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

10:55 p.m.

Liberal

Irwin Cotler Mount Royal, QC

Mr. Chair, I want to first commend the member for Selkirk—Interlake. He is organizing a meeting this Wednesday with regard to matters in Iran. I want to commend him for his ongoing leadership with regard to Canadian parliamentarians and democracy in Iran.

On that particular point, we will have hearings tomorrow at the foreign affairs Subcommittee on International Human Rights, continuing our look into the targeting of those in Camp Ashraf and now also movement to Liberty. We need to ensure these residents are protected, that they are not under assault, that they are not subject to threats that may end, up as they have before, in attacks and killing and wounding of such residents.

We will have to keep a watching brief and ensure their protection. That is why we have had continuous hearings on the issue in our foreign affairs subcommittee. There too, we have had a unified voice in that regard and the compelling need to protect those residents of Camp Ashraf, now Liberty. This is yet another case study of Iranian state sanctioned repression.

Iran
Government Orders

10:55 p.m.

Conservative

Russ Hiebert South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale, BC

Mr. Chair, at the beginning of my remarks, it is an honour to serve with the member for Mount Royal on the Subcommittee on International Human Rights. I thank him for the leadership he has shown in originating a study that we did a few years back, which I will reference in just a moment.

Tonight many of my colleagues have spoken on the appalling human rights situation in Iran. As a member of that Subcommittee on International Human Rights, I have heard a great deal of testimony on the abuses of the Iranian regime over the past couple of years.

In December 2010, we presented our report to the House. It was titled, “Ahmadinejad's Iran: A Threat to Peace, Human Rights and International Law”. We addressed many different rights abuses the Iranian regime engaged against its own people. One of these is Iran's suppression of gender rights.

Equality between men and women simply does not exist in Iran. Since the 1979 Islamic revolution, Iran's clerical leaders have sought to impose limits on the rights of women and institutionalize gender discrimination in the name of Islamic law. Laws have been passed which sharply restrict women's educational and professional opportunities, reinforce male control over women in the family and impose gender segregation and discriminatory provisions in their criminal code.

Women are not allowed to run for president or serve as judges. They cannot have full guardianship over their children after a divorce. They receive half as much inheritance as men and their court testimony is worth half of that of a man.

Men have the right to take a second wife without the permission of their first. They can divorce their wives whenever they wish. They may prohibit their wives from even working outside of their home.

Women who refuse to cover their hair can face jail and up to 80 lashes. In some cases, Iranian women have successfully fought to reverse these discriminatory practices and laws and have pressured the government to make some concessions, but the record is very mixed.

In fact, the government increasingly targets women's rights activists to try to dismantle the women's movement in Iran. It often arrests, interrogates, mistreats, threatens and imprisons activists. Some have been fired from their jobs.

Women's rights activist, Jila Baniyaghoob, and winner of the courage in journalism award from the International Women's Media Foundation was banned for 30 years from journalistic activities in the brutal suppression of the Green Movement following the 2009 elections. Around the same time, Shiva Nazar Ahari, a well-known women's rights activist received four years in prison and 74 lashes. Both women received terrible punishments for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and assembly.

These are just two of many similar cases. Unfortunately, members of Iran's women's movement are increasingly faced with a stark choice: cease their activism or continue under the threat of criminal charges, arbitrary arrest, detention, interrogation, torture or even death.

Although in February 2010, Iran agreed to guarantee equality for women in the law during their UN Human Rights Council review of Iran's record under the framework of the universal periodic review, Iranian authorities continue to entrench gender discrimination. For example, since 2009, female students have been required to study at universities in their own homes or towns, greatly restricting their access to higher education, while male students face no such restriction.

Iran has also been the only country to use stoning to execute those who commit adultery, even though it breaches Iran's commitment under article 6(2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that death sentences will be imposed only for the most serious crimes. In fact, there was a sharp rise in sentencing, both men and women, to death by stoning since President Ahmadinejad came to office, but most of those were women.

