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

Topics

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10:30 p.m.

NDP

Ève Péclet NDP La Pointe-de-l'Île, QC

Mr. Chair, they got two first, we have two now, so we are all equal.

In my speech, I focused on the rights of women, and of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people. I have here a copy of the UN Human Rights Committee report, which says that it is very concerned by the fact that homosexuals, bisexuals and transgendered people are being subject to harassment, persecution and cruel punishment, and may even be sentenced to death for a number of reasons. I talked about three cases in which people were hanged. They also face discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation, especially with regard to access to employment, housing and health care. These people are often completely excluded from society and often cannot work.

The committee recommended that the state repeal any law or legislative measure resulting in discrimination against women—who also do not have the right to hold political positions—and against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people.

What does the hon. member have to say about the recommendations of the UN Human Rights Committee?

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10:30 p.m.

Conservative

Stephen Woodworth Conservative Kitchener Centre, ON

Mr. Chair, I thank the colleague opposite for her question because she does touch on an extremely important point. It is one that arises particularly from article 6 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I am sure my colleague opposite is well aware of article 6 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but for those others in the House who may not be, I would like to repeat it here. I do not have a copy of it in front of me, but I know it almost by heart because it is a provision I hold close to my heart, so perhaps I will paraphrase it.

Article 6 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights says that everyone has the right to be considered a person under law everywhere. There are no exceptions admitted to that in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which as my friend opposite knows, applies to every member of the human family.

I make it a personal point to draw this to the attention of the House and the members present that every human being deserves the protection of basic human rights. In this respect, there can be no discrimination of gender or age or location or interface with the law whatsoever. Every human being deserves to be considered a human person under the law, and there are very few laws in the world today that do not comply with that. Those that do fail to comply with that requirement are generally 400-year-old throwbacks to a different era.

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May 14th, 2012 / 10:30 p.m.

Ajax—Pickering Ontario

Conservative

Chris Alexander ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

Mr. Chair, I would like to begin by congratulating my colleague, the hon. member for Kitchener Centre, for his eloquent and sobering speech on tonight's subject. His speech has brought this debate down to earth with regard to the absolutely devastating challenges facing the Iranian people.

Given that the phenomena of execution, of torture, of suspension leading to strangulation, of political imprisonment of Baha'i leadership and many other categories of citizens facing this terrible form of persecution is so widespread in Iran, would he not agree with all of us in the House that the Iranian regime is ruling by fear in a situation where a regime clings to power by fear, by trampling systematically on human rights?

In the absence of other forms of influence that we as Canadians and members of the House can have on their internal political process, it really behooves all of us to think carefully about the sanctions regime that is in place and about the impact it is having on the authors of this suffering in Iran, the government, those in authority, those in a position to make the situation better or worse, if there are any of those in a position to alleviate suffering.

While we move to strengthen sanctions to make them more effective with our allies, we can only expect these sanctions to be effective if we are united in our will to bring pressure to bear, to alleviate Iranians' suffering and to speak with one voice both in the House as members of this place and as Canadians in a country that is determined to stand on principle, has done so for nine years or more and will continue to do so as long as debates like this continue.

Does my colleague agree that the unity of our determination as expressed in today's debate is really the essence of the matter we are discussing tonight?

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10:35 p.m.

Conservative

Stephen Woodworth Conservative Kitchener Centre, ON

Mr. Chair, I thank my colleague for putting the point so well. As we stand here in the House, we must not forget that we represent Canadians. Canadians are justifiably proud of our justice system and our stand against human rights abuse, which with few exceptions, is well known around the world as a beacon on the hill.

I want to close these remarks by giving my hon. colleagues some inspiration from Mahatma Gandhi, who did observe something very germane to this debate. He was a wise man and much to be admired. Mahatma Gandhi, and again I am going to paraphrase a bit, observed that murderers and tyrants will often arise but they shall pass away. Truth and love will endure forever. We must stand together to represent that value to the world in relation to Iran.

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10:35 p.m.

Liberal

Irwin Cotler Liberal Mount Royal, QC

Mr. Chair, in the first part of my remarks this evening, I mentioned that this take note debate was as urgent as it is necessary and that we meet at an important moment in a massive domestic repression in Iran. I believe the submissions by my colleagues on all sides of the House are testimony to the importance if not urgency of this debate.

