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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

8:25 p.m.

Calgary Nose Hill Alberta

Conservative

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Human Rights Situation in IranGovernment Orders

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

Liberal

Mario Silva Liberal Davenport, ON

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

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

Human Rights Situation in IranGovernment Orders

8:35 p.m.

Conservative

Diane Ablonczy Conservative Calgary Nose Hill, AB

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

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

Human Rights Situation in IranGovernment Orders

8:40 p.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston NDP Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

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

The first recommendation is:

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

The second one is:

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

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

Human Rights Situation in IranGovernment Orders

8:40 p.m.

Conservative

Diane Ablonczy Conservative Calgary Nose Hill, AB

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

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

Human Rights Situation in IranGovernment Orders

8:40 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

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

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

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

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

Human Rights Situation in IranGovernment Orders

8:40 p.m.

Conservative

Diane Ablonczy Conservative Calgary Nose Hill, AB

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

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

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

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

Human Rights Situation in IranGovernment Orders

8:45 p.m.

Liberal

Mario Silva Liberal Davenport, ON

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

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

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

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

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

Human Rights Watch remarks:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Human Rights Situation in IranGovernment Orders

8:55 p.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston NDP Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

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

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

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

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

Human Rights Situation in IranGovernment Orders

8:55 p.m.

Liberal

Mario Silva Liberal Davenport, ON

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

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

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

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

Human Rights Situation in IranGovernment Orders

8:55 p.m.

Calgary Nose Hill Alberta

Conservative

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

Mr. Chair, I am very interested in the work the committee and members did. I know they have worked very hard and have a great deal of expertise.

I have a question about consular cases, not surprisingly. In my last answer I referred to Mr. Ghassemi-Shall's case and I should tell the House that I inadvertently got it mixed up with Mr. Malekpour's case as I have been dealing with both of them. I apologize for that and I will try to correct the record in Hansard.

My question is about Mr. Ghassemi-Shall, who is a Canadian citizen and was arrested on charges of spying in Iran, and Mr. Malekpour, a computer programmer, who is not a Canadian citizen but a permanent resident. Did the committee come to any conclusions about new avenues, different avenues, more effective avenues that we as Canadians can pursue in order to support and assist individuals like Mr. Ghassemi-Shall and Mr. Malekpour and their families who are in these terrible circumstances?

Human Rights Situation in IranGovernment Orders

9 p.m.

Liberal

Mario Silva Liberal Davenport, ON

Mr. Chair, we are very much concerned also about consular cases.

We tend to focus on witnesses who actually have on the ground expertise and are witnessing also what is taking place in terms of the human rights abuses taking place in Iran. The reports that came back to us are very shocking and very alarming. We are talking about mass murders of people. We are talking about a government that silences critics, imprisons critics, tortures them, kills them. According to Human Rights Watch, there are mass executions of over 100 people just this year alone, which makes it per capita probably the number one country in terms of mass executions, far outreaching any other country.

In terms of specific consular cases, many of these are done, as the minister would probably know, through diplomatic channels and through different friendly countries who might be able to assist us. We are asking the government to take whatever steps are necessary. It has our support to bring Canadians home safely. We have seen what could happen if a Canadian citizen, or someone who wanted to reside in this country, are captured by the Iranian regime, once they are jailed without even a fair trial, which they never have, the possibility of them being executed is quite great. We have seen what happened with the journalist, Ms. Kazemi. That was a situation where she was arrested and killed. That was basically what took place.

We have to act in an urgent manner, because the lives of those who are taken by the Iranian regime are at risk. It really is a question of life and death. It is not a question of waiting too long. We have to bring pressure and assistance to our neighbours through whatever country that will be supportive. To get their assistance is very important. That would be the appropriate way.

The other concrete thing we said is that we have to support NGOs both domestically and internationally who are working on this file and who could also be witnesses to what atrocities are taking place and to document it. That also requires financial assistance from the government.

Human Rights Situation in IranGovernment Orders

9 p.m.

Conservative

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

Mr. Chair, I may be rising on the same matter that the member for Mount Royal is about to rise on.

I want to emphasize that the nature of this debate is about the worsening domestic human rights situation in Iran, but it seems to me that there has been no progress whatsoever domestically in Iran on the regime's willingness to continue to argue and to incite in favour of a massive genocide in which it seeks and advocates the destruction of an entire other country, the state of Israel.

I would invite the member's comments on that ongoing worry.

Human Rights Situation in IranGovernment Orders

9 p.m.