A revised Iranian penal code, due to take effect this year, finally removes the stoning penalty from the code. However it still remains to be seen whether or how the new code will be applied in practice and whether existing death by stoning sentences will be commuted.

In no instance is the intersect between the Iranian government's abuse of due process of law, rights and systematic discrimination against women more egregious than in the case of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani.

The case of Ms. Ashtiani is well known. A mother of two, Ms. Ashtiani has been in prison since 2006, when she was arrested for adultery and the murder of her husband. In 2010, she was initially sentenced to 99 lashes and death by stoning; however, following an international outcry, the sentence was changed to death by hanging.

Throughout her trial, Ms. Ashtiani's right to due process was egregiously violated. Her lawyer was arrested briefly and forced to seek asylum in Norway. Her son was also imprisoned for speaking with international journalists about his mother's case. Canada continues to urge the Iranian authorities to revoke or commute Ms. Ashtiani's sentence.

Our government is also deeply concerned about the lack of religious freedom in Iran. Other speakers have addressed this concern tonight, particularly in the persecution of the Baha'i minority in Iran. There is also severe persecution of other religious minorities, including Christians.

The case of Youcef Nadarkhani was mentioned by my colleague. He is 34, a Christian pastor, married and the father of two boys. He was arrested on charges of apostasy—for leaving the Muslim faith—and has now been sentenced to death by an Iranian court for refusing to renounce his Christianity. He has defied a request by the Gilan provincial court in Rasht, Iran, to repent and now faces death by hanging. That sentence has been upheld by the Iranian Supreme Court.

Unfortunately, this is not an isolated case. As we have heard in testimony before our subcommittee, despite the fact that the Iranian constitution recognizes and protects the nation's pre-Islamic religious minorities, including Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians, in practice these groups face discrimination and persecution.

Christians are subject to harassment and close surveillance by police. The government has a policy of prohibiting proselytizing and monitors the activities of many churches, acts to close churches and arrests Christian converts. Members of some congregations are required to carry membership cards that must be provided to police on request, and church officials have been ordered to inform the Ministry of Information and Islamic Guidance before admitting new members.

The Iranian government has restricted meetings to Sundays and has harassed and intimidated congregations that have attempted to worship on other days. The Iranian government continues to arrest and detain Christian believers, pastors and priests for lengthy periods without charge. Some have even complained of being tortured while in custody. Often they are arrested when they gather, and their Bibles and other literature materials are seized.

The reality of life for religious minorities in Iran is almost incomprehensible to many Canadians, who have grown up in a land of freedom where we are all able to worship and discuss our faith openly. That is all the more reason for freedom-loving Canadians to call attention to the rights of individuals in other nations. That is why I am proud of the actions of our government in addressing the critical issue of religious freedom, both in Iran and around the world.

As part of our commitment to defending this fundamental freedom, we are setting up the office of religious freedom within the Department of Foreign Affairs. This office will promote and protect freedom of religion and belief around the world, consistent with core Canadian values such as freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

As the Minister of Foreign Affairs reminded us recently, and I quote:

Canadians enjoy the rights and privileges that come with living in a free and democratic society in which human rights are respected. We are also keenly aware of the struggles that religious minorities face around the world.

That is why, whatever the circumstances, Canada will continue to speak out, and take principled positions.... We will not just go along to get along. We will stand for what is principled and just, regardless of whether it is popular, convenient or expedient.

With the support of Parliament, Canada will continue its proud record of standing up for human rights and for taking principled positions on important issues to promote freedom, including gender rights, religious freedom, democracy and the rule of law in Iran and elsewhere around the world.

Iran
Government Orders

11:05 p.m.

NDP

Pierre-Luc Dusseault Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Chair, I am truly pleased to rise here today to speak to this issue, which I care deeply about and seems to be very important to most of the members here in the House at this late hour.