We meet, as I said earlier, on the fifth anniversary of the imprisonment of the Baha'i leadership, a case study of Iranian injustice in the criminalization of innocence and the targeting of Iran's largest religious minority in its pattern of persistent and pervasive human rights violations: its trumped-up charges, fabricated evidence, coercive interrogation, torture in detention, denial of counsel, indeed denial of any due process rights, as the member forKitchener Centre himself eloquently spoke of, the intimidation and arrest of the lawyers themselves, if they were even allowed such counsel, the harassment and intimidation of their children, the demonization of the community as a whole and the ongoing incitement to hatred and contempt for this targeted minority. The whole, I might add, and there is more than one could say, is constituted of crimes against humanity of the Baha'i-targeted minority.

We meet also on the occasion of the imprisonment of an iconic 80-year-old and now ailing Iranian political leader. I am referring to Ebrahim Yazdi, a leader of the freedom movement party, one of its early founders and a former deputy prime minister and foreign minister, a person who once was a colleague of the Ayatollah Khomeini until he himself broke with him and established this freedom movement. He became, as I say, an iconic opposition political leader until he, too, has now been sentenced to nine years of imprisonment at a time that he is suffering from cancer, heart ailments and the like. This not only being a denial of any expression or political rights of association but a brutal assault in the form of imprisonment and confinement at this point.

Yazdi's conviction was for “establishing and leading the freedom movement party” for the catch-all crime of propaganda against the regime and for exercising political rights, a freedom of association and expression protected both under international covenants to which Iran is a state party, let alone as well under Iranian law. The entire leadership of this party has now been imprisoned or is out on bail awaiting sentencing.

Who was Ebrahim Yazdi's lawyer? It was none other than the lawyer, as mentioned by my colleague from Kitchener Centre, Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, who has been charged with “membership in an organization”. What is that organization? It is Iran's Centre for Human Rights Defenders, who has now himself been sentenced to nine years in prison for the “crime of defending the rights of others”, be they Ebrahim Yazdi and, yes, Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani himself who is now as well facing a death sentence for alleged apostasy from Islam.

Just today we learned that four gay men in Iran are due to be executed for sodomy under Iran's Sharia laws.

In the last several months, both in the run up to the recent parliamentary elections and in the immediate aftermath of those elections, we have seen the quarantine of opposition leaders, human rights defenders, journalists and bloggers of civil society leadership, as well as the lawyers who would defend them. The imprisonment of Abdolfattah Soltani came after he publicly called for a recount of Iran's presidential election, just as the lawyer Mohammad Ali Dadkhah has been imprisoned similarly for exercising rights of, as I said, association and expression.

Moreover, since the 2009 green revolution movement, the massive repression has included the systematic targeting of cyber dissidents, some of them with a Canadian connection in that regard.

For example, the Canadian resident and Iranian citizen, Saeed Malekpour, a 36-year-old web designer, was arrested on trumped-up charges relating to the posting of pornographic material on the Internet, was tortured in detention, was forced to make a false televised confession, was sentenced to death and is now under imminent threat of execution. According to Malekpour's family, the death sentence was at the urging of the Iranian revolutionary guard corps, which the Iranian Human Rights Documentation Center at Yale University has noted is responsible for the murder of Iranian dissidents both inside and outside Iran.

Similarly, Vahid Asghari, a blogger who hosted websites critical of the government, was sentenced to death on January 6, 2012 after conviction of, here we have it again that catch-all crime, “corruption on the earth” for allegedly organizing a pornographic network against Islam and the state. In October 2009, he said in a letter to a judge that he had been subjected to torture, was also forced to make a televised confession and forced to make spying allegations against another high profile blogger, Canadian citizen Hamid Ghassemi-Shall, who had been serving a sentence of 19 and a half years for his role in helping Iranian dissidents create blogs but is now himself under imminent threat of execution.

I want to commend the government for the stands and positions it has taken in respect of both Mr. Malekpour and Mr. Hamid Ghassemi-Shall.

Nor has the conventional media been spared from Iran's state sanctioned assault on human rights. Indeed, Iran has already imprisoned more journalists than any other country in the world.

This past several months have also witnessed a massive assault on filmmakers, artists and the leadership of major independent Iranian organizations. This has included the shutting down of the Iranian House of Cinema, the country's leading independent film association with over 5,000 members. The body is also behind this year's Oscar-winning foreign film A Separation. The arrests have also included celebrated filmmaker Jafar Panahi and BBC filmmakers and the house arrest of, as we know, opposition leaders Mehdi Karroubi and Mir Hossein Mousavi.

Many civil society organizations have been shut down. It would take me the rest of my time to list them, but suffice it to say that they are leading human rights organizations, trade union organizations, women's organizations and the like.