Liberal

Mario Silva Liberal Davenport, ON

Mr. Chair, I want to thank my hon. colleague for the question and also for the excellent leadership he provides as chair of our subcommittee. It is a great pleasure to be a member of that committee because we tend to find consensus in most issues, unlike some of the other committees where there is a little bit of antagonism. I feel very close to the members of the committee and I am very proud to sit on the committee.

The member makes a very important observation that we have also discussed in our committee, which is the genocidal tendencies of Ahmadinejad's Iran toward the state of Israel and the Jewish people. That is one of the reasons why we are asking that the government make sure that in relation to our obligations under the Geneva Conventions and the specific obligations that Canada has as a signatory to the Geneva Conventions, to enforce them.

We are talking about also raising this with the permanent members of the Security Council. We are asking that this be brought before the human rights council and other agencies. We also request that this issue be raised at the highest possible level, because we have a responsibility through the genocide convention, specifically article III, which I mentioned before, that this matter be dealt with and appropriate action taken to hold Iran accountable for its actions.

Human Rights Situation in IranGovernment Orders

9:05 p.m.

Liberal

Irwin Cotler Liberal Mount Royal, QC

Mr. Chair, I want to join, also, in commending my colleague for his excellent stewardship of the Subcommittee on International Human Rights of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development. As well, I want to recognize my colleague, the member for Davenport, who served as vice-chair of the committee, for his commendable work and submission this evening.

One of the recommendations of the foreign affairs committee and of the subcommittee had to do with providing a civil recourse for victims of gross human rights violations by removing the immunity under the State Immunity Act for foreign officials who perpetrated such violations.

I wonder if the member for Davenport could comment on that recommendation.

Human Rights Situation in IranGovernment Orders

9:05 p.m.

Liberal

Mario Silva Liberal Davenport, ON

Mr. Chair, first, I want to thank the member for Mount Royal for his excellent work, not just on this file, but specific on that issue of the State Immunity Act, which he has put forward to ensure that the government in fact allows the legislation so that we can get after those individuals who are creating and perpetrating both genocide and hateful language. That particular legislation needs to be enacted as soon as possible by the government.

Human Rights Situation in IranGovernment Orders

9:05 p.m.

Conservative

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

Mr. Chair, I am here in my capacity today as the chair of the Subcommittee on International Human Rights of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development. I want to take members through the history of the hearings we have had and some of the very extensive evidence we heard at committee in the course of hearings that started under a different chairman in 2007 and continued on under my chairmanship in 2008-09. We thought we could wrap the committee up and then realized that we had to continue on in the wake of the repression following the rigged Iranian elections and the subsequent crackdown. We produced a report and just recently have had hearings again into further abuses in Iran. Just yesterday we heard some testimony.

When we are dealing with human rights violations on a vast scale we become numb to them. As I was preparing my remarks, I was put in mind of a saying that is attributed, perhaps apocryphally, to Joseph Stalin that “one death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic”.

To make the point about just how awful the human rights situation is in Iran, I thought I might draw upon a piece of testimony.

I should mention as I begin that when I was in university I studied Russian literature. Russian literature is rich in prison diaries of people who describe what happened to them, the horrible situation in the gulag, Dostoevsky describing the situation to the czars.

Nothing can surpass the testimony which we heard at committee from Ahmad Batebi:

I was kept for 17 months in a small room by myself, and that room was no more than a washroom. This situation caused health problems. They took me twice for execution. In one case, I was taken for execution with a group of others. Of course, I was not executed. I was in the middle, with one man on the left and another on the right. They blindfolded us and forced us to stand on top of a chair, as if to hang us. They pulled my blindfold aside a bit so I could see what was happening to the other two. These were people who were imprisoned next to me in small cells. I saw their execution.

He goes on to describe some specific tortures to which he was also subjected, but that gives us an idea. That story has been repeated in other versions many thousands of times in Iran over the course of the past three decades.

There have been periods in the past three decades under the current regime that have been worse. There have been periods that have been better. There have been times when one group has been singled out and times when another group has been singled out. At the moment dissidents, those who are calling out for democracy, are a particular target as the government seeks to crush dissent.

The government has a long record of going after groups of all description. For example, there is religious repression in Iran, which includes, as others have noted, the murderous oppression of the Baha'í minority, the largest religious minority in Iran.

But it also includes the repression of Iran's Christian and Jewish populations. It also includes, perhaps to a lesser degree but nonetheless significant, repression of Iran's Sufi and Sunni populations, and it includes the repression of dissident Shia clerics, including the imprisonment for over 20 years of a prominent Shia cleric who issued a fatwa against the murderous behaviour of the regime toward the Baha'í. It was religious repression on a massive scale.

