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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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7:35 p.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, tonight we are debating the situation in Iran. Many people have been seized with the situation on the ground and human rights. Many of us in the House have spoken out against the deplorable situation of human rights in Iran.

I will begin by just going back a couple of years. In June 2009, we watched scores of Iranian Canadians come to this city to cast their ballots in the presidential election. I remember it very well, as I am sure many do. There was so much excitement in the air. There was the idea of the possibility of change. Many of my good friends who voted in that election actually thought there would be a change in Iran. There were feisty debates between candidates, some of which I watched online while one of my staff translated it for me. Young Iranians were getting engaged in politics. It was quite exciting. It was long before the Arab Spring that we just saw last year. There was so much hope for change and we all thought that maybe change would come.

The results, of course, shocked Iranians and shocked the world. Abedinejad was declared the winner with a wide margin and all indications were that the results were not true, they were bogus, and the vote of the Iranian people was stolen from them.

What did people do? When they see this kind of theft of an election and people care about it, they take to the streets, which is what happened. People took to the streets. We watched from here and the world watched during those months. There was a certain unity of cause and concern that embraced many people in this country and people around the world. We thought maybe the voice of the people would be heard and that people would actually come together to ensure that democracy would not only seen to be done but would be done.

Then we saw what was a popular uprising in the first flashes of what we have seen with the pro-democracy movements and the Arab Spring that took North Africa this past year, and later into other parts of the Middle East, take place and take root. In fact, Canadians joined those popular protest gatherings. In solidarity with those who had taken to the streets in Tehran and right across Iran, people joined. I remember right out here at the eternal flame they joined in a quiet, solemn display of solidarity with the people of Iran. We said that the people of Iran's voice should be respected.

What followed was, sadly for some, predictable but for so many Iranians was the tumult of disaster of a repressive regime cracking down on their voices. Those in power decided that they would use the monopoly of violence against their people. That is what happened after the uprising of the people following the results of the election being sullied and Abedinejad taking power. There was a repression that happened and it has continued on since June 2009.

Tonight we are here to debate the situation of human rights on the ground in Iran. However, I want it to be underlined that the people of Iran did speak, that they joined together and voted for change. They coalesced in change and fought for change and Canadians and people all around the world supported that voice. We must continue to do that.

Tonight we will speak to he human rights violations in Iran. My colleagues will speak to the political persecution, the repression of women's rights, the attacks on civil society, the attacks on journalists, artists, independent trade unionists, the discrimination due to sexual orientation that we have already heard about and the repression of people based on ethnicity and religious beliefs. We will think of people, particularly for me, who are from the Baha'i faith. Of course, the origins of the Baha'i faith come right from Iran. We will think of the importance of being in solidarity with those who are not able to speak out.

We will want to ensure those who are in Iran now and those who are with the people of Iran that they are not alone, that we will speak with them.

However, let us look at the history of the democratic movement in Iran, because that is the other thing we have to underline. There is a democratic thread through the history of Iran. Canadian human rights expert, Payam Akhavan said:

Despite the violent repression of the protests, millions of Iranians have now awakened to their own power in a historic struggle for democracy. In contrast to mere “regime change,” this profound grassroots shift in consciousness is the most far-reaching expression of revolutionary change. Despite the challenges that lie ahead, there will be no returning to the totalitarian past.

That flame keeps burning in the Iranian people.

We know the current situation in Iran, but the long history should be noted. In 1906, there was a constitutionalist revolution that established a Parliament to end the absolute monarchy in Iran. The success was limited due to an Anglo-Russian meddling and a largely illiterate electorate, at the time, which undermined its going further.

In 1951, though, we know that the democratic election of Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh and his nationalization of the Aglo-Iranian oil company, later known as BP, brought a lot of attention to the world. Of course, it was the attention of the CIA.

The CIA-sponsored coup in 1953 undermined that democracy and what we saw after was something that carried on for too long. It was the regime that we all know too well, the shah's regime that fell in 1979 due to a popular revolution. Now the promises that were made for democratic change by those who came in sadly were not realized. Instead, Islamic militants began to establish a totalitarian state under the leadership of Ayatollah Khomeini through a reign of terror and violence.

From 1980 to 1988, the devastating war with Iraq went on, in which the west supported Saddam Hussein. Let us remember that. That war traumatized the Iranian people and helped the Islamic regime's consolidation of power.

In 1997, the election of the reformist president, Mohammad Khatami, signalled a desire for an open society. Hard-liners undermined every attempt at modest reforms, and again democracy and reform were undermined. That was sad.

