Evidence of meeting #80 for Canadian Heritage in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was iranian.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Pouyan Tabasinejad  Policy Chair, Iranian Canadian Congress
Soudeh Ghasemi  Vice-President, Iranian Canadian Congress
Larry Rousseau  Executive Vice-President, Canadian Labour Congress
Cindy Blackstock  Executive Director, First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada
Elizabeth Kwan  Senior Researcher, Canadian Labour Congress

4:05 p.m.

Policy Chair, Iranian Canadian Congress

Pouyan Tabasinejad

We listened to the testimony and we think that's an interesting idea. Part of the problem we have is it would be very difficult to coordinate something like this among all our organizations, if it comes to the actual reporting and having people report an emergency.

That said, our answer would be a hotline. We think that might be a little bit stronger. Obviously, there would be some collaboration. Maybe if an individual is not willing or able to reach the hotline or go to this centralized reporting mechanism, then definitely NGOs would have a role a play. No matter what, we would be willing to be a part of any program that seeks to address this issue.

4:05 p.m.

NDP

Jenny Kwan NDP Vancouver East, BC

That brings me to my next question.

I think having it across the nation—a nationwide national strategy, if you will—would be key. We used to have a national action plan against racism. We don't anymore, and so groups have called for a reinstatement, a refreshing, if you will, of such a plan, with accountability measures and resources built into it.

I want quick thoughts on that from both of you.

4:05 p.m.

Policy Chair, Iranian Canadian Congress

Pouyan Tabasinejad

Sorry, the question was...?

4:05 p.m.

NDP

Jenny Kwan NDP Vancouver East, BC

A national action plan against—

4:05 p.m.

Policy Chair, Iranian Canadian Congress

Pouyan Tabasinejad

A national action plan, yes, we definitely think it's an important issue, especially in terms of what can be done federally. Again, we think that looking at the federal legislation we have is an important part of this. Definitely, we agree that there should be an integrated national plan. We don't want to see something that is more prominent in certain provinces or regions. We think this is an issue across the country that should be addressed on the national level.

4:05 p.m.

NDP

Jenny Kwan NDP Vancouver East, BC

It brings me to the next question in terms of a national strategy. Should government adopt a race equity lens in the development of government legislation, laws, and policies?

4:05 p.m.

Policy Chair, Iranian Canadian Congress

Pouyan Tabasinejad

I would say that would definitely be a great step to take. There needs to be a change in the mentalities and the approaches we have in government. We need to accept that systems of privilege and underprivilege are at play here, and an equity lens would definitely help dismantle and alleviate some of these issues.

4:10 p.m.

NDP

Jenny Kwan NDP Vancouver East, BC

I'm very disturbed to hear about your experience, and I guess other people in your community have had their bank accounts closed for no reason other than their nationality. It seems to me that there is very little recourse with respect to that, so to that end, the last I checked, we do have the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the last I checked, such behaviour is not in compliance.

What do you think should be done? What should government do about something like that, in very practical terms on the ground?

4:10 p.m.

Policy Chair, Iranian Canadian Congress

Pouyan Tabasinejad

The government needs to communicate to the banks that this is an unacceptable thing to do. At the moment, as you said, there's very little that anybody can do, and we're getting to the point where every day we hear that a new bank is engaging in these practices. Earlier it was one or two, then four, and it keeps increasing.

We're in a dangerous position. There is a real possibility that our entire community will be de-banked and will be unable to access these banking services. In terms of specifics, I think it would have to be an overhaul of how we regulate the financial industry to make sure that individuals have access to banking regardless of their nationality, regardless of their race, and regardless of what's happening. Unfortunately, we don't have the ability to do that right now.

4:10 p.m.

NDP

Jenny Kwan NDP Vancouver East, BC

The regulatory body for financial institutions—

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Hedy Fry

Sorry.

4:10 p.m.

NDP

Jenny Kwan NDP Vancouver East, BC

Did I get an extra minute?

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Hedy Fry

You got your extra minute, yes.

We go now to Arif Virani for the Liberals.

I guess you get an extra minute as well. We've got time to play with now.

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Arif Virani Liberal Parkdale—High Park, ON

Thank you, Madam Chair. Thank you very much.

Salaam. It is good to see you guys here, and thank you for your comments and for your responses thus far. I want to ask you maybe three to four questions in these seven or eight minutes.