Iran is a country of many nationalities. Under the current Iranian regime it has become a prison house of nationalities. The oppression of, for example, the sizeable Azeri population. The population of Azeri in Iran is perhaps as large or even larger than the population of Azeri in Azerbaijan. They are significantly oppressed.

There is a very large population of Baluchis. They are very significantly oppressed. Arabs face similar oppression. Kurds face oppression.

To give a sense of what that is like, I thought I would quote from some testimony relating to the Baluchi minority. Fakteh Zamani, when testifying before our committee on March 24, 2009, said the following:

What I have heard from Baluchis is that there is a special judge appointed by the government to try these cases. Confessions have been obtained under severe torture, and these people are tried in 10 to 15 minutes in their cells, without a prosecutor or a defence lawyer present. Just because of the special Baluchi situation, a judge shows up and asks a few questions of this tortured individual and sentences them to death. There are hundreds of Baluchis on death row.

That is ethnic oppression.

Iran has a large and quite well-educated population. It has a cosmopolitan past. Tehran is a very cosmopolitan city.

Women acquired, prior to the current regime, a relatively significant role in society. The repression and the stripping away of those women's rights is a prominent feature of the human rights oppression of the current regime.

Trade unionists are repressed. We have heard testimony to that effect.

Sexual minorities are oppressed in a particularly grotesque way. Male homosexuals, gay men, are executed. Being a gay man is a terminal offence in Iran.

However, for peculiar reasons, it is acceptable to get a sex change operation. Sometimes Iranian gays have effectively been forced to undergo unwanted sex change operations to escape the death penalty. Many Iranian gays who do escape are currently in a situation of being effectively unrecognized refugees trapped in Turkey.

Young people are similarly subject to peculiar and extraordinary persecution, unrivalled anywhere else in the world. The majority of the executions of minors in the world takes place in Iran.

If one treats all forms of the death penalty as being a kind of persecution, then Iran is a world leader. In terms of per capita executions it leads every other country in the world. There is some evidence to suggest that with the current increase in executions, it may now be the leader in an absolute number context. Remember that this is a country with 70 million people, which is large but not as large as China with 1.2 billion people. At this point there may actually be more executions in Iran than there are even in China, making it tragically a world leader in a very sad way.

The question arises, could the situation in Iran get worse? We are talking about the worsening human rights situation in Iran. The answer is yes, it could, and it has been worse at certain points in the past. Such a rise of oppression into an outright reign of terror is entirely possible.

To make that point, I will conclude by turning once again to our testimony. Dr. Abbas Milani, who testified before us in October 2009, said that in the past 30 years in Iran, “there have been moments of respite and moments of true revolutionary terror”. He pointed out to us that in 1988 there was the “execution of an estimated 4,000 prisoners, who were serving time for other crimes, in order to cleanse the prisons of potential opponents”. This could happen again on just as massive a scale.

The prisons were cleared in 1988, according to a witness from Amnesty International, largely to make space for more prisoners. It was effectively a form of housecleaning.

A regime that can do that kind of thing is obviously one that we must speak openly about. I am glad that all members were willing to do so today and it has been a privilege to speak to this matter.

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9:15 p.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston NDP Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Mr. Chair, I want to note that the member is the chair of the Subcommittee on International Human Rights and it has been a pleasure to work with him over the last number of years.

One of the recommendations that came from the subcommittee was to do with the broadcast of Farsi into Iran. Young people are using Twitter and other forms of communication on the Internet, which could very well be shut down or controlled, or could lead to their capture. I would like the member's comments on the recommendation of the committee. Has he heard any reaction from our government on that suggestion?

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9:15 p.m.

Conservative

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

Mr. Chair, to answer the second question first, I have not heard a reaction.

On that recommendation, I have to confess that when the committee was hearing testimony, I remember thinking to myself that a chair is not supposed to express any opinion on matters that do not strictly relate to the rules. I remember thinking at the time that shortwave transmissions are an out-of-date technology and we hear broadcasts on the Internet, and given the fact that Iran has a well-connected, well-wired population and quite a bit of Internet and technical savvy, there was really no need for the old-fashioned broadcasting over the airwaves.

Having watched events in Tunisia and Egypt and the shutting down of the Internet as an attempt to control the population, I have realized that the thoughts I had privately were incorrect. I am only now expressing them to say that I realize that I had been incorrect about them and I did not express them at the time when I might have had some impact on the committee.

