House of Commons Hansard #123 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was rights.

Topics

Iran
Government Orders

9:35 p.m.

NDP

Ève Péclet La Pointe-de-l'Île, QC

Mr. Chair, we are talking about a country here. We are talking about freedom. Iranians or people of Iranian ancestry who have Canadian citizenship are in the best possible position to make comparisons between the Iranian and Canadian societies. It is very important that Canada and Iran engage in a dialogue on the issue of human rights.

We often hear about the issue of nuclear weapons. All too often people forget that the Iranian regime is a dictatorship and that people are reduced to silence as far away as Canada. A Canadian blogger was arrested in Iran for some of the things he had written. The Iranian government is putting pressure on the entire international community. It is very important for Canadian citizens of Iranian origin to establish this dialogue between Canada and Iran, so that we can work together towards creating a democracy in Iran.

Iran
Government Orders

9:35 p.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Mr. Chair, torture has been used in many countries, including Iran. To civilized people, torture is wrong. There is a case of a Kurdish youth who was beaten, probably in Evin prison, and died of internal bleeding, yet western countries talk about enhanced interrogation techniques, and that somehow that is justifiable in any form.

Relative particularly to the Iranian situation, does the member believe that Canada has spoken out loudly enough about ending torture?

Iran
Government Orders

9:35 p.m.

NDP

Ève Péclet La Pointe-de-l'Île, QC

Mr. Chair, torture is illegal in Canada. The death penalty was abolished in Canada. So I do not see why Canada—an ardent defender of freedom and democracy and a committed abolitionist when it comes to the death penalty—would not act just as firmly when it comes to pressuring other countries regarding their policies.

No one is asking Canada to go and intervene in Iran. Canada is simply being asked to use its power, because it does so when it wants to. We have a Minister of Public Safety who claims that torture can be used more or less legally on occasion. It is time for the Canadian government to realize that torture has been illegal in Canada for quite some time, that the death penalty was abolished years ago and that, since it claims to be such an ardent abolitionist regarding the death penalty, it must speak out at every opportunity, in Iran and any other country.

Iran
Government Orders

9:40 p.m.

Conservative

John Weston West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country, BC

Mr. Chair, it is truly an honour to stand in this hallowed chamber to speak of human rights this evening. I know that many Canadians, and all my colleagues who are here this evening, share my concern about the ongoing and systemic measures taken by the Iranian regime to suppress political freedoms.

I would like to dedicate my remarks this evening to those of Iranian background in Canada, as well as those in Iran who suffer under the oppression of that regime and who feel, when the Iranian regime is condemned by human rights advocates around the world, a slight tinge in their own conscience.

I am so proud of our Prime Minister and our Minister of Foreign Affairs who, in every breath of condemnation of Ahmadinejad and that regime, always add that they stand for those of Iranian background who believe in our freedoms and our democracy in Canada.

We all remember the chaotic scenes from the streets of Tehran following the last presidential elections in July 2009. We bore witness to history as Iranian citizens took to the streets in large numbers to dispute the results of those elections. Many were convinced that they would be able to exercise their political rights and elect a candidate of their choice.

What started as a movement that could have defined post-revolutionary Iran quickly faded. The dreams and aspirations of thousands were crushed as the state's military and security apparatus violently suppressed the demonstrations. Along with the deployment of state forces came arbitrary arrests, allegations of rape, torture and deaths. There was no accountability.

What had been a chance to define a post-revolutionary Iran for all the right reasons now defines Iran for all the wrong reasons. It painful to watch news programs broadcast around the world the blatant and arrogant manner in which the regime crushed dissent.

We all remember too vividly the death of Neda Agha-Soltan, who was shot and killed in broad daylight when attending a protest. The death of Neda symbolizes what thousands of people who lost their lives in the post-1979 revolution by the Republic of Iran for just wanting the basic rights that people in Canada enjoyed. She and others like her became symbols of the dreams and aspirations of millions of Iranian citizens, especially the youth who long for the same rights and freedoms that our youth in Canada enjoy.