You outlined a number of different aspects of the concerns you're facing. One that you highlighted was employment. What we've done as a government thus far is implement a couple of things that I think are on the right path. One is foreign credential recognition. We put $27.5 million into that program over the next five years, and that's in an effort to ensure people's credentials are recognized. Another is that we've launched a name-blind pilot project that dovetails exactly with what you were referencing about people who lack an Anglo-Saxon name or a common name in Canada and are subconsciously discriminated against and not able to access an interview.

Could you share your thoughts with us on those two programs and on any other creative ideas you have about addressing this employment piece in particular?

4:10 p.m.

Policy Chair, Iranian Canadian Congress

Pouyan Tabasinejad

That's something that needs to happen. This is especially true for our community. There is a real issue with the regulatory bodies themselves. These are often organized provincially.

For example, in Ontario we've had a lot of problems with the dentistry organization. There seem to be a lot of artificial barriers erected for individuals who receive their education outside Canada and are trying to enter dentistry in Canada. There are similar organizations, such as the college of physicians, and so on. This really needs to happen. The government needs to step in and address what's happening on the ground and communicate to these regulatory bodies that this is not acceptable and that they need to change their policies.

With regard to Iranians and specifically some of the employment issues we've dealt with, this actually dovetails with the banking issue in terms of what we can do. We believe a big part of why Iranians are not let into some of these fields, especially the engineering field in so-called sensitive areas, and the reason we face banking issues as well, is the sanctions on Iran. We believe it creates a distrust of Iranians, and even legal issues, if an individual has worked for an Iranian company that could be on the sanctions list or whatever. Definitely this affects the banking issues. Banks are rejecting Iranians because they look at Canada's sanction laws and say, "Okay, Canada has sanctions on Iran; therefore, we don't want to touch Iranians.”

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Arif Virani Liberal Parkdale—High Park, ON

Let's go to the next area, because I want to explore this. It dovetails a bit with what Ms. Kwan was asking about.

We've heard a lot of testimony from different witnesses about this race-based equity tool, or race-based lens. It's patterned on the gender-based analysis that we've already implemented as a government, which is a step in the right direction. This tool would allow various government policies, regardless of which department they come from, to be analyzed in terms of their impact. That is something you raised in your submissions, that the impact of certain actions on the people who are here in the country needs to be understood.

Is that the type of mechanism that you think should be applied, and would it help alleviate the situation of policies that started with the previous government in 2012 unwittingly having impacts upon the diaspora population here?

4:15 p.m.

Policy Chair, Iranian Canadian Congress

Pouyan Tabasinejad

Definitely. It definitely goes along with the text of motion M-103, which actually advocates an all-of-government approach. We think all government policy should be looked at in terms of how it especially affects disadvantaged or marginalized or new communities in Canada.

We saw our community ignored in the foreign policy area. This is becoming more and more important as we have immigrant communities with transnational lives. Borders don't exist in the way they used to. An individual can live in Canada but keep a lot of connections with their home, so it really affects their quality of life and the quality of life of that community if foreign relations and foreign policy are determined without even thinking about how it affects them on the ground.

We definitely think it's very important to look at all our policies, not just employment. Employment is very important and education is very important, and not just education and employment in domestic policies, but also foreign policies. How do our rhetoric and our policies against, or for, a certain country affect how the individuals from a diaspora of that country live, and what their experiences are here and what their quality of life is here?

October 25th, 2017 / 4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Arif Virani Liberal Parkdale—High Park, ON

In your opening submission, you referred to interfaith dialogue. You've cited the stats. We've heard the stats over and over again from different entities, whether they're governmental entities, NGOs, or civil society groups, talking about hate crimes being on the rise, specifically against Jews and Muslims, which demonstrates to me that we have discrimination occurring. We still have division and hatred, but we have a particular problem with religious discrimination, so the interfaith notion is appealing.

You mention that you want to see the Department of Canadian Heritage supporting that. I'd ask you to develop that idea a bit. I also want to segue and ask you if there is room for other supports, because we've also heard about the collapsing of multiculturalism in the budget. There was a time with multiculturalism programming when monies were available to support communities unto themselves. What I mean by that is just supporting the Iranian-Canadian community unto itself. Right now, we just have the ability to support Iranian Canadians doing a joint program in North York with the Korean community, for example, which is great and important, but we don't have the ability to empower Iranians to develop their own capacity and to be that conduit and have the trust of the community to receive information about hatred, discrimination, and so on.