As I just mentioned, in June 2009 reformists believed they could beat Mr. Ahmadinejad but the sham elections that took place showed how determined the regime was to hold onto power. Ahmadinejad's victory gave rise to the massive peaceful protests that I mentioned and, let us be frank, that few observers had actually predicted.

What we know is that there is a vibrant civil society still fighting for truth, justice and civil rights. Women and students continue to organize and speak out, as do workers and members of different religious backgrounds. Secular Iranians have also come together and demonstrated that their country's political coming of age must not stop.

I must say that the human rights in Iran that we talk about tonight must be protected, but we should also be consistent in how we do that. The solutions are to invest in rights and democracy and build a system of international relations based on respect for human rights. The hope and intention on all sides of this House is to see the kind of change in Iran that would have helped a more democratic and progressive society.

What should Canada do? Invest in rights and democracy. Sadly, the government killed the institution, Rights and Democracy, that could help with that. Be smart in our diplomacy. Ensure we do not beat the drums of war at a time when we need to invest in diplomacy and look for bridges to reconciliation and to support human rights in all their forms in Iran.

Finally, let us remember the words of Mr. Akhavan. He said:

The paradox in today's Iran is that just underneath the authoritarian surface of the Islamic Republic lies the most promising democracy in the Middle East.

Let us support it. Let us support human rights in Iran and let us not get caught into rhetorical games that lead to war.

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7:45 p.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, there two points my friend concluded with that I would like him to address a little bit further, to understand what the government's approach has been towards Iran.

The first point is on the support of democratic institutions, that these things are not built within an election cycle or a year. Certainly they are built up over time. I am a bit confused by a government that out of one side of its mouth talks about the need to support democracy and rights, collectively, abroad, and out of the other side of its mouth talks about and performs an act that destroys the one Canadian institution that is doing this, called Rights and Democracy.

My second point is a sensitive question, but I would like the member's thoughts on it. To what effect is the so-called sabre rattling done by the government and others around the world almost seeking not to provoke war but certainly to continue to rattle those sabres and, to the regime in Iran, put a series of ultimatums? What effect does that have on the peace-building process, on the democratic process within Iran, which needs our support, not the effect that the government is potentially having when it does rattle those sabres?

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7:45 p.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for two very important questions.

On the first question, it is with great sadness that we see that an institution that was started with the previous Conservative government, in fact, is going to be killed through this budget bill we were debating.

Why it is important is that the Minister of Foreign Affairs said we would be able to do the works of Rights and Democracy through our ambassadors and through our foreign affairs capacity. That cannot be done in Iran.

What we were able to do through Rights and Democracy is to be in countries like Iran to support civil society, to support human rights fighters and protect their capability to actually fight for human rights. Sadly, that has ironically been killed by the government that professes to want to support human rights in Iran.

I would say to the government that if it is really committed to human rights in Iran, it needs to look in the mirror and ask itself why it is killing Rights and Democracy, and why is it taking away the ability for human rights defence in Iran. That is exactly what happened.

On the second point, we have to be very cogent in what we say when it comes to Iran. To support people in Iran, we should not beat the drums of war, or get loose with our rhetoric, or suggest we will go to war with Iran, because that supports the regime. It gives it a pretext to crack down on the population. We know this from talking to people here in Canada who talk to people in Iran. They do not want that. It undermines the credibility.

Recently Israeli President Shimon Peres said, “in order to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear [armed] country you have to introduce a system of verification and inspection” when it comes to nuclear arms. He worried that a system such as we would need to verify any proliferation of nuclear arms could be jeopardized by a pre-emptive attack.

It is unfortunate that Canada is not taking a lead role in nuclear negotiations and verification. There is an opportunity to do that. I wish we would, and I wish we would actually listen to President Peres when he says we should not beat the drums of war but ensure we are going to be responsible actors.

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7:50 p.m.

Calgary East Alberta

Conservative

Deepak Obhrai ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs

Mr. Speaker, first of all, let me answer some of the questions the opposition has been asking, saying that the government is speaking out of both sides of its mouth.

Let me be very clear. We are speaking right, exactly, and saying that this government has taken, for the ninth consecutive year at the Union Nations, the initiative with the international community to condemn human rights violations in Iran.

Let me just say this also to my friend right across the aisle. Canada is not, and I repeat for his information, Canada is not beating the drums of war he was talking about, in typical NDP fearmongering. What we are talking about, as a matter of fact, is that we asked for restraint and diplomacy to work first before any other issue. This is what we have told our ally, Israel, about this. Let diplomacy do the work. We are working with the international community.

