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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 IranGovernment Orders

9:35 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Chair, one example that I can think of is North Korea where it keeps its people in state of poverty and under control by using that kind of threat that they are about to be invaded. It is very common for repressive regimes to conjure up imaginary enemies to keep their people in line. Once that is broken, they do not have a very good argument for staying in power.

I am still interested to know about the air situation, because with any country that is shut off, sanctions work. Libya was a really good example that faced sanctions because it too was put on the Americans' list as a country of state-sponsored terrorism. It was shut out of a lot economic ventures because of its status. There was really no tourism investment from the United States or Europe. Once Colonel Gaddafi got out of the situation he was in and renounced international state-sponsored terrorism and his continuing role in it, then Libya opened itself up to a large development of tourism and oil development. That was a good reason for him to stop doing what he was doing before. That situation did work and I am sure we will have to look at some sort of isolating tactics like that against Iran.

Human Rights Situation in IranGovernment Orders

9:40 p.m.

Conservative

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

Mr. Chair, as the government liaison to the Iranian and Persian community, I am proud to rise today in the chamber to take part in this emergency debate on the democratic aspirations of the people of Iran.

Canadians care deeply about the freedoms of people around the world. Our Conservative government has expressed these concerns in three ways: we care, we listen and we act. Let me illustrate how our government cares, listens and acts.

Tonight's debate represents a powerful and tangible expression of our democratic rights here in Canada, rights that have for too long been denied to the people of Iran. In lending our voices in support of reform and democracy in Iran, we embolden the cause of freedom and stand in solidarity with our Iranian brothers and sisters.

One may ask why we here in Canada should care about the plight of the citizens of a country on the other side of the planet. Some might ask if the crisis in Iran is not best left to its own citizens. This is a fair question. Certainly the people of Iran have a basic right to self-determination. However, I also know that Canadians are possessed of a great capacity for compassion. To quote one of the last century's greatest freedom fighters from our neighbours to the south, Martin Luther King, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

It is never too early to stand up for the rights of the oppressed. I am reminded of the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Christian pastor imprisoned by Hitler, who said: “First they came for the Communists, but I was not a Communist so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Socialists and the Trade Unionists, but I was neither, so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew so I did not speak out. And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me.”

No, we Canadians cannot ignore the oppression by the Iranian regime just because Iran seems so far away. Though Iran is far away, the plight of the people of Iran matters to the conscience of this nation. The flagrant violation of Iranians' basic human rights is intolerable to the people and Government of Canada.

That is why our government has taken a principled and consistent stand against the Iranian regime. For the last eight years, Canada has led in sponsoring and passing resolutions at the United Nations condemning the Iranian regime for its abuses. We have strengthened our assistance to those Canadians who have been targeted by this regime and we have been unequivocal in our opposition to the abuses of the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

I am proud to be a Canadian and I am proud to have a government that cares. We are a government that cares; but if Canada only cared and did not listen, we would not be able to help. Ours is a government that listens. As the member of Parliament for the beautiful riding of West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country, I have the tremendous privilege to represent one of the largest Persian and Iranian community in Canada.

Since I was first elected to the chamber in 2008, I have had the opportunity to participate in countless events that highlight the contributions of this community to Canada, from the annual fire festival of the Persian new year, Nowruz, to other cultural events. I have participated in several meetings with members of the Iranian and Persian community and ministers of our government. I have worked on community projects with members of that community and attended local round tables and town hall meetings with them.

On the north shore of Vancouver, Nowruz celebrations have become a yearly highlight, not just for Iranian Canadians but also for Canadians of all backgrounds. Attendance records continue to be broken year after year as Canadians seize these wonderful opportunities to learn about and celebrate the contributions of Iranian Canadians to Canadian society.

Last year, I had the honour of organizing and hosting the visit of Dr. Shirin Ebadi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and one of Iran's most inspiring human rights activists. All across our country, Canadians had the chance to listen to and read about the incredible and often painful story of a woman who has risked everything, including her own life, to bring light and justice to people who have none.

While in Canada, Dr. Ebadi had the chance to meet with our Prime Minister, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism. She also testified before the Subcommittee on International Human Rights.

Ours is a government that listens to many voices in the Persian and Iranian community. Canadians do not turn a deaf ear to the needs of oppressed people anywhere else. We are a people and a government that act. We are appalled by the oppression of the Iranian people by the Islamic regime. Even as I stand before everyone this evening, our Canadian government stands before the world for freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

We have joined our voice with the growing global chorus calling for the end of Iran's secretive nuclear arms regime. We call for the ongoing independent inspection of its nuclear facilities. The Government of Canada opposes in the strongest terms the proliferation of nuclear weapons in the Iranian republic. We are working with the global community to ensure that the spectre of an Iran armed with nuclear weapons never becomes a reality.

Our government supports UN Security Council resolutions to impose restrictions on the Iranian government. We act in concert with our international allies, but because we care and because we listen, we also act in accordance with the special needs of our Iranian-Canadian community. Therefore, in July of last year, our government announced our own made-in-Canada sanctions against the Islamic regime.

