House of Commons Hansard #207 of the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was c-51.

Topics

Iran Accountability WeekGovernment Orders

6:30 p.m.

Conservative

John Duncan Conservative Vancouver Island North, BC

moved:

That this committee take note of the Iran Accountability Week.

Iran Accountability WeekGovernment Orders

6:30 p.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP Joe Comartin

Before we begin this evening's debate, I would like to remind hon. members of how the proceedings will unfold.

Each member speaking will be allotted 10 minutes for debate, followed by 10 minutes for questions and comments.

Pursuant to order made on Friday, May 1, members may divide their time with another member. The debate will end after four hours or when no member rises to speak.

We will begin tonight's take note debate accordingly.

Iran Accountability WeekGovernment Orders

6:30 p.m.

Calgary East Alberta

Conservative

Deepak Obhrai ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and for International Human Rights

Mr. Chair, I rise today to express the grave concerns of the Government of Canada about the dire human rights situation in Iran. Abuses and violations happen regularly and are pervasive throughout Iran's judicial system and extensive security apparatus.

Over the past two years, the Iranian regime has had some success in reshaping its public image. Iran's president continues to make public comments that allude to the support for rights and freedoms for the people of Iran. Sadly, this slick diplomacy and charm offensive is contradicted by the reality on the ground. The human rights situation remains as dismal as ever, with no measurable improvement since the 2013 election of President Rouhani.

Canada remains profoundly concerned by the alarming rate of executions in Iran, a rate that spiked considerably after the election of President Rouhani. In the first three and a half months of 2015, Iranian officials have already executed at least 300 people. Last year, Iranian authorities reportedly executed more than 750 people. We cannot know for sure how many, because the regime carries out hundreds of executions every year without officially acknowledging them. Many of the executions take place in public without fair and public trials, and sometimes without warning to the victim's family. The regime also continues to execute juvenile offenders.

On October 25, 2014, a 26-year-old woman, Reyhaneh Jabbari, was hanged to death, convicted of killing a man who she asserted was trying to sexually assault her. A 30-year-old man is on death row as we speak for a post he made on Facebook. Soheil Arabi, a husband and father, was sentenced to death for insulting the prophet in his Facebook posts. It is inconceivable to Canadians that someone could be executed for something that they posted on social media, but that is exactly what is planned for Mr. Arabi. His case is one example of the extraordinary restrictions on freedom of expression in Iran and the regime's increased targeting of average Iranians for their activities on the popular social media sites. This past fall, six young Iranians were sentenced to prison terms and lashes simply for dancing to a pop song about being happy in a YouTube video.

Iran is among the 10 most censored countries in the world, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, and was the second highest jailer of journalists in 2014. Authorities regularly threaten, harass, and arbitrarily arrest journalists, as the regime exerts its control of information and any expression of dissent that might challenge its authority. The Washington Post's Tehran bureau chief, Jason Rezaian, has now been in prison for 283 days, facing trumped-up charges, including espionage, simply for reporting on issues of interest to the Iranian people.

The women of Iran face serious restrictions to their fundamental rights and freedoms. They are denied equality in law and in practice, rendering their full participation in political and economic life impossible. In the 2013 elections, all female presidential hopefuls were barred from running by Iran's Guardian Council. Iran has extraordinary female lawyers, but women are not permitted to preside over a court as a judge.

Women endure state-condoned harassment. This past fall, a number of women were attacked with acid by men on motorbikes believed to be targeting women who they saw as dressing immodestly. A number of draft laws and policies at different levels of government in Iran have emerged through 2013 and 2014 that aim to further limit women's rights, including by limiting equal access to the labour market with their male counterparts, access to birth control, and access to education.

Iran, like Canada, is a culturally and linguistically diverse country. Unfortunately, the Iranian regime views this rich diversity as a threat. Ethnic and religious minority communities in Iran face persistent marginalization, harassment, arbitrary arrests, and detention. Iran's Baha'i community has suffered some of the most overt state-led discrimination in Iran and has been especially targeted for intimidation and persecution. In October 2013, the Iranian security officials raided 14 Baha'i homes in the city of Abadeh. This past October, 79 Baha'i shops were closed by the authorities in the Kerman province after the shop owners closed their businesses to observe the Baha'i holiday.

Christian converts have also seen brutal treatment by authorities in Iran, including reports of violent raids on private gatherings, arbitrary arrests, and detentions.

We remain troubled by the deliberate failure of the Iranian regime to abide by its human rights obligations and commitments.

We cannot forget the case of the photographer, Zahra Kazemi, who was tortured and killed by Iranian officials while in detention.