This government is very proud of its record as far as Iran is concerned, with its sanctions and everything else put on Iran to tell Iranians and also the international community at the United Nations, getting the international voice behind us, in condemning the human rights abuses in Iran.

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7:50 p.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I was simply noting that we should not beat the drums of war and get involved in hot rhetoric. I was not accusing the member across the aisle, but I am concerned about the path some are going down. We need, as I said, to take the advice of President Peres and others who say we need to ensure we are going to invest in human rights protection. I did not notice him saying anything about why the government killed Rights and Democracy, and he knows full well that it is able to do work on the ground in places like Iran and Zimbabwe. Sadly, that is no longer going to be the case because of the government's poor choices.

Further, we need to ensure Canada is going to be a responsible player when it comes to nuclear non-proliferation. We have an opportunity to take a leadership role and, sadly, on that issue the government has not led.

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7:50 p.m.

Liberal

Jim Karygiannis Liberal Scarborough—Agincourt, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to both the Conservatives and the NDP, and we must realize that Iran is engaged in widespread systematic assaults on human rights and religious freedom. It is the country that jails reporters and bloggers the most. It continues to target and imprison lawyers and victimize their human rights and persecute ethnic communities and religious minorities.

My question to my hon. colleague is the following. Instead of Canada being supportive of the people in Iran and being there with them, we did the worst thing we could have done and closed down the visa section. The visa section would have given the people of Iran the opportunity to come to Canada, to talk to us and engage us with regard to civil democracy and civil movements. After the two positions in the embassy have been eliminated, I am wondering if my colleague could add his voice or tell me what his party thinks when people cannot get a visitor visa to come to Canada and have to travel to Turkey to do that. It is a travesty by any means, and the Conservative government should be held to account.

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7:50 p.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, of course New Democrats concur with those who say we should not be shutting our immigration offices abroad, particularly in areas as sensitive as Iran, where we know that any engagement is a positive thing. That said, we also need to understand that sanctions can be effective. We can do both. We are able to engage with Iran in ways that would help the people of Iran. What the member points out is something unfortunate that the government has done.

I did not get to speak to this because of time, but we also have to be aware of what we are doing when it comes to technology transfer. This is an area where I would like to see a little more vigilance from our government. There are actual technologies being transferred to Iran that help the regime to monitor its citizens. We saw this during the crackdown in 2009, and it is something we need to take a look at to ensure that nothing we are exporting or selling gets into the hands of the regime, particularly the Republican Guard, that allows it to use technology transfer to monitor its citizens, after which people end up in some very dire circumstances.

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7:55 p.m.

NDP

Claude Gravelle NDP Nickel Belt, ON

Mr. Speaker, at least my colleague from Ottawa Centre has a very good grasp of what is happening in the Middle East. He spoke about human rights violations, civil society, journalists and artists, but I would like him to update the House on what is really happening with the women in Iran and the kinds of abuse and violation they have to put up with.

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7:55 p.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is one of those questions one does not want to answer. In fact, women are being forced into marriages when they should not be and young girls in rural areas in particular are often used for temporary marriages, which we would call forms of prostitution. Women who speak out at all about rights for women are jailed, tortured and then hanged. That is why it is so important that we speak tonight about our commitment to fight for the human rights of all Iranians but particularly women, whose plight is not only grave but something we need to speak out more on because in the end they are unable to speak for themselves.

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7:55 p.m.

Liberal

Irwin Cotler Liberal Mount Royal, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in this take note debate on human rights violations in Iran, which is as urgent as it is necessary. Indeed, the violations of human rights in Iran, the persistent and pervasive assault on the human rights of the Iranian people, has only intensified since our last take note debate here some 15 months ago. As I said then, and as remains no less true today, “Ahmadinejad, Khamenei's Iran”. I use these terms to distinguish from the people and public of Iran who are otherwise the targets of massive domestic oppression. The Iranian regime has emerged as a clear and present danger to international peace and security, to regional and Middle East stability, to diplomatic protection and increasingly and alarmingly so to its own people, which has inspired this evening's take note debate.

As I said in this House a year ago, and on several occasions, Ahmadinejad’s Iran is characterized by the toxic convergence of four distinct threats that are closely related: the nuclear threat, the threat of incitement to genocide, the threat of state-sponsored terrorism, and the systematic and widespread violation of Iranians' rights.