There are many organizations in Canada that stand for promoting human rights and for promoting Persian culture in Canada, like the Iranian-Canadian Congress, led by Davoud Ghavami, and the Canadian Iranian Foundation, led by Nassreen Filsoof, both of whom are very active in the North Shore of Vancouver.

One organization in Canada that promotes human rights and justice for all and that uses art to express its message is the Neda for Freedom Society, of which my constituent and friend Mehrdad Rahbar is a proud member.

It is with regret that almost three years after those events the state of political freedoms in Iran remains dire. The leaders of the Green Movement remain confined in their homes, under home arrest. They are prohibited from organizing political parties and from participating in any meaningful expression of their political rights.

It has become apparent that Iran's ruling elite have made a conscious and deliberate decision slowly to destroy institutions of democratic civil society and, with them, the foundations of democracy in that country. This decision and its implementation means that Iran's citizens will be denied the ability to chose their government, not just for now but if things continue in this way, for years to come.

If the recent parliamentary elections and by-elections are any indication of what we can expect, then indeed the outlook is grim. As demonstrated by the recent elections to the Iranian parliament, the choices for Iranians at the ballot box were limited. There were no reformists on the ballot. They all boycotted the recent elections, a courageous and bold decision. Iranian reformists chose to boycott elections rather than lend legitimacy to what they rightly knew was a sham exercise that only pretended to give Iranians political freedom and choice.

Should this trend continue, the presidential elections in Iran in 2013 will usher in another government that will not have a democratic mandate, and that is if there even is an election in 2013, which is not entirely certain at the moment.

Let us take a look at how the Iranian regime has quelled dissent and destroyed the democratic process.

In addition to jailing leaders of pro-democracy movements or putting them under house arrest, Iran has used a long-proven tool of dictatorial states, which is censorship. While the rest of the world finds ways to connect with one another to share ideas, spearhead innovation and forge people-to-people ties, Iran's government has taken steps to curb the ability of its people to use the Internet, watch or listen to international news and maintain censorship of the domestic press corps.

It also limits the ability of foreign journalists to operate freely. In its press freedom index for the year 2011-12, Reporters Without Borders noted that Iran ranked 175th in the world. That means that only four other countries had worse records when it came to media freedom.

The organization has also documented numerous cases where journalists have been arrested and sentenced to lashings for their writings or political cartoons. It also noted that the Iranian regime pressures the families of these journalists. That is deplorable. It means that Iran is systematically eliminating any line of thought that it does not agree with. Never mind curbing descent, it views the role of the media and reporters as only to reinforce its own point of view and narrow political ideology.

Its record is no better when it comes to Internet freedom. It continues to take steps, just as it did following the 2009 presidential elections, to curb Internet freedom, which is a key component in exercising political freedom in the 21st century. Users find it next to impossible to access social networking sites, which in other place prove to be crucial in spreading pro-democracy views, exchanging ideas on governance and discussions on human rights. Not only are Iranians denied the opportunity to connect with one another, they are being increasingly denied the opportunity to connect with the outside world. Not a month passes by when there is not a media report suggesting that Iran's government is seeking ways to filter Internet content and to manage the flow of information in and out of Iran. While other countries are enriched by the people-to-people connections, Iranians are denied this opportunity.

Our government has taken every opportunity to call out the Iranian regime and to urge it to respect its obligations to allow political freedoms. As many members know, Canada has championed the cause of human rights in Iran for many years. This has been evident through our leadership in working with allies to sponsor an annual resolution on the issue of human rights in Iran at the UN General Assembly.

Last fall, we led on this initiative for the ninth consecutive year and the resolution was adopted with the most support ever. This resolution focuses world attention on the human rights situation in Iran and urges the Iranian regime to respect its domestic and international human rights obligations. The resolution sends a clear message to the people of Iran, to those who are fighting to exercise their political rights, that Canada, and indeed the world, stands with them.