Far too often, with the best intentions, a government imposes economic sanctions on another country, but instead of pressuring the foreign government, the sanctions turn out to hurt the very citizens the government is trying to protect. That is why the Canadian government, a government that cares, listened to Canadians of Iranian background and then acted last year, announcing our sanctions and other provisions under the Special Economic Measures Act.

These targeted measures are designed to hamper attempts by Iran to develop nuclear, chemical, biological and missile programs, as well as to persuade it to agree to constructive discussions with China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States.

I repeat, our government cares, our government listens and our government acts.

By using sanctions that put pressure specifically on those responsible for injustice, our government has targeted members of the regime while minimizing harm to the innocent citizens of Iran. It can never be said enough that our government condemns the abuses of the Iranian government but stands proudly and resolutely behind the Iranian people.

Across the Middle East, we are witnessing the advent of incredible change. From Tunisia to Jordan, Bahrain to Egypt, the chorus of voices has never been stronger, a chorus united together for change. The same refrain has been taken up in Iran and its echoes can be heard around the world.

I am proud and humbled to stand here in this chamber, the heart of our Canadian democracy. I am proud to stand united with members of all the parties in this, our plea for freedom. I am proud to lend my voice to that chorus.

History is made in moments such as these. We must never fail to seize such an opportunity and to stand for what we know is right.

Let justice and democracy flow like a mighty river.

[Member spoke in Farsi]

Human Rights Situation in IranGovernment Orders

9:50 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

Mr. Chair, the hon. member is from a riding that has a very significant Iranian-Canadian population. The member was talking about how the government cares and how he cares. I believe him to be very sincere.

I have to think the member has many constituents who care very deeply and, I suppose, also very knowingly about the state of their ancestral country. I just wonder if the member could share with us a little bit of what he has heard from the Iranian-Canadian community that he serves.

Human Rights Situation in IranGovernment Orders

9:50 p.m.

Conservative

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

Mr. Chair, there are many different immigrant groups in Canada and, certainly, many in the riding I represent.

What I have found is that more than any other group I know, the people of Iranian origin have a visceral attachment to their homeland. That is partly because they have brothers and sisters, and relatives and friends who are imperilled by the Iranian regime. It is partly because many of them have suffered through tremendous strife in recent years.

Anyone who has seen the film Persepolis will know that it depicts the plight of a young woman who was doted on by her parents and has all the opportunities that anyone could ever ask for, but who witnesses oppression, who sees an uncle dragged off to jail for political reasons and ultimately executed. She then goes and lives for some time in Europe, has several unrequited love affairs, and struggles through her life and returns to Iran. She is a metaphor for the people of Iran.

She describes so brilliantly the plight of people who strive to be free, people who are well educated, famous for their entrepreneurial spirit, people who do not see it as right or just that a fundamentalist regime holds them in the kind of shackles in which they live in Iran.

With all Canadians, I long for the day when Iran will be a bulwark of democracy in the Middle East, a country with which we can carry on full democratic and diplomatic relations, a country with which we can exchange goods and services and have our people flow back and forth, as we can with other democratic countries.

Human Rights Situation in IranGovernment Orders

9:50 p.m.

Liberal

Yasmin Ratansi Liberal Don Valley East, ON

Mr. Chair, I rise today to speak on the important matter of human rights violations in Iran.

Human rights both domestically and internationally have long been a concern of Canadians. However, this government, in its five short years, has dramatically silenced the voice of Canada on the international scene. We cannot continue on this path of insularity in an increasingly global environment.

I would like to thank the member for Mount Royal for taking leadership in asking for the take note debate tonight.

According to Freedom House, the number of new electoral democracies has ceased to grow, while the number of backsliders has increased. Countries like Thailand and Kenya, which only a few years ago seemed safely in the democratic column, have sunk into political crisis and uncertainty.

However, the last few weeks have seen a challenge to authoritarian rule in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Yemen and, most recently, in Iran. Tonight this debate is focusing on the events that are unfolding in Iran and concerns that are arising in regard to the treatment of those who are protesting.

When protests were taking place in Egypt, Iran was cheering the protesters. However, when the protesters took to the streets in Iran, they were rounded up and put in prison.

The Iranian people have suffered tremendously under this mullah regime. When the Shah was deposed, the people thought they had rid themselves of authoritarian rule. Ayatollah Khomeini had agreed to be an interim leader until democratic elections took place. The Iranian people were in for a rude awakening.

It has now been 32 years that this regime has been in power, and during that time hundreds of thousands of Iranians have been killed. The people killed were intellectuals, professors, thinkers, opposition leaders, journalists, et cetera. Some of these opposition members moved to Iraq for sanctuary, to Camp Ashraf, and they are still not safe from the mullah regime.

What has the world done? It has stood by and let this happen. When Ayatollah Khatami took over from Khomeini, the west thought they had a moderate leader, but that was not so. The west kept on appeasing the mullah regime to such an extent that it agreed to label opposition parties who were resisting the regime as terrorists.