It is because of these persistent human rights violations that Canada, in partnership with the strong cross-regional group of similarly concerned countries, leads the resolution in the United Nations General Assembly on the situation of human rights in Iran, which highlights and brings international scrutiny to bear on Iran's human rights record, calling on the government of Iran to fulfill its human rights obligations in law and in practice, and provide a public signal to human rights defenders that they are supported by the international community.

The 2014 resolution, drawing on credible and well-informed sources, including reports of the UN Secretary General and the UN Special Rapporteur, was successfully adopted with broad international support.

I am proud to convey Canada's support for those inside and outside Iran who have worked tirelessly for positive change in the country. Iranians deserve to live in freedom and have their rights respected.

Iran Accountability WeekGovernment Orders

May 5th, 2015 / 6:40 p.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston NDP Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Mr. Chair, at the subcommittee on international human rights of the foreign affairs committee, I am the vice-chair.

One of the things that I would note is that in this House we often see disagreement, but on the issue of international human rights there is a certain place that we get to where we work by consensus.

One of the things that has happened over the last three to four years is our annual review of the situation of human rights in Iran. With the negotiations that just went on with the parties in regard to the nuclear program in Iran, there are now fears being expressed that the distraction caused by those negotiations has opened the door for international neglect of the protection of human rights in Iran.

I presume the motion that the member talked about at the United Nations will be continued, but will there ever be targeted sanctions against the individuals who perpetrated these crimes?

Iran Accountability WeekGovernment Orders

6:40 p.m.

Conservative

Deepak Obhrai Conservative Calgary East, AB

Mr. Chair, I do agree with the hon. member, that with the P5+1 negotiations going on during the campaign for the UN resolution, there were some countries that expressed the same sentiment that the member just addressed.

We in the government, including the opposition, including the member's committee, will make sure that we keep these things up front and keep the pressure on.

As far as targeted sanctions are concerned, as we proceed further we will see how things move forward, to see if there is any improvement on the human rights situation in Iran.

Iran Accountability WeekGovernment Orders

6:40 p.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston NDP Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Mr. Chair, I am pleased to rise today to speak to the human rights situation in Iran. It is extremely important that all members of the House send a very clear message that in Canada we support the aspirations of the Iranian people when they seek freedom, peace, and democracy. Parliament spoke strongly at the time of the election when people were being murdered in the streets of Iran and Tehran.

On this side of the House—and I would presume members of the government and other parties would agree with this—we think that Canada, in the view of New Democrats, has a very significant role to play, as we have continuously done, to point out those times when Iran has said yes to acceptance of the periodic review by the United Nations but never implemented any of the changes that were requested. The previous speaker talked about the annual execution rate in Iran and it being around 750. It is still a country that executes juveniles. I am not sure of the number, but I think it was 18 last year. Juveniles are executed. How can a regime do that?

I was involved for 28 years in the Canadian labour movement, so I am kind of sensitive to the next quote that I am going to read. It comes from an Amnesty International update on Iran. A gentleman by the name of Mansour Osanloo is an activist with the Syndicate of Workers of Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company, which is probably a very interesting title over there. An amalgamated transit union is what it would be here. He stated:

The labor movement has a deep impact on the struggle for human rights and democracy in Iran, and as the labor movement grows, it benefits the struggle for democracy and freedom. This is based on the fact that the labor movement involves the largest and most important segment of the masses into this struggle. The movement of workers as the builders of society, will inevitably push that society towards democracy. Labor movements which occur in the most widespread form will force the government and society to respond and take action. The involvement of the working class appearance in the social and political realm has been shown to increase the level of democracy in every society. It is clear that the labor movement can promote the distribution equality of within a...society.

That, of course, is a very aspirational statement. We are blessed in Canada. I felt blessed in 1996 when I led the largest civil demonstration in the history of our country, in the Hamilton's Days of Action, when 105,000 people protested, without one injury or arrest. That says a lot for the democracy of this country. They were protesting the Conservative government of Mike Harris, by the way, but were still treated with the dignity and respect that the people so yearn for in Iran.

I will read another quote from the same report. It stated:

It was said that the Holy Roman Empire was neither holy nor Roman. Today, it can be said that the Islamic republic is neither Islamic nor a republic. The Iran of today has become the Islamic republic of gangster capitalism, where an unholy alliance of the clerical establishment and the Revolutionary Guard Corps rule through economic patronage for the inner circle, together with torture at home and terrorism abroad.

This gentleman, Payam Akhavan, is a professor of international law at McGill University. He has spoken at the subcommittee on international human rights several times. He helps us with the update that we do to keep ourselves current on what is happening in Iran.