Numerous leaders in the women's movement and women journalists have been deliberately targeted, arrested, persecuted and even executed while others continue to disappear or to be threatened with execution. This includes, for example, the prominent Iranian filmmaker and women's rights activist Mahnaz Mohammadi, who directed the acclaimed documentary Women Without Shadows, who has been arrested by the intelligence services of the IRGC for “unknown reasons”.

Other members have been mentioned this evening but I will mention only one and that is Nasrin Sotoudeh, a celebrated defence attorney for activists and political detainees, who was herself charged with, yet again that catch-all phrase, “acting against national security” and “propaganda against the regime”, was sentenced to 11 years in prison but was later reduced to six years after an international protest and multiple hunger strikes. However, she is a case study of the assaults on lawyers who would represent political prisoners and who would assert the rights of their clients in this regard.

Moreover, Iran has sought to limit Internet access and restrict the content that can be posted online. A new Iranian cyberarmy has been formed and, as the latest Amnesty International report explains, this force has blocked websites while initiating attacks on servers, including those of Twitter and the Voice of America, again to quiet all forms of expression.

And so, the question is: What can and must we do?

Simply put, we must expose, unmask and hold Iran accountable for its massive domestic repression. This has prompted the establishment of an Interparliamentary Group for Human Rights in Iran, an international consortium of parliamentarians from all over the world, that I co-chair with U.S. senator Mark Kirk. Our group has initiated now an Iranian political prisoner advocacy project that will invite members of Parliament to take up the cases of these political prisoners.

Again we must call for the unconditional and immediate release of all political prisoners, those detained for doing nothing other than exercising their rights under Iranian law and international law. We need to support the work of the international UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and continue to hold Iran accountable for its violation of international resolutions, as well as the one sponsored by Canada.

Moreover, and I will close on this, all states can and should redouble their efforts to support dissidents in Iran and stand in solidarity with them. This is not a time to abandon the people of Iran, who are themselves the targets and victims of the Iranian regime's massive assault on human rights. We must champion their case and cause, let them know that the world is watching, that they are not alone and that we will not only stand in solidarity with them but work and advocate on their behalf.

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10:45 p.m.

Calgary East Alberta

Conservative

Deepak Obhrai ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs

Mr. Chair, first let me commend this hon. member. I have had numerous conversations with him in debate, including in this House, about his excellent work in bringing forward human rights abuses in Iran. Today in his speech he has very eloquently pointed out very serious issues of human rights abuses in Iran, and he continued to do so throughout his career when he was the Minister of Justice.

As he rightly pointed out, Canada, for the ninth year, has put in a resolution at the United Nations, which for the first time has received a tremendous amount of international support, the highest it has ever received, which shows that the international community is very much concerned—as he is, as we are—by the erosion of human rights in Iran.

Of course, I would like to acknowledge the fact that he was the government's minister of justice at the time when the resolutions were being brought forth, and we continued doing that.

There is no question that we put great value on his judgment. Not only that, the Minister of Foreign Affairs himself places great importance on the work that the member has done; not only that, he also takes his strong advice.

My question to him is this: does he feel that in his interface with the Minister of Foreign Affairs he is happy and confident that this government and the Minister of Foreign Affairs have been moving very strongly on this file that he has very strongly highlighted, because during the period of time that he has done that, the government has acted on it?

I want to ask the hon. member's opinion of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, who has been working with him to bring these issues to the forefront.

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10:50 p.m.

Liberal

Irwin Cotler Liberal Mount Royal, QC

Mr. Chair, I want to echo the sentiments expressed earlier: that this is the kind of issue on which we must work together in common cause. As a result, I have had the pleasure of working with the Minister of Foreign Affairs. He has been seized of this issue almost from the point of his inception as minister. He has helped to initiate and bring into being important sanctions, both with respect to the nuclear threat and with respect to the human rights threat.

If I had any recommendations to make—I have made them to the minister and I have made them publicly, and we continue to discuss them—they would be threefold. As I say, it is not to detract from the important and sustaining work that the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the department have continued to do, and the parliamentary secretary as well.

They would be threefold. One, I continue to believe that we need to sanction the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps by listing them as a terrorist entity. They are at the epicentre of the fourfold Iranian threat: nuclear, incitement, terrorists, massive domestic repression.

Two, I think we need to expand our human rights sanctions. As I say, I commend the government for making a beginning with respect to these sanctions, but we need in particular to begin to sanction those in the Iranian legal system—the prosecutors, the judges, et cetera—who are responsible for this massive assault on human rights. We have been sanctioning particularly with regard to those involved in the nuclear threat; I think we need to sanction more with regard to those involved in the massive human rights violations, particularly within the legal system and particularly those at the apex of that legal system.