If the Canadian government truly believes in democracy and truly fights for democratic and human rights, it is high time that it follows the example of Britain and the European Union and delists the opposition parties who are resisting the regime so that they can go back and fight the mullahs democratically.

We have heard about thousands of people who have been killed, and the killing continues. I would like to add a few names of people whose only crime has been to resist the government: Zahra Bahrami, Mohammad Ali Haj Aghaei, Ali Saremi, Jafar Kazemi and many more.

What was their crime? They supported the opposition. They challenged the government. They fought and died for change.

How are we going to help their memory survive and the memory of Zahra Kazemi, a Canadian citizen, and many others like her who died fighting for freedom?

The Iranian regime's human rights violations are state sanctioned and done with impunity. Many Iranians who have come to Canada attest to the brutality of the regime. The Iranians who fled the brutality of the regime some 30 years ago were young people, the same as we see today protesting in the streets of Iran. However, nobody paid attention to them. These young people risked their lives and those of their families to demand human rights, and the struggle is still going on.

The Iranian people are resolute. They are resisting. The diaspora wants to keep up the struggle. They want the world to help them. If the world wants to see peace, we need to help the Iranian people in their struggle.

Human rights groups have been pressing the UN and the international community to denounce the rash of executions in Iran. The groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, say at least 86 people have been executed in 2011 in Iran. They say at least eight of those killed last month were political prisoners.

Iran Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi joined the call saying that the executions may increase if the world is silent.

Canada must speak out loudly and clearly that human rights knows no borders. We must make it clear that repression and state-sanctioned murder will not go unnoticed. In a country where some 70% of the population is under 30 years old, estimates suggest that 25% to 40% of the youth is either underemployed or unemployed.

The stark realities facing this young population and their desire for change were expressed by Professor Akhavan in his testimony at the foreign affairs subcommittee on international human rights, when he said, “When young people are willing to get murdered in the streets, it is not because they are fanatics; it is because they have no hope; they are desperate. They would rather get killed than remain silent”. Canadians must not remain silent while they die.

At this point I would like to digress a little. I would like to bring some perspective on Islam, because after all, that is what the mullahs keep on saying; that this is an Islamic state. Let me elucidate what Islam is and what the Quran says.

Many people are unaware of one of the fundamental principles of Islam: respect for human beings and respect for the total creation. Islam is a religion of peace and submission to the will of God. Islam believes in the dignity of human beings. It regards human beings as the crown of creation and as such, they have to be responsible for all creation. They have to treat the resources of the earth wisely, look after the environment, look after the sick, the poor, the needy and the most vulnerable in society.

The cosmopolitan ethic in Islam stands for respect among peoples of all faith and no faith, that is an ethical respect for the dignity of the human person without any discrimination. At the conference in Amman, Jordan in 2005, where all Muslim countries were represented, the conference reaffirmed the historic plurality of the Muslim Ummah. It reinforced the consensus among all different schools of thought, of the mutual acceptance of the legitimacy of various Muslim denominations, and that pluralism should be cherished.

The Prophet of Islam has clearly stated that difference of opinion is a blessing from God. The Holy Book for the Muslims, the Quran, states that God made us all diverse people and nations so that we may know each other.

The Quran also states, “to take one life is to kill the whole of humanity” and “to save one life is to save humanity”. The Quran is very clear in what it states that Muslims should respect all religion and all people, people with religion and without religion, which is the cosmopolitan ethic.

I hope this clarifies the principles that no Baha'i, no Hindu, no Ahmadiyyas or any other denominations, no Christians, no Jews, should be persecuted by the regime of Iran.

When the west talks about Islam, it gets itself confused between the principles of Islam and the Sharia. The Sharia is man made. It is not God sanctioned. I hope that in the Iranian regime, some of the people are watching, because I would like to pose a question for them. How can these mullahs claim to be religious when they are basically violating the fundamental principles of Islam? Why hide these atrocities behind a garb of religion? It is high time that the mullahs left Iran and that democracy was brought back to Iran.

Human Rights Situation in IranGovernment Orders

10 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Chair, I am very pleased to continue my speech on the take note debate on Iran.

I found that the report of the subcommittee on Iran by the House of Commons committee was quite substantial and made very important recommendations, which I hope to deal with in my speech. Unfortunately, I was unable to get through a lot of the recommendations.

One of the recommendations I was dealing with was the one that Radio Canada International be allowed to consider programming in Farsi over its worldwide shortwave service, over conventional FM broadcasting to the gulf region and over the Internet. I want to make certain the government did follow through on that and did not just pay lip service to it and not do it.

Another recommendation was to ensure that Iranian foreign offices, bureaus or media outlets in Canada would not used by the Iranian regime as a source of threat and intimidation of the Iranian diaspora in Canada. We have seen in a number of other situations, in Canada and elsewhere, where regimes will go abroad to hunt down and threaten former citizens of their country who are involved in demonstrations and so on against their government.

In addition, the subcommittee recommended that, in communicating its condemnation of the human rights violations of the Iranian regime against its own people, the Government of Canada should use all available tools already authorized under Canada's existing immigration and visa legislation to ensure that high-ranking members of the regime would not able to access direct or indirect support from within Canadian territory.