Along with the professor was Shirin Ebadi, a lawyer from Iran who for years spoke out publicly and risked her life. She received the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts. Today, she has to live outside of Iran for her own safety. These two witnesses were before our committee about two to three years ago and both made the same comment, which I think is worthy of our consideration. It was that the remedy for Iran has to come from within Iran, that we cannot remedy its problems from outside.

Going back to the aspirational quote from that labour leader, in that country, that kind of statement can put one in jail and cause one to be tortured. Evin Prison is notorious for the political activists kept behind its walls and the torture and treatment that happens to them.

In Iran, women face persistent, systemic discrimination in terms of family law. The following is a statement from Amnesty International.

New legislation being considered by Iran’s parliament is intended to roll back many of the gains women have made in the past decades and consign them to being barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen.

And on top of that, if they dare to protest about the inequities they suffer, they are sentenced to long prison terms, to be served in prisons where unsanitary conditions and medical neglect can quickly undermine their health.

This is the fate of Bahareh Hedayat, an activist with The Campaign for Equality, a grassroots initiative, and a member of the Central Committee of the Office for the Consolidation of Unity, a national student body which has been active in calling for political reform and opposing human rights violations in recent years. She is currently serving a ten-year prison sentence in Evin Prison.

Evin Prison, as members here will know, is one of the worst prisons on the face of the earth.

She was charged with a number offences, and they sound beyond belief. One of her offences was “interviews with a foreign media”—imagine, it was just an interview—“insulting the leader”, “insulting the president,” and “disrupting public order through participating in illegal gatherings”. We have to pause when we live in a country like Canada.

I just spoke a moment ago about the fact that we had a massive demonstration here, and there were no objections, but in Iran, for that she wound up with a 10-year sentence in Evin Prison.

She has already served half of her sentence and she should therefore be eligible for parole under Iranian law, but concerned human rights activists need to urge the Iranian government to release her now so that she can receive medical attention for her health, which she is not receiving in Evin Prison.

The Amnesty report goes on to talk about the treatment of minorities. The previous speaker spoke about the Baha'i and how they are denied religious freedom. They are the largest non-Muslim religious minority the government consistently discriminates against. At least 136 Baha'i have been held in Iranian prisons as of May 2014. State authorities have desecrated Baha'i cemeteries, including one in Shiraz, where the authorities began excavating in April.

Security and intelligent forces have also continued to target Christian converts from Islam. Persian-speaking Protestants, evangelical congregations, and members of home church movements are all persecuted by this government. Many face charges, such as acting against national security and propaganda against the state.

Imagine that following a religious practice is somehow propaganda, and even worse, propaganda against the state. However, it is not just Christians and Baha'i. Sunni Muslims, which are 10% of the population in Iran, are not allowed to build their own mosques, simply because they have a different view than the Shia view of Islam.

As we review from time to time the status and the situation in Iran, sadly, at this juncture, we have to say that things have not gotten better. Iran had a new leader, and there was great hope that there would be change. That has been a false front. Again, I think the patronage and the corruption is offending any chance of heading to a real democracy in Iran.

Iran Accountability WeekGovernment Orders

6:50 p.m.

Newmarket—Aurora Ontario

Conservative

Lois Brown ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Development

Mr. Chair, I thank my colleague for his comments tonight. I know that he has spent some time on the Subcommittee on International Human Rights.

For many years there was a camp situated in Iraq called Camp Ashraf. I have a very large group of people in my constituency who are of the Baha'i fath, and they have been in to see me on numerous occasions about the treatment of the Baha'i people in Iran. I know that the camp has now disbanded and that the Baha'i people have been moved to other places, but I wonder if my colleague has any comment on what the Baha'i people were looking for in Iran.

Iran Accountability WeekGovernment Orders

6:50 p.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston NDP Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Mr. Chair, specific to Camp Ashraf, the people who were detained there were reviewed by the United Nations and were granted numbers, which should have opened the door for them to leave Iraq. They were transferred from a fairly secure compound that had existed for probably 30 years to a place called Camp Liberty, which is fundamentally, from how it is described, just a trailer park, which means that someone from the outside could shoot them. People could shoot through the walls of these small structures, so there is a lack of protection.

There is a controversy, because some of the people who left Iran were MEK, and as a result of being a designated terrorist group, it impeded these people. However, a majority of them were born in this camp. Their placement has been delayed. We are not sure why except that there seems to be a growing influence of the Iranian government on the Iraqi government, which is very serious.