Let there be no mistake about it. Iran is in standing violation of international legal prohibitions respecting the development and proliferation of nuclear weapons. Indeed, there have been six chapter VII UN Security Council resolutions prohibiting the enrichment of uranium for a nuclear weaponization program. Iran has already committed the crime of incitement to genocide prohibited under the genocide convention. Iran is a leading state sponsor of international terrorism. The year 2012 alone has witnessed Iranian terror's footprints in such terrorist assaults from Azerbaijan to India from Thailand to Washington from Malaysia to Argentina. Iran is engaged in massive domestic repression of the rights of its people, which will be the subject of the balance of my remarks, though the other considerations have their human rights connection and fall-out, as I mentioned.

We meet on the fourth anniversary of the imprisonment of the entire Baha'i leadership, each sentenced to 20 years or re-sentenced to 20 years after an appeal brought it down and then re-sentenced to 20 years for such trumped-up charges as, “insulting religious sanctities, propaganda against the state”, charges utterly without foundation, reminiscent of the old Soviet tactic “give us the people and we will find the crime”. Indeed, their reinstated 20-year sentences now constitute an effective death sentence given the advanced age of the entire Baha'i leadership. Despite repeated requests from both the defendants and their attorneys, neither official copies of the original verdict nor the ruling on appeal have been disclosed to date.

The plight of the Baha'i in Iran offers a looking glass into the plight of human rights in Iran in general, and the criminalization of innocence, as finds expression in the criminalization and targeting of Iran's largest religious minority in particular. Simply put, the persecution and prosecution of these Baha'i is a case study of the systematic if not systemic character of Iranian injustice as a whole, including arbitrary arrest and incommunicado detention, false and trumped-up charges such as “spreading corruption on earth” and “espionage for foreign elements”, coerced confessions, torture and detention, denial of the right to effective counsel, denial of the right to introduce any evidence in one's defence and the ominous threat always of execution along with the intimidation if not arrest and imprisonment of one's own family and lawyers. I will address this more fully in the second part of my remarks this evening when I will concentrate on what has happened just in these last few days to the Baha'i, the gays and lesbians, to students, political prisoners and the like.

Moreover, while we have been understandably preoccupied with the slaughter of innocents in Syria where Iran itself has been implicated and where we have been involved in the necessary addressing of the nuclear threat question of Iran, Iran's massive domestic repression has been passing only too quietly under the international radar screen. Indeed, in the aftermath of the recent Iranian parliamentary elections, marred by the imprisonment and silencing of all opposition, the state-sanctioned assault on the human rights of the Iranian people not only continues unabated but is widened and intensified.

Only two days after the March 2 parliamentary elections, Tehran's revolutionary court sent prominent lawyer and co-founder of the recently shuttered Centre for Human Rights Defenders, Abdolfattah Soltani, to an 18-year prison sentence and a 20-year ban on his legal practice. The trumped-up charges again included the usual ones, and one particular one: the crime of establishing a human rights group and also of receiving “an illegal prize”. What was this illegal prize for which he was condemned? It was the receipt of Germany's Nuremberg International Human Rights Award.

The Nuremberg Award is a powerful symbol of that city's denunciation of its dark past and embrace of peace, reconciliation and respect for human rights. That Iran would criminalize such an award is a striking testament to the culture of repression that reigns today in Ahmadinejad's Iran.

Mr. Soltani's imprisonment was followed by the imprisonment of another human rights lawyer, Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, who was a founder of Iran's Centre for Human Rights Defenders.

The latest example of an ever-widening campaign to crush all forms of dissent in Iran are the recent reports by international human rights bodies that describe the regime's systematic use of arrests, beatings, torture, detentions, kidnappings, disappearances and executions.

Just two months ago, the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran released a scathing report documenting in his words, a “striking pattern of violations of fundamental human rights”. In a mocking and almost obscene retort, the Iranian leadership in response characterized itself, and I am using its words, as “a pioneer in human rights”. It might well have characterized itself as a pioneer in human rights assaults.

For example, Iran, which already has the highest per capita rate of executions in the world, is engaged, as we meet, in an ongoing execution binge, even by its own wanton standards with more than 60 people having been executed in January 2012 alone, a pace of execution that is continued. There has been a dramatic rise in the number of executions from less than 100 cases in 2003 to at least 670 in 2011. That too will be surpassed in 2012 if the rate of execution continues as it has.