Canada has also acted in concert with our international allies in imposing some of the toughest sanctions in the world on the Iranian regime. We will continue to work with the international community to advocate the rights of Iran's people as they struggle to achieve the same rights and freedoms that we as Canadians enjoy.

[Member spoke in Farsi]

[English]

In English that means “Let's support freedom and human rights in Iran”.

Iran
Government Orders

9:45 p.m.

Conservative

James Bezan Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Chair, I want to thank the member for West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country for his very well thought out presentation and intervention tonight on this, the fourth anniversary of the wrongful imprisonment of several Baha'i leaders in Iran.

This week we are seeing not only this take note debate on the human rights failures of Iran, but also the Subcommittee on International Human Rights is having its hearings this week, talking about the violations of what is happening in Iran.

I am proud to be part of an organization called the Canadian Parliamentarians for Human Rights and Democracy, which is meeting on Wednesday night to again look at what is happening, why the regime, led by President Ahmadinejad and the Mullahs, and how the ayatollah and President Ahmadinejad are working to continue to erode stability in the Middle East, to take away the individual rights and freedoms of people of Iran and to ensure they are a continued irritant to what happens on the world stage from the standpoint of peace, democracy and human rights.

We always hear about the nuclear ambitions. Today there is again more reports on the ambitions of Iranians to expand their nuclear arsenal, that it is beyond just ballistic missiles now, that they have enrichment of nuclear energy that can be used in smaller bombs and can be transported by all sorts of different methods around the world.

The member for West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country talked about the sanctions and how important it was that Canada had been on the leading front of bringing about sanctions. Could he talk about those sanctions, especially on the issue of oil and energy which is 85% of the Iranian government's revenue, and how important it is to shut down that capability which feeds its nuclear ambitions.

Iran
Government Orders

9:50 p.m.

Conservative

John Weston West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country, BC

Mr. Chair, I thank my colleague for Selkirk—Interlake for his work and his initiative in standing up for human rights in Iran.

He mentioned a couple of things that I would like to respond to. First, he mentioned that it is the fourth anniversary of the imprisonment of Baha'i people. From my familiarity with Baha'i people in my riding, these people promote peace wherever they are. It is just absolutely incomprehensible that any regime would target them as enemies. It underlines the implacable hatred of that regime for people who would promote peace and freedom in Iran and other places.

My colleague also asked about the sanctions. It is possible to imagine why people in Iran would believe that sanctions are bad. The problem is that every option to sanctions we can imagine is worse. The sanctions are targeted specifically at the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, those who are right in the line and implementing the policies of the Ahmadinejad regime.

They are as narrowly targeted as Canada and its allies can manage. Canada is walking shoulder to shoulder with other allies that are doing everything possible to promote peace in the Middle East and to bring a peaceful solution on the outskirts of Iran, while the people of Iran bring about a free and democratic future for themselves.

Iran
Government Orders

9:50 p.m.

Cypress Hills—Grasslands
Saskatchewan

Conservative

David Anderson Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources and for the Canadian Wheat Board

Mr. Chair, I appreciate the opportunity to get up tonight. I want to read the words the Prime Minister John Diefenbaker said on the day he introduced the Canadian Bill of Rights in Parliament. He said:

I am Canadian...free to speak without fear, free to worship God in my own way, free to stand for what I think is right, free to oppose what I believe is wrong, free to choose those who shall govern my country. This heritage of freedom I pledge to uphold for myself and all mankind.

I think each of us here takes that to heart and believes that to be critically important.

In our country we are fortunate that we have many different religions and many different things that people believe. We all share some common principles, basically of tolerance, of acceptance, of peace and security. Even though we do not all see things the same way, we are willing to accept other people's differences.

I had a conversation with a staff member today and she said, “All these things you are doing, is it just words or are we actually making a difference?”

Could the member maybe talk a bit more about how we can work to convince the government of Iran that these principles we hold so dear are something that would be good for its people as well? What can we do besides just talk about these issues?

Iran
Government Orders

9:55 p.m.