Iran Accountability WeekGovernment Orders

6:50 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

Mr. Chair, I want to begin by applauding my colleague on the issue of human rights and so on, which he continues to play a very active role in. We all very much appreciate that.

With respect particularly to Camp Liberty, it is an issue I have been monitoring and to some degree have been involved with for several years. I would like to hear from my colleague about the current status there. Why is it that many of those folks have not been allowed to relocate? I understand that some have been relocated, but there continue to be a large number of people held at Camp Liberty. They are having more difficult conditions every day, whether it has to do with sewage treatment or medical services. Several people who needed medical attention have died this year.

The United States committed to protecting them, as did the United Nations. Does my hon. colleague have any comments as to why they are not receiving more protection?

Iran Accountability WeekGovernment Orders

6:55 p.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston NDP Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Mr. Chair, the harsh reality is that when the Americans withdrew from Iran, they abandoned these people. There is no other way of putting it. They turned the responsibility for their protection over to the Iraqis. As I said to the previous questioner, it appears that the influence of the Iranian government in this particular situation has put their safety very much in question.

As to why they are not being moved to other countries, I personally believe that it has to do with the MEK designation. There is controversy. There are moves in the United States to lift the designation as a terrorist group from the MEK. Until that happens, there are questions about who funds the MEK today and how much influence it has on parliamentarians.

I myself was invited to go to a conference in Paris, France, and the organization offered to pay my way. I said no because of the fact that we do not need to be influenced by any organization, and when it comes to that, we have to say no.

In the background someplace there are very powerful people who seem to be impeding this.

Iran Accountability WeekGovernment Orders

6:55 p.m.

Calgary East Alberta

Conservative

Deepak Obhrai ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and for International Human Rights

Mr. Chair, I want to thank the hon. member for highlighting the abuses, as he has very eloquently done, in the situation in Iraq.

Let me say what the Government of Canada has done. We view Iran as part of a problem, not part of a solution. Furthermore, we believe that Iran is a threat to global peace and security. For that reason, the Government of Canada formally listed Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism under the State Immunity Act.

It is very important as we raise these questions that we bring this to the forefront in the international community. Amnesty International has given its report. We have highlighted it at the United Nations, and we would like to work with the NDP to continue this process of highlighting the atrocious abuses of human rights that are taking place. I invite the hon. member to work together, through the human rights committee and through other channels, to highlight these issues he has very eloquently addressed.

Iran Accountability WeekGovernment Orders

6:55 p.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston NDP Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Mr. Chair, I began my remarks by talking about how we worked on consensus within the subcommittee. The reason is that it is necessary, in this instance, for unanimity in this place in dealing with the situation in Iran.

I am very troubled by the negotiations of the P5+1, whose negotiations are ongoing, led by President Obama, the initiative to try to stop nuclear development. There are a lot of questions about it. It is not stopping development. This will just delay it. That is one serious problem that has distracted the international community from human rights. That requires us, the EU, the U.S., and other places to continually raise them.

Over the years, we have found that in instances when an MP writes a letter to the Iranian government about a particular prisoner, it can make that prisoner's life better, with that single intervention. Imagine if the international community came together to do such things to keep that pressure on. I still think there should be targeted sanctions for the people who have committed these crimes. We know who is in that guard. We know who the people are who have been doing this to their own people. Irrespective of the nation-to-nation sanctions, they should be targeted.

Iran Accountability WeekGovernment Orders

6:55 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Chair, I am glad to take part in tonight's take note debate in the context of a focus on Iran and human rights through this whole week.

I am wondering where we have our best influence. This is a question for which I am not prejudging the answer. We know that, as the hon. member says, the U.S. administration has put great stock in the negotiations to avoid a nuclear weapons program in the hope that the new government in Iran is sufficiently different. We see the evidence on the ground that in terms of human rights, it decidedly is not.

Does the hon. member have a view as to whether Canada has greater influence in defence of human rights if we are positive about the efforts being made by the U.S. in Iran on the nuclear program or if we continue with the current position we have taken, which is to denounce it?

Iran Accountability WeekGovernment Orders

7 p.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston NDP Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Mr. Chair, any time there is a sincere effort to reach an agreement to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons, I tend to favour it. I have to call into question this particular set of negotiations, because it appears, and I want to stress the word “appears”, that Iran is outmanoeuvring the United States, and I am very concerned about that, as many other people are.

We had testimony before our committee about two years ago that Iran was at the development stage of yellow cake in its nuclear program, which is very close to getting it to the level where it could start to build nuclear weapons. There is evidence that it has built, under a mountain, a site where it can have a centrifuge and proceed. Even if it follows this agreement, it just pauses the situation. It does not eliminate it. We are troubled by that.