In addition, it recommended the reduction high-level interaction with Iranian government officials and to make any invitations extended to Iranian officials conditional upon effective actions taken by the Iranian government to improve the human rights situation in Iran.

In addition, there was a recommendation that the Government of Canada, in communicating its condemnation of the human rights violations perpetrated by members of Iran's state security agencies against the Iranian people, use all available tools authorized by existing immigration and visa policies and legislation to deny entry into Canada to members of Iran's security agencies, including members of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Also there was a recommendation that the Government of Canada institute targeted sanctions, including travel bans and asset freezes against those individuals within the Iranian government and the state security forces who were known to have committed human rights violations.

In the case of Egypt, Mubarak and his family have a reported $70 billion. The question now is where is the money and can the current Egyptian authorities track it down and get it. In the case of Tunisia, some of the ruling family are in Canada. The question is what we can do to try to track down these assets and return the people and the assets to the new authorities in Tunisia.

A very important recommendation of the committee is the idea of the targeted sanctions. I mentioned what happened in Libya number of years ago when countries took action against Libya and froze Libya out of world affairs and froze its economic opportunities. Libya suffered a lot for a number of years until Colonel Gaddafi came forward and renounced terrorism and promised not to be involved in any more state-sponsored terrorism activities. Only then did the sanctions get lifted and the restrictions removed. Now we see a new tourism industry developing there, much more activity in the oil fields and other activities.

If a country like Iran can look out in the world and see what is the worse possible situation that could develop and happen to it, if it continues violating human rights and if it also sees what happened when Libya gave up participating in state-sponsored terrorism, then it will see it is very short-sighted to continue to do what it is.

It has been reported by several speakers tonight, in a lot of very interesting speeches, that the Iranian population is very young, well-educated and highly motivated. It is only a matter of time before the theocracy and the current government starts to crumble. That just leads to increased repression. However, at the end of the day that will not overcome mass actions on the streets. We saw that in 2009, after the Ahmadinejad re-election. We see it happening right now. It is possible that if things work out the way we hope they will, conditions may change, as they did in Egypt and in Tunisia.

Once again, we talked about this being a moving target, that we do not know what will happen at the end of the day. Members will remember that in 1979, after the Shah of Iran was overthrown, people were hoping for the best for Iran. It was only a matter of time, I am just not sure how long it was, but I think it was just a matter of weeks or months before the theocracy took root and the Ayatollah Khomeini came back from France and assumed power.

I am sure all of us here hope that will not what will happen in Egypt, or in Tunisia, or in any other of these countries.

I know we sit back, in Canada, with our democratic ideals on our chests, and we recommend those ideals and do what we can to promote those ideals. However, we are dealing with different countries and they do not necessarily always think the way we do. There are a lot of competing interests.

I remember being in Morocco in 1970 and then going back 10 years ago. I saw tremendous changes in that time. I do not know how democratic the government is, but the education level of the population is much higher than it was in 1970. In 1970 it was a relatively poor agrarian country, with most people wearing djellabas and very few people wearing blue jeans. Today, almost anybody younger than me wears western dress. Also, the country was trying to get into the European Union.

Looking at that, Morocco would be a good candidate for the type of democratic reforms that we would be trying to pursue. However, I cannot say the same thing about Iran because I have not been there. However, if we assume that it has a young, educated population, it is a very good sign that it may be willing to adopt a democratic approach.

Human Rights Situation in IranGovernment Orders

10:10 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

Mr. Chair, the discussion of comparisons between the revolution of 1979 in Iran and what could be categorized as a revolution, which is probably a good way of describing what is underway in Egypt and Tunisia, are not simply a change of heads of state but actually of the regime and its underlying philosophy. That I think qualifies as a revolution.

That thought made me go back and think about another comparison that had been made that I read about many years ago between the Iranian revolution of 1979 and certain earlier revolutions, the one in France in 1789 and the one in Russia in 1917.

I remember reading a book published by a man named Crane Brinton which I would recommend to the hon. member, in which he looks at the patterns of revolutions. It is called The Anatomy of Revolution. It talks about revolutions which unfortunately more often than not do not result in additional liberties, at least not in the long run. He does not say it exactly this way but it appears to be because if we lack a framework of laws and a constitutional framework on which to base that revolutionary change, the danger is that naked force will have to be applied and someone in the end applies that naked force.

That is a pretty good analysis of what happened in 1979 in Iran. I think he is right in assuming that the population there is relatively sophisticated but they were in 1979 as well.

I would ask the member if he shares this concern. Should any change occur there it would probably be best to try and do so within some form of recognition of a legitimate set of laws that could guide the transition.

The member, like all of us, would like to see what happened in eastern Europe in 1989 serve as the model where the transformation from dictatorship to democracy took place because law was respected as revolutionary change took place.

That is kind of half comment and half question. I will see if the member has any thoughts on that.

