to the people of those countries she focused on—she even gave them hope.

Victims Mahmoud Asgari and Ayez Marhoni were teenagers executed by the Iranian regime in 2005 because they were gay.

Just today it has been reported by Human Rights Watch that there has already been over 100 executions in 2011 by the Iranian regime, including political prisoners.

In testimony before the Subcommittee on International Human rights this week, Professor Payam Akhavan characterized it as “mass murder in slow motion”.

The Iranian Nobel laureate, Shirin Ebadi, appeared before our committee and said this morning that the Iranian regime:

—are using the familiar tactics of carrying out political execution at the same time as mass executions of prisoners convicted of criminal offences. These executions may increase if the world is silent.

Her words represent an appeal to all nations of the world, including Canada, to ensure that the Iranian regime hears the voice of the world community and understands that they will be held accountable for their actions.

We need that action, but one of the major challenges is the ability to collect information from a society that conducts itself as the Iranian regime does, that criminalizes freedom of expression. In order to get an accurate picture of what goes on in Iran, we must rely on activists and journalists for much of what we have come to know, but they need our support. Action is needed to add the Iranian Revolution Guard Corps to a list of terrorist entities and to amend the State Immunity Act.

One of the groups within Iran about which we have received regular reports is members of the Baha'i faith. Left unprotected by the Iranian legal system, the 300,000 members are singled out for particularly brutal persecution. Their homes are raided. They are publicly vilified and have no means of public recourse, creating what Suzanne Tamas of the Baha'i Community of Canada called “an atmosphere of prejudice, which allows the Iranian government to continue to persecute the Baha'is with impunity”.

People of the Jewish faith remaining in Iran are also targeted for oppression, as are other minority communities such as Christians and Sunni Muslims. Minorities like the Kurds and the Baluchis are always under constant threat from the Iranian regime, so much so that Fakteh Zamani, president of the Association for Defence of Azerbaijani Political Prisoners in Iran said judges would simply show up and sentence tortured members of the Baluchis members to death, leading to hundreds of Baluchis on death row for no reason other than they are a minority.

Whether it is Iranians seeking political and social reform, religious minorities or foreigners who appear to threaten their regime, the Iranian government will spare no action in its quest to quench dissent. Indeed, following the marches in cities across Iran this past Monday, the regime has called upon its supporters to participate in protests this coming Friday to demonstrate what it is calling their “hatred” for those who participated in the rallies calling for change. The reformers are clearly in the sights of the Iranian regime once again.

Reformers cannot rely on instruments of the Iranian current political system for any change, as we have seen. The presidential elections of June 2009 were clearly conducted in a manner that was unfair and questionable, to say the least. The results clearly did not reflect the true will of the Iranian people and the regime's ruthless repression of resistance in the wake of the vote merely demonstrated its complete lack of legitimacy.

The Iranian regime represents one of the most pressing threats to stability in the world. The conduct of this regime domestically is reprehensible and intolerable. The public statements of the regime and its leadership as well as policy declarations are a serious threat to both Iranians and to all people of the region and beyond. Israel is a particular target of their vitriol.

While the challenge of dealing with the Iranian regime may at times appear daunting, the price of not taking substantial action will almost certainly be much higher, as history has taught us in such circumstances.

Our subcommittee's report to Parliament makes a number of recommendations that I hope will be adopted and implemented by the Government of Canada. I hope too that it will then stand as an example of the action that needs to be taken by other nations too.

Canada, in unison with nations across the global community, can make a difference. We must ensure that the voice of tolerance, responsibility and freedom is heard by the Iranian regime and, perhaps just as important, it will serve as inspiration to those who labour for freedom in that country.

Let us be an example of this principle in our dealings with the Iranian regime. Let us stand firm.

Human Rights Situation in Iran
Government Orders

8:55 p.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Mr. Chair, I commend the hon. member for his work on the subcommittee. I have had the pleasure of working with him for several years.

I want to take the hon. member back to witness testimony that we had. Witnesses before the subcommittee repeatedly expressed frustration with the fixation of the international community, particularly of the United States, on the nuclear issue as opposed to the grave breaches of human rights that followed the June 12 election.

Professor Akhavan, of whom the hon. member spoke in his remarks, said that the Iranian government was watching and calculating how much it could get away with and if the message of the international community was that the co-operation on the nuclear issue would mean acquiescence to all manner of atrocities, then the hard-liners, as they tried to consolidate their grip, would execute and torture as many people as they could get away with and that we should have no illusions of their capacity to do that.

Would the hon. member comment on the fact that the United States defunded the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center? That documentation centre was one of the recommendations in our report that Canada should take up.

Human Rights Situation in Iran
Government Orders

8:55 p.m.

Liberal

Mario Silva Davenport, ON

Mr. Chair, I thank the hon. member for his hard work on the committee. He has certainly witnessed the fact that all members of the committee share a deep concern in what is happening with of human rights throughout the world.

In doing this report, all members were quite clear that we were very much concerned about the deplorable situation on human rights in Iran. We are very concerned about its genocidal tendencies toward the state of Israel and the Jewish people, as well as its nuclear program.

However, I understand the member is trying to say, and that is we need to find a way to get organizations to document what takes place. One of the recommendations in the report is to get funding to ensure we financially support agencies that not just work on human rights but also document human rights abuses that take place in Iran.

The situation is not getting better, and I admire the Iranian people. The hon. member mentioned the fact that 65% of the people are under 40. I had heard the number as 50% of the people are under 25. There is a very young generation of Iranians who want freedom. They are very savvy in terms of technology. They use Facebook and the Internet very wisely, but they need our assistance and solidarity. They need to know the world community is standing behind them as they go through this very difficult time.