Conservative

John Weston West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country, BC

Mr. Chair, I thank the member for Cypress Hills—Grasslands who is at the forefront of promoting human rights in this chamber and elsewhere. It is an excellent question because there is always the temptation for people in public life to engage in words and not in actions.

It is critically important for us to encourage our friends in Canada who have an Iranian background, to ensure they know that in the same breath as we condemn the Ahmadinejad regime, we remember that Cyrus the Great, their famous ruler, brought freedom to the Jews and other people in that part of the world; that we remember that they had a prime minister freely elected in 1953; that there is a history of democracy in Iran and that Canadians know this; that we care about the Persian culture that has given so much in terms of literature and art and other legacies to the world; that we know, for instance, of the famous quote

The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on

Omar Khayyám, Sa'di, Hafiz and other Persian poets have enriched the world. When Persian people know that we can be proud of what they have to give to Canada and the rest of the world, then they can be proud about their democratic future. I am confident that they have a democratic future and I cannot wait to see it.

Iran
Government Orders

9:55 p.m.

NDP

Ève Péclet La Pointe-de-l'Île, QC

Mr. Chair, Canadians were saddened and shocked to learn of the death of the photojournalist Zahra Kazemi following injuries she sustained during interrogations during her detention in Iran. The story made the headlines for several months. It was a highly publicized case. Justice has still not been done in this affair. We are therefore extremely concerned for the safety of Canadian citizens, such as Hamid Ghassemi-Shall, who are currently on death row in Iran.

What is Canada doing to defend its citizens?

Iran
Government Orders

9:55 p.m.

Conservative

John Weston West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country, BC

Mr. Chair, I thank my colleague for her question.

The murder of Ms. Kazemi was a human rights disaster for several reasons. First, she was a journalist who represented freedom of expression in the world.

Second, she was a Canadian in Iran. Unfortunately, the Iranian government does not recognize Canadian citizenship. It is therefore a problem for Canadians when they are on Iranian soil.

Third, our Canadian government, at the initiative of the Prime Minister and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, has asked several times for these crimes to be solved, but to no avail, because the Iranian government does not recognize the process of natural justice and human rights in its judicial system.

Iran
Government Orders

9:55 p.m.

NDP

Romeo Saganash Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

Mr. Chair, I would like to thank my colleagues from all parties who have risen to share their points of view.

A lot has been said in this evening's debate, but I think that the remarks can be summed up in one very simple principle: human rights are fundamentally important in a modern society and are an essential precondition to true democratic development.

I think that everybody here agrees with this principle, and our discussions have, to date, confirmed that.

My speaking time will be dedicated to three specific points: the fate of Iranian Canadians imprisoned in Iran, freedom of the press and the use of the death penalty in Iran.

In recent years we have witnessed cases of Iranian Canadians who have been detained, charged and, in some cases, threatened with the death penalty. Certain cases have received a lot of media attention, including the case of Hamid Ghassemi- Shall. There have also been cases such as that of journalist Zahra Kazemi, who was arrested and died in detention, as well as Maziar Bahari, who was repeatedly beaten and threatened with execution during his 118-day imprisonment in Iran.

Mr. Ghassemi-Shall was arrested in Iran when he went to visit his bereaved mother in 2008. He was then accused of spying and sentenced to death. Last year, he was told that his sentence would be commuted to life in prison. However, he was returned to death row last month. He was called to an interview at Evin prison and, according to his sister, he was told that he would soon be hanged.

Photojournalist Zahra Kazemi died in an Iranian prison on July 11, 2003, almost three weeks after being arrested for taking photos outdoors during a student protest in Tehran. Two days later, the official Iranian news service stated that Ms. Kazemi died in hospital after suffering a stroke during her interrogation. On July 16, 2003, the authorities changed their tune. Iran's vice-president admitted that Ms. Kazemi had been beaten and had died of her injuries. After her death, her son Stephan Hashemi demanded that Iran return his mother's body to Canada for burial. Iran refused.