Human Rights Situation in IranGovernment Orders

10:15 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Chair, I thought, and I could be wrong, that in 1979 in Iran after coming off the years of the Shah, that once the Ayatollah Khomeini came back from France that country went through the process of consolidating power, but its power was consolidated as a theocracy. More importantly, the revolution became an export. I remember being in Athens, Greece one day and there was a big demonstration in favour of the Ayatollah Khomeini.

In many respects some revolutions are insular to the country and that is how we hope they would be. But other revolutions that develop on an ideological basis actually become beacons to the world and are exported.

That 1979 revolution in Iran seemed to be an exported revolution. The country spent as much time exporting its ideas to other countries and fomenting activities to support other revolutions and revolutionary efforts as much as it did trying to satisfy its own people. But there did not seem to be as many demands from its own people in those days. I see it a little different now. Never having been there it seems to me that the people have local demands. We cannot forget that the people went through a war for a number of years with Iraq and that was a very consuming war between Saddam Hussein, who started the war, and Iran.

At a certain point the people will want to see improvement in their own lives, not a degradation of their lives. Even today in Iraq people have not achieved the standard of living they had before Saddam Hussein started to take the country down. The people were higher but they have gone lower. People in Iran right now expect things to get better. Hopefully they will become more insular and will not try to export the revolution and their foreign policy as they are right now.

I hope that answers part of the member's question.

Human Rights Situation in IranGovernment Orders

10:15 p.m.

Calgary East Alberta

Conservative

Deepak Obhrai ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs

Mr. Chair, as we have heard this evening, the human rights situation in Iran is deteriorating rapidly. We have heard disheartening reports of the denial of rights of religious minorities, due process violations, torture and politically motivated executions. Even juvenile executions are on the rise in that country. Iran has violated all of its obligations under international conventions.

Let me deal for a minute with the report of the Subcommittee on International Human Rights on Iran, which highlights all of these violations. My colleague, the member for Lanark, is the chair of the subcommittee which issued the report. I want to thank him and the subcommittee for doing such a tremendous job of highlighting these issues and making the report available.

For thousands of years Iran has been a civilization. It is respected around the world because of its culture, human rights, et cetera. The Persian civilization is one of the cornerstones of civilizations around the world. This is a testament to the Persian people of Iran. We are fortunate to have a large Iranian community here in Canada who are contributing not only in culture but in all aspects of human development and history.

Every nation on the earth recognizes and respects Persians and Iranians. That respect has been there throughout the history of time. The people of Iran are now being abused by the current regime that is in power. However, because of their goodwill, other countries around the world are reluctant to speak out about the human rights violations taking place in that country. The shah was overthrown because he did not have a good human rights record. We must never forget that it was the people of Iran who wanted that change, just like the people of Egypt wanted a change. When the shah regime was overthrown, the people of Iran looked at this bureaucracy that has been historically provided and they put their trust into this regime of Khomeini's and the clerics who have served this Islamic revolution. An Islamic revolution does not mean that a regime should suppress the human rights of the citizens of its own country.

What is Iran doing today? Is Iran doing anything other than it did with the Persian empire to settle this? No. The biggest achievement of that government is the biggest repression of its own citizens. Should it get a Nobel prize for the oppression of its own citizens, sentencing them to death, hangings without trials and juvenile killings? What are these leaders doing? They forget their own strength. They are doing this to stay in power.

Look at the demonstrations that are currently taking place in Iran. The current president would not admit that he has lost, nor will he stand up to scrutiny. Instead, he sent out his goons to hit the opposition. We are highly disturbed by the fact that there are people in the parliament of that country who are calling for the execution, I repeat, the execution of its opposition leaders. We cannot imagine that so-called elected officials anywhere in the world would call for the execution of their own citizens or their own leaders. That is a serious flaw.

The Iranian revolution has betrayed its own people, nobody else. The people who are suffering are its own people. Any time an Iranian tries to give a speech or say something, the Iranian government throws the person in jail and, if it can get away with it, will actually execute him or her.

Let us talk about the woman Iran was going to stone to death. President Lula of Brazil, the biggest friend of Iran, had to intervene and say he was going to take the lady to Brazil. That is how bad the situation in Iran is.

This government stands up for its policy of supporting human rights and democracy. Today we are speaking about what is happening in Iran and I hope more people and countries speak out. Even the countries that recognize Iran as a bastion of civilization and have respect for it, they need to speak against this regime. We are not talking about the Iranian people, we are talking about the regime that is in power and wants to stay there at all costs, even by the killing of its own people.

Iran's diplomats travel around the world. I am a Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs. I travel around the world and meet with Iranians. The regime is using what it has gained in the past, saying that it should be respected. Yes, we would like to respect the Iranians. Canadians of Iranian origin have shown how much they can be respected, but there is a difference. The difference is the regime. The regime is a murderous one. I am sorry that I am using very harsh words. I have been there. Let us really look at what is going on there.

Demonstrators on the streets of Tehran Iranians are dying. Who are they killed by? They are killed by their own government. They are not being killed by somebody else. They are not being killed by outside forces. They are being killed by their own government because they want freedom.