Moreover, Iran's religious an ethnic minorities, already victims of massive de facto and de jure discrimination, are disproportionately represented among the ranks of the imprisoned and condemned. As of this writing and as we meet, 15 members of the Kurdish community have been sentenced to death on such trumped-up charges as corruption on earth and espionage. While the announcement that Iran has upheld a death sentence against Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, convicted of apostasy for abandoning Islam, has not only stunned Christian groups in Islam, it has also been attended by the recently targeted assault on the Christian communities in Iran.

As I have said, but it bears repetition, yet again we are witness to the imprisonment of the entire Baha'i leadership, not only its political leadership but its educational leadership, some of whom are even graduates of Canadian universities; the exclusion of and discrimination against religious and ethnic minorities generally; the imprisonment and silencing of more journalists, bloggers and filmmakers than any other country; the persistent and pervasive assault on the women's rights movement and the imprisonment of the women's rights leaders; the criminalization of fundamental freedoms of speech, association and assembly; and the assaults upon and imprisonment of student leaders.

As we meet, there has been a crackdown and arrest in the last month alone of student leaders and trade union leaders. There have been assaults on filmmakers, artists and culture generally, in effect, the shutting down also of all independent civic organizations, NGOs and the like. In particular—

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8:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I am afraid the hon. member's 10 minutes is over, but luckily we have 10 minutes of questions and comments so I am sure there will be some of those.

The hon. member for Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing.

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8:05 p.m.

NDP

Carol Hughes NDP Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Mr. Speaker, the Iranian law allows the death penalty for persons who have reached the age of puberty, which is defined as 15 for boys and 9 for girls. My colleague spoke a lot about the justice system there. We know these sentences typically follow unfair trials and the executions often violate Iranian law, such as the failure to notify families and lawyers 48 hours in advance of the execution.

The fact is the Iranian judiciary is increasingly handing out death sentences, including against many women and even juvenile offenders, as I just mentioned. We are very proud that Canada has abolished capital punishment, but we have a leadership role to play internationally as well with respect to that. Does the member believe Canada should campaign against the death penalty, not just in Iran but internationally?

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8:05 p.m.

Liberal

Irwin Cotler Liberal Mount Royal, QC

Mr. Speaker, when I was minister of justice and attorney general of Canada in 2005, I ratified, on behalf of Canada, the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, wherein we oblige ourselves not only in terms of our commitment against the death penalty but to play a leadership role in seeking the abolition of the death penalty internationally. In effect we are bound by treaty of that which we are bound by domestic law in terms of our own Constitution and Supreme Court decisions, where the death penalty is unconstitutional in Canada and the death penalty internationally is something that we have condemned, that we have ratified an international treaty to deplore it and that we seek to do away with it internationally.

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8:05 p.m.

Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, I was glad my hon. colleague raised a human rights issue that typically gets characterized as being a security issue, and I wish there had been time for him to go into it in more detail, and therefore is frequently excised from discussions of human rights.

I am speaking of the human rights issue of incitement to genocide. Genocide is a monstrous thing. It can be presented in some cases, and Iran is doing this as a foreign policy issue. It opposes the existence of the state of Israel and thinks it is necessary to wipe it out. The means of doing this would be effectively to obliterate its population by means of nuclear weapons delivered by a missile. Both of these are technologies the Iranian regime is working on.

This is a matter of grave concern to me. I think in a very powerful sense it outweighs any other human rights issue one can imagine, not merely in Iran but worldwide. I would be grateful if the member could comment a bit on that.

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8:10 p.m.

Liberal

Irwin Cotler Liberal Mount Royal, QC

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member will recall that our foreign affairs committee and the subcommittee on international human rights, which he chairs, has heard witness testimony to the effect that Iran is engaged in the advocacy of the most horrific of crimes, namely genocide, embedded in the most virulent of hatreds, namely anti-Semitism. It is underpinned by the legal pursuit of atomic weapons dramatized by the parading in the streets of Tehran of a Shahab 3 missile draped in the emblem with the words “wipe Israel off the map”, to which are added four other words, sometimes ignored “as the Imam says”, namely that this is a religiously sanctioned incitement to hate and genocide. This is in standing violation of international law and genocide prevention.

Therefore, it behooves us to undertake the legal measures authorized by international law to hold the Iranian leaders to account and, in particular, to initiate among other things an interstate complaint against Iran, which is also a state party to the genocide convention, before the international court of justice for its standing violations of this most horrific of crimes in international law.