Mr. Bahari is a journalist who was arrested by Iranian intelligence officers in Tehran in June 2009 in the aftermath of the election demonstrations that swept across the city. He was held in Iran's notorious Evin Prison. Iranian interrogators accused him of being a spy for the CIA, Mossad and M16. He was never told why he was arrested. He was interrogated and tortured repeatedly during his incarceration. After 118 days, he was finally released.

While each of these cases is unique and has its own sets of human rights violations, they are all part of a greater pattern of disrespect for the very concept of human rights. In each of these cases and in its own way, the Government of Iran completely disregarded the very basic human rights of these Canadian citizens. These cases also show that many of the structures that we depend on to ensure our human rights are respected in Canada are simply not in place in Iran or, if they do exist, do not have the power to ensure those rights are protected.

The most recent United Nations human rights committee report on Iran, dated November 29, 2011, speaks directly to some of these weaknesses. For example, in this report the committee expresses its concern about “reports of the use of general and blanket arrest warrants which do not contain the names of the accused and are not based on a judge's review of evidence.” It also expressed concern that the “independence of the judiciary is not fully guaranteed and is compromised by undue pressure from the executive power.” In the cases I mentioned earlier, we saw the judicial system used as a tool to suppress the views of others, to punish those who disagree with the government and as a way to bypass the basic human rights of these individuals.

In any truly democratic society that respects human rights, a free press is an extremely important pillar. In the cases of Mrs. Kazemi and Mr. Bahari, we saw those basic human rights ignored.

We have seen throughout history that when human rights are being abused and ignored, freedom of the press is restricted and in some cases the press itself is co-opted and controlled by the state to suppress the human rights of minorities.

In Iran, the state control over the media and the absence of freedom of the press are certainly of great concern when it comes to human rights violations.

In the recent report of the United Nations Human Rights Committee on civil and political rights in Iran, these concerns are expressed very well:

The Committee further notes that the Human Rights Committee expressed its concern that: Many newspapers, magazines, as well as the Journalists Association, have been closed by the authorities since 2008, and that many journalists, newspaper editors, film-makers and media workers have been arrested and detained since the 2009 presidential elections. The Committee is also concerned about the monitoring of Internet use and contents, blocking of websites that carry political news and analysis, slowing down of Internet speeds and jamming of foreign satellite broadcasts, in particular since the 2009 presidential elections.

These are very concerning actions taken by the Government of Iran. These methods of controlling the media and access to information help the government keep its activities that suppress human rights in the dark.

In this age of high technology, the Internet and social media, these approaches are not as effective as they once were. We saw great examples of that during the Arab Spring last year when people organized and put their stories out through Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Citizens go around these digital roadblocks put up by their governments to share their stories.

The last point I would like to raise this evening is Iran's death penalty. Many countries have stopped imposing the death penalty for serious crimes. Canada had the wisdom to do so in 1976, I believe.

However, not all countries have chosen to eliminate it. Some have even gone in the opposite direction. Iran is one of those countries. The United Nations Human Rights Committee report on Iran, which I just quoted, highlighted the following points with respect to the death penalty in Iran:

The Committee continues to be deeply concerned about the extremely high and increasing number of death sentences pronounced and carried out in the State party, the wide range and often vague definition of offences for which the death penalty is applied, and the large number of capital crimes and execution methods. The Committee is also concerned about the continued use of public executions, as well as stoning, as a method of execution. It also notes with concern the high rate of State executions in ethnic minority areas...

The Committee is gravely concerned about the continued execution of minors and the imposition of the death penalty for persons who were found to have committed a crime while under 18 years of age...

Finally, this is the context for use of the death penalty in Iran, according to the Canadian section of Amnesty International.

During this evening's debate, we have all raised examples of how human rights are being violated in Iran. Sadly, there are many such examples, and many other cases of people being punished and mistreated in that country. Still, by talking about them and calling the world's attention to them, we may be able to put pressure on that government to change its ways.