How can we tolerate that government? What happened to the Iranian revolution? What happened when the shah was thrown out? One dictator was thrown out with the intention that the aspirations of that nation would be met, but look at what has happened.

What is even more disturbing is the current president has absolutely no qualms about killing people, in suppressing them. If he calls himself a democrat or a custodian of the great Persian culture, then why would he not listen to his own people? This is a president who has, in my opinion, let down not only his country but the Persian culture that everybody around the world respects. It is, indeed, a very big tragedy in that country.

Human Rights Situation in IranGovernment Orders

10:25 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Chair, I wanted to ask the Minister of State of Foreign Affairs for the Americas and Consular Affairs earlier about consular services in Iran. She talked about there being consular services in 260 locations and over 600 cases per day. I am trying to find out how many cases there would be in Iran on a daily basis over the past year. I do not expect the member is going to be able to provide the answer tonight, but if he could get it in the next day or two, that would be fine.

The parliamentary secretary is probably aware of the report from the Subcommittee on International Human Rights on Iran. The report has been out since December 2010 and has a list of 24 recommendations on what the Government of Canada should be doing regarding the Iranian situation. As we know, the situation is changing on a daily basis.

I would ask the parliamentary secretary whether the government has fulfilled these recommendations, which ones it has accomplished and which ones it is currently working on?

Human Rights Situation in IranGovernment Orders

10:25 p.m.

Conservative

Deepak Obhrai Conservative Calgary East, AB

Mr. Chair, I will get the information for the hon. member on how many Iranian consular cases there are.

As a person who was formerly in charge in consular cases, I can say that Iran is one of the most difficult places to deal with consular issues because the Government of Iran does not respect the rights of its own citizens. I will get back to him on that issue.

I would remind all Canadians that this government has, on a consistent basis, stood up at the United Nations to condemn Iran. We have worked very hard to ensure the United Nations' resolution condemns Iran on its human rights violations. This government has been very successful in getting the UN General Assembly to pass resolutions condemning Iran on its human rights record.

We put in a tremendous amount of diplomatic effort. We worked very hard. We called on our friends. We are very pleased that year after year we get our opinion out to the world. The regime in Iran should be ashamed of its record.

Human Rights Situation in IranGovernment Orders

10:30 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Chair, does the parliamentary secretary know what the government's actions and plans are relating to the persecuted Baha'i community in Iran. As he knows, there are certain actions that the United Nations can take?

Since the 1980s, over 200 Baha'i members have been executed, thousands have been arrested, detained and interrogated, and tens of thousands have been deprived of jobs, pensions and educational opportunities. Their holy places have been confiscated, vandalized and destroyed.

A simple example is that the instruction is not to allow people into universities if they are Baha'i, which is totally against the UN declaration on human rights, which Iran professes to uphold.

I am just wondering about the government's actions and proposed actions.

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10:30 p.m.

Conservative

Deepak Obhrai Conservative Calgary East, AB

Mr. Chair, the member has highlighted exactly what I have been talking about. The Baha'i community are Iranian citizens. The government is suppressing its own citizens. Suppressing the Baha'i is suppressing Iran's own citizens. This is how bad the government is.

That is why we have, time after time, year after year, at the UN General Assembly, raised the issue of Iran's human rights record. The member has highlighted, very rightly, this issue. I think we should be speaking very strongly against the Government of Iran because it exports terrorism to Lebanon and it supports Hezbollah. However, that is not the issue.

The biggest issue is that the Iranian government suppresses its own citizens, including its own citizens, the Baha'i, as the member pointed out. That government should be condemned in no uncertain terms.

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10:30 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

Mr. Chair, I want to congratulate my hon. colleague on the very high level tone of his comments.

He has made it very clear, as all members have this evening, that there is a fundamental distinction between the Iranian regime and the Iranian people. So often we talk about condemning Iran or any other country where the regime has been acting in a manner unfitting a national government.

The important point is that the Iranians themselves are the victims, including the Persian people, the ethnic majority within the country. Although the minorities are oppressed, the oppression that occurs of individuals who are opponents to the regime, who are challenging the regime or who are seeking more freedom is occurring as much to Persians as to any other group.

I appreciate both that colleague and all colleagues for having stressed that it is a regime here that is acting in such a terrible manner, not a people.

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10:30 p.m.

Conservative

Deepak Obhrai Conservative Calgary East, AB

Mr. Chair, the hon. member is the chair of the committee that did the human rights study on Iran. The recommendations that have come from his committee to my committee of foreign affairs are highly appreciated and respected.

The hon. member is absolutely right when he says that the whole world knows about this. One of the biggest tragedies is when a government in power tries to stay in power by oppressing its own people. We can look at what happened in Egypt where all those years of that oppression is gone.

It is important to recognize that we cannot suppress the legitimate rights of the people. In Iran, people will die for their rights and they will die for the rights of their children to speak and have freedom.

We must recognize and salute these martyrs on the streets of Tehran today who are fighting this oppressive regime. We should stand up for those protesters who are seeking nothing but the basic freedom all Canadians enjoy. That is all they want and they deserve our support.