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9:20 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Chair, I know the member sits on the subcommittee and I am aware of its report. It contains 24 recommendations and I have read them. I realize the report was finished in December 2010, not that long ago, but events are unfolding rather quickly. Could he give me a rundown as to how many of the recommendations have been dealt with specifically?

I also had a question about consular services, but I will ask that later.

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9:20 p.m.

Conservative

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

Mr. Chair, normally after a report is issued, at some point the government issues a response, but if it is a report of the House, there is a requirement that the government respond to it.

It is important to get concurrence in the report from the House. At this point, that has not happened. That is not to say the government should not be looking at it and responding to it, but that would ensure that point by point, all 24 recommendations would be dealt with, perhaps not in the manner the committee or the House would most want but, nonetheless, there is a requirement that it be done.

That being said, I cannot point to my knowing anything specific as an insider. Although I am on the government side, I am not actually a member of the government in the sense of knowing government secrets. I suppose if I were, I would not be able to share them extemporaneously, so I am going to be of less help than I wish I could be.

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9:20 p.m.

Liberal

Mario Silva Liberal Davenport, ON

Mr. Chair, I want to commend my hon. colleague on his excellent speech and the work he does in the committee.

The member stated very clearly what is faced by a lot of the minority groups in Iran, whether it be the Baluchis, the Baha'is, or some of the minority Christian and Jewish communities, and how they are being persecuted by the Iranian government.

One community the member knows very well is the Baha'is which appeared before our committee. They documented the incredible persecution they face on a daily basis by that regime, without any access to the media, without any access to any type of state protection.

In fact, the minister of intelligence of Iran, the prosecutor general, said:

The administration of this miscarried Baha'i sect at all levels is unlawful and banned and their ties to Israel and their opposition to Islam and the Islamic regime are clear. The danger they pose to national security is documented and proven and therefore it is necessary that any substitute administration that acts as a replacement for the original be confronted through the law.

In other words, he is making it very clear that this is a group to be targeted. Just as they targeted Israel and the Jewish people, they want to target the Baha'is. They almost put a target on their foreheads and say that it is okay to shoot them, that it is okay to kill them, because it is a sect that they want nothing to do with.

That dehumanization of Iran's own people continually goes on. The Baha'is are peaceful people who originated in that part of the world, in Iran. They are just as much Iranians as are other Iranians. I am struck by the sheer violation of human rights against such a targeted group.

He also mentioned the gay community, which is also targeted by the regime. It continues to target its own people.

It is a country that has an incredible wealth of history. It is a country that has many incredibly intelligent people. Luckily for Canada, many of them are here in Canada because many of them have left that regime. There still is a very young, vibrant population there. They want to see change. They see what is happening around the world. They want to know what we can do, how we can act in solidarity with them.

Does my hon. colleague want to add anything further about the human rights abuses taking place against those communities?

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9:25 p.m.

Conservative

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

Mr. Chair, the Baha'is face particularly severe persecution. There are probably three reasons for that.

The first is that they are relatively numerous and therefore a bigger target in a sense. The second is that they are a post-Koranic religion; that is to say, they recognize the authority of a prophet after the prophet Muhammad which is seen as being particularly unacceptable by the regime. The third is that the holiest site of the Baha'is is in Israel. I think it is in Haifa, but I stand to be corrected.

It should be mentioned though, and this is an important point regarding the third point, that it is purely an accident of history that Haifa is in the state of Israel. The events that led to its becoming a sacred site had to do with the imprisonment by the Ottoman Turks of the founder of the Baha'i faith in, I think it was the 1840s or the 1850s, obviously in years pre-dating the creation of the state of Israel, which resulted in its being there.

That does not imply in any way that Baha'is are incapable of being loyal citizens of Iran. It does not imply any particular point of view on behalf of the Baha'is, whether they are in Iran or anywhere else in the world, any opinion regarding the state of Israel. The use of that fact by those who would persecute the Baha'is is a terrible wrong against the peaceful people of the Baha'i faith who historically have been very good and loyal citizens of Iran.

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9:25 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Chair, I am pleased to speak to the take note debate tonight on the situation in Iran sponsored by the member for Mount Royal. I know he has a very good command of the issues in this area. We spoke a couple of weeks ago on the situation in Egypt.

As members know, the situation is very fluid and has developed just in the last few weeks. The government fell In Tunisia and then the government fell in Egypt, which I believe was a bigger surprise. Now we are talking about recurring protests in Iran and other countries in the region. I do not know how much of it is facilitated by the up-to-date information that is available today through networks such as Al Jazeera because people can access that information. We are being told that new technologies, such as Facebook, the Internet and so on, have been big facilitators, whereas maybe 50 or 100 years ago we would not have had these types of activities. I do not know that we can actually be 100% sure of that but suggestions have been made that this has been facilitated by these modern mediums. If that is the case, it is important and incumbent upon the friendly support of governments across the world to take action and support the protestors for the purposes of establishing democratic regimes to the extent that is possible in some of these countries.