I want to say, in conclusion, that I was lucky to spend over 20 years at the United Nations during the negotiations leading up to the UN's Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. I was able to see how activism by the international community can result in great progress.

Let us add our voices to all those calling for human rights all over the planet, and let us all be part of the solution.

Iran
Government Orders

10:05 p.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Chair, I want to thank my colleague and take this opportunity to congratulate him on his critic role for international co-operation and the CIDA file. He is doing an amazing job in advocating for the world's most vulnerable.

It is a comment on this Parliament today that all parties have agreed to have a debate on human rights violations in Iran. I could not stand here and not mention that even though we are talking about human rights violations in Iran, we know that there are human rights violations that mirror these in many countries around the globe. By shining the light on Iran, we are also shining the light on human rights violations that happen in other parts of the world as well.

Our government has closed offices that could actually help to support the democratic process in Iran. It has cut funding to CBC, therefore impacting Radio International and impacting the programming that could assist the Iranian people. We know that the best way for Iran to achieve democratic reform is for it to come from the Iranian people, and it is our job to support them.

In my colleague's opinion, what could our government be doing to support the Iranian people to make real their aspirations for a democratic society?

Iran
Government Orders

10:10 p.m.

NDP

Romeo Saganash Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

Mr. Chair, I thank my colleague for her question and especially for her comments as well.

To a very large extent my colleague is absolutely right in saying that human rights violations do not occur only in Iran. There are human rights violations in many countries in the world. It seems striking to me that while we are denouncing human rights violations in Iran, we are not doing the same thing for human rights violations in China, for instance, or Ukraine, or Ethiopia and so on.

One of the ways through which we promoted human rights and democracy for the past two decades was exactly that institution, Rights and Democracy, which the government has decided to slash.

I have worked with Rights and Democracy for a very long time. It has one of the greatest reputations as an institution, not only in Canada but around the world. I worked with Rights and Democracy at the UN for more than a decade. I have seen the job it has done, not only for Canadian aboriginal peoples but also for aboriginal peoples throughout the world. As we know, there are more than 370 million aboriginal people on this planet, and Rights and Democracy has done great work for South America, for Africa and throughout the world. It was a decision that was unfortunate for many Canadians and for many other people around this planet.

Iran
Government Orders

10:10 p.m.

Conservative

Stephen Woodworth Kitchener Centre, ON

Mr. Chair, I would like to first thank my colleague for his comments tonight. I particularly appreciated his emphasis on the real corruption in the Iranian judicial system and the executions, mutilations and torture that go on. I will be speaking about that myself in a few moments.

I would like to ask my colleague across the way about a new initiative of the Canadian government, the office of religious freedom. What we find around the world is that much persecution is driven by religious prejudice. In Iran, of course, the Baha'i are suffering persecution. In China, it is the Falun Dafa, and in other places, Christians. In the Middle East, Jews are often subject to persecution. I wonder if the member opposite would be able to endorse, join in and support the new initiative by the government, the office for religious freedom? I understand it will have high-ranking ambassadorial status to investigate and speak out against religious persecution around the world.

Iran
Government Orders

10:10 p.m.

NDP

Romeo Saganash Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

Mr. Chair, I cannot wait to see the initiative that is going to be proposed. I do not think the office has been created yet, but we will wait and see what the contents and the mandate of the office will be.

Having said that, I would like to take this opportunity to continue on some points that I wanted to mention earlier. When I was talking about Rights and Democracy a while ago, one of the important parts of the mandate of Rights and Democracy for many years has been to promote many fundamental human rights for people around the world. One of them, of course, was religious freedom.

How do we do outreach with civil society in countries where there are many human rights violations? How do we do that outreach?

One of the best means we have had for two decades was Rights and Democracy. The government decided to cut that for ideological reasons. That should be denounced as well.

We can continue on and on all night denouncing human rights violations in Iran, but there are a lot of other countries where we should do the same. We should not act just on economic or commercial expediency, turning a blind eye to human rights violations in many countries around the world.