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8:10 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to begin my comments, quickly as I know time runs out, by recognizing the great work that my hon. colleague has done on behalf of our country and countries around the world when it comes to fighting Iran and fighting for human rights.

Specifically on these issues of Iran, he has done an unbelievable amount of work. He outlines all of the areas. The question now becomes this. What can we do and what must we do, both as parliamentarians and as Canadians, on that whole attempt to mobilize the world to ensure we do not allow this to continue any further without there being much stronger sanctions?

What does my hon. colleague plan to do and what would he like all of us as parliamentarians to do?

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8:10 p.m.

Liberal

Irwin Cotler Liberal Mount Royal, QC

Mr. Speaker, there is an excellent all-party unanimous report first drafted by the foreign affairs subcommittee that I mentioned, then approved by the foreign affairs committee and tabled in this Parliament, which regrettably got overtaken by the election but still deserves adoption. It set forth an inventory of recommendations of actions. We would do well to undertake those actions, which include among other things: listing the Iranian revolutionary guard corps as a terrorist entity under Canadian law; expanding the range of targeted sanctions for human rights violations, as well as our targeted sanctions with respect to a nuclear threat; and, addressing Iran in terms of the fourfold threat and the interrelationship of that fourfold threat, as that unanimous report does, and developing sanctions that are organized around that fourfold threat.

We would not want to have a situation whereby as a result of negotiations next week Iran agrees finally to suspend its enrichment of uranium, which I would like to see, and then we forget about the human rights violations, the terrorist assaults and the like. That is why we have to look at the composite fourfold threat and have a critical mass of remedy.

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8:10 p.m.

NDP

Paulina Ayala NDP Honoré-Mercier, QC

Mr. Speaker, there is one thing that worries me enormously. I know that when a country is faced with a difficult situation, it is often the citizens of that country who have to come up with a solution. However, when the situation is so huge, difficult and catastrophic, and it has lasted for years and years, it becomes unbearable and the citizens alone cannot find a solution. I know that international aid—assistance for NGOs that work for democratization and respect for human rights—is fundamental.

How is Canada assisting the missions of countries that are working to achieve peace if it is doing away with organizations such as Rights and Democracy and closing down visa offices?

As a parliamentarian, I feel powerless. What do you think about this issue? It is all well and good to sign a lot of documents and to condemn a whole host of things, but there needs to be more action. Personally, having lived under a dictatorship, I believe that assistance for NGOs, which directly help citizens within their own country, is fundamental.

What does my colleague think about this?

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8:15 p.m.

Liberal

Irwin Cotler Liberal Mount Royal, QC

Mr. Speaker, as I said in previous debates, we need to stand in solidarity with the people of Iran. One of the problems with our relationship with the Iranian people came to the surface when the green movement started a few years ago, in June 2009: it was some time before we expressed our solidarity with the Iranian people regarding their aspirations. It is very important to help them when it is possible to do so, because it is difficult to help them now.

However, there are things that can be done to further their right to express themselves, including condemning the imprisonment of those people who try to express their rights and aspirations and making it clear that we are behind the Iranian people and the minorities in Iran when it comes to their aspirations and their needs.

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8:15 p.m.

NDP

Raymond Côté NDP Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to take this opportunity to ask my esteemed colleague some questions.

One very disturbing aspect is the fact that the death penalty is being imposed on minors, on adolescents. I just want to remind the House that puberty is considered to take place at age 15 for boys and age 9 for girls. There have been instances of children that young being executed.

I would like to hear my colleague's thoughts on that particular subject.

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8:15 p.m.

Liberal

Irwin Cotler Liberal Mount Royal, QC

Mr. Speaker, as I said in my remarks and in response to another question on the same subject, it is important that we—as a government and as a country—take the initiative and condemn the death penalty, not only here in Canada, but also around the world. We are a signatory to an international treaty in that regard. It is very important that we condemn the execution of young people, particularly in Iran.

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8:15 p.m.

Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, I am rising today to address this issue and to discuss some of the light that was shed on the issue of human rights in Iran for myself and other members of the human rights subcommittee when we held an series of hearings over the course of about a year and a half starting in early 2009.

We published an extensive report with over 30 recommendations dealing with how Canada could try to have some influence on Iran. We did not suffer from the illusion that Canada is the biggest player in that particular game. Iran is on the far side of the planet and Canada is, relatively speaking, a power with limited economic and military pull but with considerable moral powers at its disposal. Canada has a large Iranian Persian ethnic population and with a considerable amount of goodwill toward the Iranian and ethnic Persian community worldwide, if not perhaps with the regime that currently governs that country.