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10:35 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Chair, I want to emphasize one aspect that I talked about a couple of times earlier tonight and that is the persecution of the Baha'i community in Iran. I have a Baha'i community in my riding that is a very peaceful, loving, open society with an open religion. The people in that community are shocked, troubled, sad and horrified at the treatment of their fellow Baha'is in Iran.

This is a total violation of human rights, among many other things that have been talked about this evening. As we know, in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, one of the grounds upon which we are not allowed to discriminate is religion. Baha'i, being a well known religion, would be an obvious ground for discrimination.

The Iranian government says that it does not discriminate and yet the UN representative has brought forward concrete documentation of a memorandum of policy from 1993 that is not only secretly discriminating but does so publicly, right in their papers on their policy. In that particular memorandum, it says that the progress and development of the Baha'i community shall be blocked. In it there are directives that deny the Baha'i people access to higher education and many types of employment. This is just one example of overt discrimination.

About three years ago, some of the leaders of the Baha'i religion, which, as everyone knows, is a peaceful, open type of religion, were whisked away to jail and put into horrendous conditions. They remain there still today, for no good reason other than they practised a religion different from that of the president and the supreme leader.

That particular memorandum that I was talking about was not something done by lower level officials. It was actually signed by the president of Iran at the time and the supreme leader, the Ayatollah Khomeini.

It t has been a long-time persecution. It is not new. There is denial of this religion to organize as a peaceful religious community. The government and government officials make every effort they can to stop that. As I talked about previously, there are numerous arrests as a result of such types of activity. Many are denied the right to life, liberty and security of person. Their possessions are often just taken away or they are put into jail and lose everything they have for no good reason at all other than they are Baha'i. They are denied access to advanced education when that is found out. As is well known in Canada, how can one progress without an education.

Community properties of the religion are confiscated and destroyed. Imagine how we would feel in Canada or how a Muslim community would feel if the government came in and destroyed all the mosques or decided we were not having these religions and tore down all the churches, mosques and synagogues and any of the holy places in our country. There would be an outrage. Quietly, passively and peacefully, the Baha'is are outraged as well, but, of course, in their position they are helpless.

The great nature of Canada is to help the most vulnerable, whether that is at home or abroad. It is one of our greatest traits. Who could be more helpless than this tiny minority of this very peaceful religion?

They are also denied their civil rights and liberties and there is much incitement to hatred, based on religion and belief. Even sometimes, through this hatred, the government does not have to take action because it incites other people to do that.

There has been long-term persecution, but in recent years, since the 1980s, over 200 people have been executed, often without a fair trial, without good reason, without justifiable legal reasons, extra-judicial killings. Thousands are arrested and interrogated. Tens of thousands are deprived of their jobs, their pensions and their educational opportunities.

The member for Mount Royal talked about the various processes that were available to us at the United Nations to take strong actions against this type of persecution. Some countries in the western world are not taking those actions. In fact, they are not even participating in the sanctions. They continue on with trade as normal.

Because Canada has such a great influence in the world, we can certainly bring that to bear on those countries that do not do as much as they could through their economy, through sanctions, through the international community to make it difficult for the Iranian government in order to try to stop it from taking actions not only against the Baha'i community, but against people in our line of work. We are outraged when we see what it does it to people who does not agree with the government, including the parliamentarians. It wants want to execute the leader of the opposition and opposition members in Parliament. It is so outrageous it is almost inconceivable.

Of all the groups of people who have the least power, the peaceful Baha'is are obviously one of those groups.

Last night I had dinner with people who originally lived in another cruel dictatorship. We talked about they ways we helped out. We send money. We spend our volunteer time and some of our personal time to work for freedom in those cruel dictatorships. It seems so tiny and insignificant compared to the people who live there, putting their lives on the line every day, like the Baha'i leaders, like the people who stand up for a peaceful religion. They know the price could be execution, torture or incarceration. They know they could lose everything they have. Probably most painful of all is they could lose family members. When it seems so insignificant, it does not take much to think we should try to do more, as much as we possibly can from the privileged, wealthy, peaceful and free state in which we live.

The great Nobel Peace Prize Winner, Aung San Suu Kyi once said, “Please use your freedom to fight for ours”. That is what we should do. That is what all members of Parliament were doing tonight in the House. As was said by the member for Mount Royal, who instigated the debate, now we have to translate this goodwill, the great tradition of protection that Canada has into actions by encouraging the international community and its allies to do what they can through international law and the United Nations.

We appreciate the great outrage the government has shown, just like all the parties here tonight. We certainly look for great leadership from the government in following some of the steps that one of the most famous people in the world on human rights, the member for Mount Royal, has outlined as procedures for Canada. He provided a list of procedures that we can follow ourselves, as well as through the United Nations, so that we can say that we have done our best to help those innocent people like the Baha'i, who are so downtrodden and are in such horrifying situations, ones that we would never want our families to be in.

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10:45 p.m.