I have a rather specific question to ask the government member concerning the use of torture. In his speech, he talked about how much the Iranian government uses torture. Yet, this government's position on the use of torture in other countries has been somewhat ambiguous recently. For instance, information obtained using torture can later be used by this government, since it considers that a reliable source. This raises several questions: does the government support the use of torture to obtain information when investigating a crime, for instance?

I would like my colleague to clarify the government's position on the use of torture in such cases. I would also like to know whether he will state unequivocally here today that the government opposes the use of torture, even though sometimes it would really like to obtain certain information. Personally, I do not believe that information should be used if it was obtained through torture.

Iran
Government Orders

11:10 p.m.

Conservative

Russ Hiebert South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale, BC

Mr. Chair, one of the aspects I really appreciate about serving on the Subcommittee on International Human Rights of the foreign affairs committee is the non-partisan nature in which we are able to operate. Members of the Liberal Party and the NDP and our Conservative members work united with the common cause to achieve some measure of difference around the world by highlighting some of the atrocities we hear about.

In my experience on that committee in the last three or four years, there are no atrocities greater than those in the situation in Iran, so much so that we did not only one but two studies on the subject of Iran, thanks to the initiative of the member for Mount Royal. We were so taken aback with the rioting and unrest that occurred after the July 2009 presidential elections in that country that we had to revisit our study and update it. In the process of putting together that report, we came up with a number of recommendations. I have a copy of the report, which is around 100 pages, if the Chair would like me to table it. We had experts from literally around the world come and testify about the atrocities that are occurring in Iran. There is no doubt that the use of torture is prevalent in that country, whether it is for extracting information or simply a form of retribution. That is regrettable.

While I was in the process of listening to the member's question, I was actually looking for the section that dealt with that situation, and it drew my attention to all the different atrocities that occurred, including incitement to genocide.

We have not even talked about the nuclear threat.

I would invite the member opposite to get a copy of our report, because it is very comprehensive and deals with the situation of torture and its use specifically as it relates to Iran. By reading it, he might further appreciate how apolitical this question really is. I would invite him to look at that. It is available on the Foreign Affairs website.

Iran
Government Orders

11:10 p.m.

Ajax—Pickering
Ontario

Conservative

Chris Alexander Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

Mr. Chair, once again thanks to our colleague, the member for South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale, for an excellent contribution to tonight's debate, which will help us close tonight's debate.

My question for the member is about the solutions. He has gestured at many of them, one being to continue that work with a united front on all of these issues, certainly to give voice to the repression of religious minorities, about whom all of us have expressed concern tonight, and the systematic abuses of rights we have all identified in tonight's debate. He mentioned the nuclear threat at the end of his speech, which is certainly there.

In my own experience, as well as recent advice from wise voices on all sides with regard to Iran, the human rights issue in many respects will weigh more heavily with the regime and with the population than our direct intervention politically on the nuclear issue. The two are linked, and in many ways the human rights approach is the more powerful approach.

Would our colleague take that reasoning one step further and agree with me that one of the most powerful weapons we have in addressing human rights issues in Iran is the fact that Iranian culture, history and tradition are themselves sources for the values and principles many of us identify as universal today? Whether it is the pre-Islamic history or the Islamic history, whether it is Iranian literature or Iranian law under the law-based regimes they have had in their ancient past or more recent past, we can use Iranian tradition itself to shame this regime into better forms of behaviour, and we have a duty to use this among all other forms of legal leverage available to us. Would my colleague agree with that?

Iran
Government Orders

11:15 p.m.

Conservative

Russ Hiebert South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale, BC

Mr. Chair, it is hard not to agree. Of course, that is why our government has taken the position that it has. We are imposing sanctions. We have done that four times since July 2010, including dealing with the prohibitions against exporting arms and financial transactions and investments. Many believe this is making a tremendous difference. I personally agree with the member when he suggests that, as has been said by our government, Iran's nuclear threat is the greatest threat to global peace and security in the world today.