It is important to point out that the two are very distinct: the Iranian civilization and the Iranian regime are not the same thing, notwithstanding the desire of that regime to conflate itself with the country and with the nationality that it exploits. The favourite tactic of all dictatorial regimes is to conflate themselves with the country that they are exploiting.

We looked at a series of human rights abuses that exist within Iran. I remember telling my staff when I came back from these hearings that we listened to yet another form of human rights abuse going on within Iran.

The Iranian regime is the gift that keeps on giving when it comes to human rights abuses. It engages in abuses on the basis of persecution of religious minorities. It persecutes its national minorities. Women are persecuted and the advocates of women's rights are persecuted. Sexual minorities, that is homosexuals, gay men and lesbians are severely persecuted, especially gay men. Democracy advocates face persecution, that includes many people who are of the Persian majority.

The regime engages in the sponsorship of terrorism abroad, so it exports human rights abuses.

Finally, and perhaps most significant of all, there is the incitement to genocide and the overt stated goal of the Iranian regime, the Ahmadinejad regime, of wiping Israel off the face of the earth by killing as many Israeli citizens, as many Jews, as possible.

Let me go through some of these things now systematically.

I will start with religious persecution. With good reason we have heard about the terrible persecution of the Baha'i in Iran. The Baha'i religion began in Iran and has had its home there for a long time, although Baha'is exist worldwide. The Baha'i religion is a post-Koranic religion. On the basis of it being post-Koranic the minimal legal and constitutional protections that are offered to other religions, the so-called faiths of the book, Christianity and Judaism and also on a traditional basis Zoroastrianism, are not given to the Baha'i religion. Baha'is face what really amounts to a systematic effort to exterminate the religion by rounding up, imprisoning and where the regime dictates it to be necessary, executing their leadership and causing others to go underground for fear of a like treatment. What has gone on with Baha'is is one of the great tragedies of modern times.

Christians are also persecuted in Iran, especially those who are accused of proselytizing or of being guilty of converting from Islam, a crime under Iranian law that is punishable by death.

There is a small Jewish population. They have some nominal protections but that should be taken as being more in the letter of the law than in practice. Zoroastrians have some protection, but it is limited protection.

This is a Shia Muslim country. Sunni Muslims face discrimination. It is not as severe as the discrimination faced by the other religions of the book and certainly nothing as severe as what is faced by the Baha'is, but, for example, it is difficult to get permission to build or repair a Sunni mosque.

Finally, dissenting Shia clerics, those who disagree with where the regime wants to go, also face persecution and, in some cases, penalties up to and including things like house arrest.

In religion, really any point of view other than the very narrow point of view that is approved by the regime is persecuted at a variety of levels of severity, depending upon how determined the regime is to suppress that particular group.

National minorities also face very considerable persecution in Iran. This is a matter of no small significance. Iran is not an ethnically homogenous country. On the contrary, it is like the old Soviet Union, or like Austria and Hungary 100 years ago. It is a country that consists very much of minorities and depending upon how one measures the minorities, they may actually represent a majority of the total population. These include the Azeris, the Kurds and the Balochs, to name the three largest groups, also Arabs, and many other smaller groups, some of which exist only within the boundaries of Iran, others which overlap its boundaries. These groups face very significant persecution and there are, in some cases, armed responses from some members of those communities in response to the way in which they have been treated.

I mentioned that women and the advocates of women's rights are treated very badly. This includes a variety of forms of persecution and repression. In particular, being an advocate of women's rights is a very dangerous and, in some cases, a life-threatening occupation.

In Iran, homosexuals face some of the most grotesque abuses imaginable. Gay men face a choice between execution or forceable sex change operations. Naturally, many gay men have fled Iran. There is now a community of men who are effectively refugees, although they do not have formal refugee status, living in Turkey. One of the great and much forgotten human rights tragedies of our times is the treatment of the Iranian gay population.

There are also democracy protestors and those who are involved in the Green movement. Starting in the midst of our hearings three years ago, we watched, initially with enthusiasm and then with alarm, the way in which they were essentially destroyed through the excessive use of force by the regime, very effectively, to stop a movement that really was, in a sense, a precursor of the Arab Spring that we have seen elsewhere in the Muslim world.