Calgary East Alberta

Conservative

Deepak Obhrai ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs

Mr. Chair, I want to thank the hon. member for highlighting the persecution the Baha'is face in Iran.

As far as we are concerned, the Baha'i in Iran are Iranian citizens. Like any other Iranian citizens, it is deplorable that their human rights have been taken away by the regime.

The cornerstone of our government's policy is upholding human rights. In that respect, we have worked, as the hon. member has suggested, at the United Nations every year to sponsor and pass a resolution in the General Assembly condemning Iran for its human rights record. To get that resolution passed, we make tremendous diplomatic efforts to get the world on our side, as the member has rightly pointed out. That resolution has actually passed in the General Assembly and has angered the Government of Iran, which has mounted a diplomatic offensive against us as a result. That is fine; we do not mind that.

We work very hard with the international community exactly as the member has recommended. We have been doing that for many years at the UN General Assembly in putting Iran's human rights abuses on record, and these have been condemned.

I would say it is one of our most successful diplomatic initiatives that we have had in condemning the human rights situation in Iran, including the discrimination against the Baha'i, which is one area of discrimination in Iran.

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10:45 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Chair, I would like to thank the member for that. I certainly appreciate the government's strong stance year after year at the United Nations, as just outlined by the member.

In some of these situations, such as in Iran or other areas where we have uniquely horrible autocratic governments violating human rights, we have a nice set of very well worked out and careful policies in how we do things and how money can be spent. It is great to have good controls, but sometimes they are not liberal or open enough. We may need to have exceptions so that we can help democratic groups, for instance. They might not be part of those governments and may not even be within the borders of the states we are dealing with. They may need certain expenses met that are not covered under our present policy.

I would encourage the government, the ministers, the secretaries of state and parliamentary secretaries and the policy-makers in the PMO and the minister's offices to have the courage, when necessary, to make exceptions to the funding rules, when we know these are needed to be most effective in dealing with the problem. With the good will, courage and strength the government has just outlined on these issues, it could make those exemptions.

To the bureaucrats in the department of foreign affairs, at CIDA, and at the Privy Council Office, they need the courage to say in memoranda when speaking truth to power that we need these exemptions if we are going to be effective in this particular unusual situation to help these oppressed people. Certainly the dictators of the autocratic governments in those countries are not following the rule of law and, certainly, we do not want our laws to be so inflexible that we cannot help.

Thus I just encourage our people, where necessary, either to revise the regulations or to ask for exceptions where we could be most helpful with the resources we have to help fight these terrible violations of human rights.

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10:50 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Chair, I was happy to hear the member talk about the Baha'is. I recall being in Israel in 1979 and visiting the Baha'i Temple in Haifa, which is the world headquarters for the Baha'is.

There is some very disturbing information about how the Baha'is are treated in Iran. Two hundred and two Baha'is have been killed since the Islamic revolution. Many more were imprisoned, expelled from schools and workplaces, denied various benefits, and denied registration for marriage. Their homes have been ransacked. They have been banned from attending university or holding government jobs. Several hundred of them have received prison sentences for their religious beliefs.

I saw some other statistics which indicated that when the Ayatollah Khomeini came to power the number of imprisonments mushroomed. Under the Shah's regime, fewer than 100 political prisoners had been executed between 1971 and 1979, but the Ayatollah Khomeini took power in 1979, and 7,900 were executed between 1981 and 1985 as the prison system was expanded.

During the Shah's era some prisoners who were interviewed talked about boredom and monotony, but prisoners typically used the words “fear”, “death”, “terror” and “horror” to describe the Islamic republic's prisons. People revolted against the Shah of Iran but they received something worse. That is an interesting observation.

I have run out of time to ask my question but I am sure the member will be able to provide a response.

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10:50 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Chair, I thank the hon. member for his understanding of the Baha'i. I also thank the parliamentary secretary for his support for the Baha'i.

I want to mention again the seven Baha'i leaders who were recently arrested, Mrs. Kamalabadi, Mr. Khanjani, Mr. Naeimi, Mr. Rezaie, Mrs. Sabet, Mr. Tavakkoli and Mr. Tizfahm. Months went by without any formal charges being laid against them, and when charges were laid, their lawyer said there was nothing to substantiate the charges. On August 8, 2010, 20-year prison sentences were announced for these seven people. Unfortunately, I do not have enough time to talk about their case.

First and foremost in our mind is that unacceptable situation and we should fight it. Three hundred and fifty-four Baha'is have been arrested since 2004. Sixty-two are currently in prison and 137 have been arrested, released on bail and awaiting trial.

Obviously, we need to be strong, as do all our allies. We need to take these cases to the United Nations. We cannot allow this medieval type of activity to continue in the modern day, the violation of the human rights of not only the Baha'i but, as the parliamentary secretary said, all the other citizens of Iran who do not agree with the government.

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10:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Assistant Deputy Chair Conservative Barry Devolin

Resuming debate.

There being no further members rising, pursuant to Standing Order 53.1, the committee will rise and I will leave the chair.

(Government Business No. 11 reported)

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10:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

It being 10:54 p.m., the House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 10:55 p.m.)