Can you talk about the interfaith approach, but also about the approach of just supporting a community unto itself and whether you think that should be a priority?

4:15 p.m.

Vice-President, Iranian Canadian Congress

Soudeh Ghasemi

I want to add that if Iranian Canadians are going to be considered a visible minority officially, if they're going to be grouped as a visible minority, then that would be a path to address some of the issues that you mentioned in terms of equity and all of that. As well, funding, obviously, will be very helpful, but if it's recognized as a visible minority, then we can address those issues.

4:15 p.m.

Policy Chair, Iranian Canadian Congress

Pouyan Tabasinejad

I agree with my colleague. Also, in terms of interfaith dialogue, it's very important, especially now that we're seeing, unfortunately, a lot of discrimination against certain religious groups. You mentioned the Jewish faith and the Muslim faith, but we also see it with regard to Sikhism, etc. Understanding is a huge part of this issue. A lot of faiths have this very much in common. We need to address this and showcase this issue.

I really agree with what you meant. This is really a part of our recommendations in terms of a targeted approach for community organizations, while recognizing that there are differences in the experiences. I believe that's really what we're talking about. We have to recognize that a certain community within a certain time may be going through something that requires more resources and more attention.

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Hedy Fry

If we can wrap this up....

4:15 p.m.

Policy Chair, Iranian Canadian Congress

Pouyan Tabasinejad

Sure.

Efficiency is a big part of it. We need to direct the funding and the attention to the impacted communities. We need to recognize impacted communities and have the ability to identify impacted communities, like the Iranian-Canadian community.

Maybe in the future the Iranian-Canadian community won't be as targeted, hopefully, as they are now. We need to recognize impacted communities and really target the funding, and make sure that it's efficient. .

Thank you.

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Hedy Fry

Thank you.

We will now go to the second round. I think I'm going to have to pull that down to a three-minute round, because a five-minute one will give us 25 minutes and put us over.

We're going to go to a three-minute round.

We'll go to Mr. Sweet for the Conservatives.

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

David Sweet Conservative Flamborough—Glanbrook, ON

Thank you, Madam Chair.

I'd like to express my deep concern and regret for the treatment of the members in your community who have experienced discrimination or hatred. I think there's a lot of agreement at this table from all sides that our pursuit is to have every Canadian live a life that's free of any kind of discrimination, hatred, persecution, or unequal treatment, for that matter, vis-à-vis some of the things you were talking about with regard to the CVs or resumés of people with Iranian or Persian names.

By the way, I have a lot of Iranian friends, and they prefer to be called Persians. I'm not certain how that goes, if that's a broad spectrum of the community or not, but anyway, they've kind of trained me like that.

The one problematic thing for us is the word Islamophobia, and it's not just problematic for us. About 30% of the witnesses have a problem with it. For me, the most important ones are the ones who come from the Muslim community themselves and who have an issue with it. There were quotes about how the definition has been hijacked and is irrecoverable.

As far as any kind of hatred or racism goes, we want to fight that. We want to be clear on it so that no one can co-opt a word and have it mean something else.

I want to go back to one of the things you were mentioning about Iran. I've been on the Subcommittee on International Human Rights for the better part of a dozen years now, and it's been the Iranian community in Canada that have come to us and asked us to defend their family members and friends in Iran. We've always been careful, as Mr. Reid said, to point out that the regime, the Revolutionary Guard, the Basij, the mullahs that run it, are the ones we're targeting. These are people, this regime, who kill their own people. Their reputation is very bad. It's at the top echelon of all human rights offenders, but we call out the others pretty equally on the subcommittee.

We do have an Iran Accountability Week, and I certainly hope that no one ever misconstrues that as anything against a Canadian citizen of Iranian descent, Persian descent, at all. What we'd like to do is see every person in Iran free, and hopefully we'll see a democratic nation one day there in Iran. I want to be clear on that.

The other problem that has arisen from—

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Hedy Fry

Mr. Sweet, you've gone over three minutes. Are you going to ask your question? You can make a statement. You don't have to ask a question if you don't want to.