Finally in that regard, another recommendation I made to the minister—and I close on this—is that given the state-sanctioned incitement to hate and genocide, a standing violation of the genocide convention, I think it would behoove Canada to take the lead morally, politically and legally and initiate an inter-state complaint against Iran, which is a state party to the genocide convention, before the International Court of Justice and hold its leadership to account.

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10:50 p.m.

NDP

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

Mr. Chair, no one can question the member for Mount Royal's credibility on the human rights file.

I also would like to congratulate him on all the work he has done in his riding. I do not think anyone can question his determination and devotion to his parliamentary responsibilities and his privileges. It is important that the member be able to express his parliamentary privileges on every occasion possible. What he has done with the Interparliamentary Union that he has set up is commendable. It is an excellent example of non-partisanship that we could all learn from.

Iran has a terrible record when it comes to executions. It is second to none after China. Our country and the Conservative government have not done quite enough in my opinion to condemn executions. Could the member address that? Are we doing enough? Are we sending a mixed message where we actually say in some cases executions are permissible and in other cases they are not? What would the member say about our policy regarding executions in foreign countries?

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10:55 p.m.

Liberal

Irwin Cotler Liberal Mount Royal, QC

Mr. Chair, as I have said before, and I will reiterate again this evening, our policy with regard to the death penalty needs to be a principled and consistent policy. In Canada, we have held both as a matter of principle, policy and law, and the Supreme Court has so held, that the death penalty is a violation of section 7 of the charter and also amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.

As I said earlier in the debate, when I was minister of justice, I signed, on behalf of Canada, the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, committing us to opposing the death penalty abroad and doing so without fear or favour. Initially, the Conservative government took a position, which I opposed at the time, that it would deal with these issues on a case by case basis with respect to, for example, Canadian citizens imprisoned abroad, as we now have with regard to Montana. I do not think this is something that is susceptible to a case by case basis.

If we take a principled and consistent position, we have to oppose the death penalty wherever it occurs, even if it is in a democracy like the United States because here too our Supreme Court has said that we cannot extradite to the United States to a state where there may be a death penalty. The law is the law. Principles are principles.

I commend the government for its condemnation of the death penalty and executions in Iran and elsewhere, but we have to be consistent in our application of this principle so we can be as effective as we can be with respect to this application.

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10:55 p.m.

Conservative

James Bezan Conservative Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Chair, the member for Mount Royal's work on human rights is world renown and his knowledge on Iran is second to none.

I agree with the three point plan that he laid out on taking more aggressive actions against the leadership in Iran to ensure that it starts listening to the issues of human rights and that it actually starts changing its attitude in dealing with its people.

I know the member for Mount Royal is also extremely familiar with the way not only human rights abuses have extended to religious freedoms, but also to the political freedoms of parties and organizations. I think of the Mujahideen and how many of their leadership are living in exile across Europe, particularly in France, or the Mujahideen-e-khalq who live in exile in Iraq and now possibly could be facing even greater human rights abuses within Iraq, never mind being extradited ex-patriot back to Tehran, which they fear.

They are in Camp Ashraf and are in the process of being transferred to Camp Liberty, which is really a prison champ. Could he comment on the situation there and how that all plays out with the way President Abedinejad and the ayatollah is running Iran?

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10:55 p.m.

Liberal

Irwin Cotler Liberal Mount Royal, QC

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

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

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

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10:55 p.m.

Conservative

Russ Hiebert Conservative South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale, BC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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11:05 p.m.

NDP

Pierre-Luc Dusseault NDP Sherbrooke, QC

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

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

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

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11:10 p.m.

Conservative

Russ Hiebert Conservative South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale, BC

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

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

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

We have not even talked about the nuclear threat.

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

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11:10 p.m.

Ajax—Pickering Ontario

Conservative

Chris Alexander ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

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

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

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

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

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11:15 p.m.

Conservative

Russ Hiebert Conservative South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale, BC

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

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

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

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11:15 p.m.

NDP

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

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

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

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

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11:15 p.m.

Conservative

Russ Hiebert Conservative South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale, BC

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

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

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11:20 p.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims NDP Newton—North Delta, BC

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

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

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

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

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11:20 p.m.

Conservative

James Bezan Conservative Selkirk—Interlake, MB

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

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11:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Chair Conservative Barry Devolin

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

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11:20 p.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims NDP Newton—North Delta, BC

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

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11:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Chair Conservative Barry Devolin

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

(Government Business No. 11 reported)

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11:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

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

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