I must admit that I am impressed with the House of Commons Subcommittee on International Human Rights which produced the report on human rights in Iran. Our member and members from other parties are on the committee that produced its report in December 2010. The report contains 24 fairly excellent recommendations that came out of that committee and I think it would be a travesty if those recommendations were simply not followed up on.

I have been around governments for a long time, 26 years as an elected person but a number of years before that working for the political apparatus. I can say that governments of all stripes operate more or less on a boiler room day-to-day crisis management basis. They do things when they have to do them. Often times we find that the follow up is not there. Promises are made by governments, which is why we have a press out there that regularly follows us around to ensure that we are actually doing what we said we would do.

Earlier on tonight, I had an opportunity, which I may have missed, to ask the new minister a question. I would also like to congratulate her on her long overdue appointment. I believe she talked about consular services in 260 locations having to deal with 600 cases a day. I would like to know from her or any other member of the government, should one be around later to speak to this, if perhaps someone could provide me with the number of consular service cases the government has been dealing with on a daily basis over the past year to give us a longer term view of that.

I also would like to know where the government sits regarding the 24 recommendations that are mentioned in the report. I had not intended to but I will go through some of those recommendations because some of them are fairly good.

As we indicated, the situation is changing and is very fluid so perhaps different recommendations that may be relevant today or were relevant in December may not be relevant in a few months. Maybe some more accelerated or extreme measures might need to be taken if the situation gets further out of hand.

Recommendation number one reads:

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

Once again the committee has to do a follow-up to ensure these recommendations are adopted. The government member just indicated to us, and I am not sure whether all members of the committee are even aware, that the government has not even adopted this report yet. Assuming that we are all on the same page, the government should get this report adopted tomorrow and then start laying out a plan as to how it will implement these recommendations.

The report talks about providing moral and diplomatic support to the democratic movement in Iran. The government is willing and able to do that, and it has been doing that.

The report suggests that the government consider funding a research chair at a Canadian university dedicated to the study of Canadian Iranian relations, including the human rights situation in Iran. The documentation of cases is really vital to successful cases long term. So much of history's atrocities have not been documented and, without proper documentation, it is hard to prove at the end of the day. If we could get cases documented, then we could move forward and get results through international courts and other adjudication bodies. The documentation is really the worst enemy of the tyrants because they thrive on being able to hide in the shadows, use force whenever it suits them and basically run and escape. It is only when the cases can be documented and the light is shone on those cases that proper results will be made.

I recall a police person telling me a number of years ago that while he really could not tell what would happen in certain situations, he knew that if the light was shone on it things might develop and people would start scurrying around. Sure enough, that is one of the approaches that it takes.

If world attention is drawn to a problem, then tyrants will not be very happy with that development, particularly if some sanctions are attached.

Another recommendations reads:

...Radio Canada International to consider programming in Farsi over its worldwide shortwave service, over conventional AM/FM broadcasting in the Gulf region, and over the Internet.

This is another excellent idea that must be followed through on and initiated.

We talked about all the modern technological advancements like Facebook, Twitter and the Internet to the extent that we can work around those issues and use those issues. That would be a positive thing to put these tyrants in their place. That is one of the things that we can use against them to try to get results.

There is talk about a prohibition of Canadian registered ships from docking in Iran and Iranian registered ships from docking in Canada. I was wondering about the airline issue. Maybe someone knows about the issue of airline service to Iran and what is happening there.

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9:35 p.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston NDP Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Mr. Chair, I would like to comment on something that came from the subcommittees report. We had witnesses before the subcommittee who were hopeful that the change in Iran can and must come from its people. Several witnesses told the members that the new generation in Iran, the children of the revolution, are not happy with the social, economic and political policies of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The new generation is well-educated, worldly and very realistic.

Professor Akhavan referred to one of the slogans. One of the slogans on the streets now is, “Neither Gaza nor Lebanon, I will only sacrifice my life for Iran”. They are saying that they are tired of hate-mongering and the use of imaginary external enemies as a way of crushing internal dissent and that they want to live in peace with their neighbours. Professor Akhavan is from this area.

I am wondering if the member is aware of any other totalitarian governments around the world that use what I refer to as sleight of hand or distraction away from what they are doing to their own people by way of pointing at an external enemy.