The very least we can do is impose sanctions as we seek a peaceful resolution to this potential crisis which is not only a regional issue, it is also a global issue. By using every diplomatic means possible, we will continue to put pressure on Iran so it will hopefully choose a different path. Until that happens, we have to take every opportunity, whether financial or investment, or even by naming individuals on a prohibited list as we have done, and use every diplomatic tool to ensure the world and Iran in particular know that it cannot with good conscience and with any international support continue along this path that it is on.

In my speech, I did not highlight a few of the other 24 recommendations that we made in our report, but I will wait for another opportunity.

Iran
Government Orders

11:15 p.m.

NDP

Philip Toone Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Mr. Chair, I have a question for the member opposite.

The government recently announced that Rights & Democracy would be closing. Rights & Democracy was a very important and valuable tool for networking with overseas agencies. It worked with non-governmental organizations and individuals in Iran. Rights & Democracy was a very important tool for creating these relationships.

Now that Rights & Democracy is closing, what tool is the hon. member proposing we use to continue to connect with non-governmental organizations, which, I might add, are important allies in advancing human rights around the world?

Iran
Government Orders

11:15 p.m.

Conservative

Russ Hiebert South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale, BC

Mr. Chair, I understand that the issue of Rights and Democracy has come up throughout the course of the last four hours. I do not see much point in revisiting that topic after it has received a fair amount of air time tonight. However, I do want to recognize that there are many civil society organizations, both Canadian and Iranian, that are doing excellent work in documenting the human rights abuses there. We can consider supporting these institutions that are already in place so they can document and report on the human rights abuses. We can play a role in providing moral and diplomatic support to the democratic movement in Iran as we recognize the role that existing Iranian organizations are playing.

Let us not forget that our foreign service, including ambassadors, service officers and other staff at DFAIT and CIDA, do this every day, and for that we are grateful.

Iran
Government Orders

May 14th, 2012 / 11:20 p.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Chair, it is my pleasure today to rise and speak on this important issue of human rights. After the graphic pictures painted by members on all sides of the House, there is absolutely no doubt in anybody's mind that Iran has serious human rights violations.

Recently I have been dealing with a different aspect of legislation, Bill C-31. When I was home over the weekend, I had the opportunity to meet with some of my constituents who told me the reason they chose Canada is because of our charter, our respect for human rights and our Constitution. They shared with me their worries about some of the proposed changes in Bill C-31, which I would call the punishing refugees act.

We know how terrible it is in Iran. Just imagine a group leaving Iran. Upon arrival on our shores they would be put in prison because they would be considered irregular arrivals. If they had children under 16 years of age, we would give them the choice of keeping their children with them or giving them over to provincial social services. That is not a choice I would want to make as a mother.

These people would have to wait 14 days, and that is only after the opposition and witnesses pushed, before their detention, which is in a prison, would be reviewed. Let us call it what it is. Then they would have another six months and then for five years--

Iran
Government Orders

11:20 p.m.

Conservative

James Bezan Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Chair, I rise on a point of order. I want to remind the member that we are here talking about human rights in Iran. What she is talking about has no relevance whatsoever to the topic at hand. It is a disservice to the Persian community members who are watching on TV tonight, wanting to hear what we have to say about the brutalities people in Iran are facing. She wants to play petty politics rather than deal with the issue that is in front of us.

Iran
Government Orders

11:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Chair Barry Devolin

The hon. member has about 30 seconds remaining before the time expires.

Iran
Government Orders

11:20 p.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Chair, what I am saying is absolutely related. There are such dire human rights violations in Iran. If the new legislation passes, our laws could be in contravention of the charter and of our obligations under the United Nations.

Iran
Government Orders

11:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Chair Barry Devolin

It being 11:22 p.m., pursuant to Standing Order 53(1), the committee will rise and I will leave the chair.

(Government Business No. 11 reported)

Iran
Government Orders

11:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

Accordingly, this House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 11:22 p.m.)