I mentioned sponsorship of terrorism. Hamas is sponsored by the Iranian regime. Hezbollah, in particular, is very much sponsored by the Iranian regime. Indeed, the regime in Iran is the primary sponsor of Hezbollah's terrorist activities. It has, through arming the Hezbollah movement or the Hezbollah terrorist organization, turned it into a very effective military force, with disastrous consequences for Lebanon, where Hezbollah is headquartered, and with very negative consequences, obviously, for Israel, which faces Hezbollah across its borders.

Finally, incitement to genocide. It is difficult to state just how serious the efforts of the Iranian regime to advocate genocide and then to, potentially, at least, actualize it really are. The regime seeks to create nuclear weapons. It has been to some degree frustrated in those efforts, thank goodness. But, nonetheless, it seeks to create these weapons. It seeks to develop a delivery mechanism through missiles in order to destroy Israel.

To give a sense of just how absurd, but also how dangerous, this really is, let me just read a bit about what has been said by the Iranian regime. Israel is referred to as a “cancerous tumour”. We have heard that an Iranian attack on Israel would seek to kill as many as five million Jews. The estimate was that if Israel responded by dropping its own nuclear weapons, Iran might lose as many as 15 million people but that would be, as representatives of the regime put it, a small price to pay, a small sacrifice, because there are a billion Muslims in the world.

This kind of grotesque rhetoric obviously has no place in civilized nations. It is an indication of how profoundly the Iranian regime has abandoned its place among the family of nations.

It is a great tragedy for a culture that is one of the great homes of civilization in the world. The Iranians are the inheritors of the remarkable heritage of ancient Iran and Persia, which goes back thousands of years. We do hope it will be possible in the future for them to return to that marvellous heritage and to abandon this terrible and inhuman regime.

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8:25 p.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston NDP Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for his work on the human rights subcommittee.

On this side of the House, we were dismayed when we found out that Rights & Democracy was fading out of the picture, that it was being de-funded. When we are dealing with a totalitarian regime such as Iran, obviously state entities cannot influence there the way a non-state entity could, or the supports that could have been there. We are losing them.

In place of that, what would the member suggest Canada do in the area of supporting the growth of democracy in that country?

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8:30 p.m.

Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, I am not sure I am in the right position to comment on the specific things that Rights & Democracy was trying to accomplish. It is an organization with specific goals, and specific individuals seeking to achieve those goals.

In terms of what Canada could do and should do, I could turn to no better document than the report of the Subcommittee on International Human Rights which made a number of recommendations. Of course, the member himself participated in the developing of those recommendations.

I think what the member is asking is what sort of aids can be provided to civil society in Iran to allow it to express itself and to--I hesitate to use the word “overthrow”--replace the regime, to cause the regime to be put aside, but at any rate to remain organized and focused and to have a presence outside the control of the regime.

A number of recommendations were made. There were suggestions that we ought to do things such as endow a chair at a university to study the situation in Iran, and that we ought to try to provide assistance to some civil society organizations directly to try to create Farsi language broadcasts. These are a small number of the many recommendations made in the excellent report of the subcommittee. The report is available on the subcommittee's website, which will be found on the website of the Standing Committee of Foreign Affairs and International Development, which in turn is part of the House of Commons website.

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May 14th, 2012 / 8:30 p.m.

Liberal

Jim Karygiannis Liberal Scarborough—Agincourt, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened very carefully to my colleague who talked about doing something with the Farsi language and Farsi radio.

I am wondering if he is saying that maybe CBC International might engage that. On one hand I think it is a good idea, but on the other hand we are cutting the funds to CBC.

My colleague across the way also stated that we should give money to a university in order to study what is happening in Iran.

They are great ideas, but would the money not be better used to restore the two officers we had in Tehran who were working in the visa section? People who wanted to come out of Tehran could visit other countries, engage people in dialogue and democracy building. Not only could they engage in an exchange of ideas, but they could see how democracies function. Then they could go back to Iran and engage with their own people.

On one hand we are saying we can do all these things, and on the other hand we are cutting the money that is available. Could the member clarify for me how we can give $1 million to a university to open a centre while we decimate and cut back the visitor visa section in Iran? That was the only link Iranians had to Canada. If they want to apply to come to Canada right now, they have to send their application to Turkey. They will have to get a visitor visa or find their way to Turkey, if they require an interview.

I am really baffled and confused. On one hand we have money to give, and on the other hand we have cutbacks.

Will my colleague please explain the priorities as far as Iran is concerned? Is the priority to help the people on the ground, or is the priority to give money to a university to do studies and more studies?

I think the people of Iran are sick and tired of studies. I think what they really want to see is action, and—