Yes, we think negotiation is good, but I am not so sure what we would gain by denouncing or supporting it in this instance, because there are two major nations that are going ahead with it either way.

Iran Accountability WeekGovernment Orders

7 p.m.

Liberal

Irwin Cotler Liberal Mount Royal, QC

Mr. Chair, I am delighted to join in this take note debate on the situation in Iran.

I want to commend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and for International Human Rights on his remarks this evening, as well as my colleague, the member for Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, with whom I have the pleasure of serving on the foreign affairs subcommittee.

Indeed, this take note debate is a central feature of the fourth annual Iran Accountability Week where Canadian parliamentarians from across the political spectrum have come together to sound the alarm on the toxic convergence of threats posed by the Iranian regime, the nuclear threat, state-sanctioned terrorism, incitement to hatred, and particularly the widespread and systematic violations of human rights in Iran, which will form the basis of my remarks this evening.

Iran Accountability Week this year includes witness testimony before the House of Commons Subcommittee on International Human Rights, a public forum on Parliament Hill with former political prisoners Marina Nemat and Shakib Nasrullah, press briefings, political prisoner advocacy, and will conclude with a call to action.

Among the participants are Dr. Ahmed Shaheed, the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Iran; Iranian Canadian journalist, filmmaker and former political prisoner Maziar Bahari; and experts, some of whom testified today before our foreign affairs subcommittee, such as Mark P. Lagon, president of Freedom House, and the leaders of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, Mark Dubowitz and Ali Alfoneh.

This year's Iran Accountability Week and our take note debate this evening may be said to occur at a most propitious if not precarious moment, as there are the P5+1 nuclear negotiations with Iran, which we hope might yet conclude in an effective agreement to prevent a nuclear Iran. These nuclear negotiations thus far have overshadowed, if not sanitized, the Iranian regime's massive domestic repression, a repression which has not only gone unabated under the leadership of President Rouhani, held out to be the newly elected moderate president of Iran some two years ago but where in fact the massive violations of human rights have in fact intensified.

Indeed, this massive repression, I suggest, should also inform and engage the nuclear negotiations for two reasons: first, the prospect of a rights-violating regime becoming a nuclear break-out state should itself be cause for concern; and second, the ongoing reality of Iran's repression and its breaches of its international commitments should cause us to question not only the validity but the veracity of any commitments made by the Iranian regime within the framework of the nuclear negotiations.

At this point I will briefly summarize some of those major human rights violations to which I have referred, the corresponding defiance of Iran's international legal obligations, and the ongoing culture of impunity which underpins these violations.

I will begin at this point with what might be called a dramatic increase, and reference has been made to this by the parliamentary secretary, in the wanton executions in Iran. In fact, we have been witnessing an unprecedented execution binge. Iran not only executes more people per capita than any other country in the world and also leads the world in juvenile executions, but the execution rate, and this has gone unnoticed, has actually escalated under President Rouhani.

In 2014, executions reached their highest level in the last 12 years with some 753 people put to death in 2014 alone, while in 2015 there has been a 20% increase in this wanton rate of execution, where already more than 300 have been executed in the first four months of 2015 alone.

This brings me to the second category of human rights violations. That is the culture of impunity. Time only permits me to give one example, but this example itself is expressive of this culture of impunity. That is the appointment as justice minister of one Mostafa Pourmohammadi, who played a leading role in the 1988 prison massacre which resulted in the execution at the time of thousands of dissidents. Mostafa Pourmohammadi was then presiding over the Evin prison death committee. The appointment of him as justice minister by Rouhani is a scandalous example of the prevailing culture of impunity.

This leads me to the third concern. This is documented by Dr. Ahmed Shaheed, the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Iran, who will be the guest before our foreign affairs subcommittee this Thursday. It is the widespread and systematic use of both physical and psychological torture, which continues for coercing confessions to justify trumped-up charges and with horrific methods of torture, including whipping, assault, sexual torture including rape, and psychological torture such as prolonged solitary confinement and the like.

This leads me to my fourth category, and time will not permit me to do any more than this one. It is the plight and the pain of political prisoners in Iraq. Indeed, a centrepiece of Iran Accountability Week is the Iranian political prisoners global advocacy project, where members of Parliament adopt, as it were, an Iranian political prisoner and advocate on the prisoner's behalf.

This year I am continuing my advocacy on behalf of the seven Baha’i leaders. They are now in their seventh year of imprisonment of a 20-year sentence, which with their advanced age is a virtual death sentence. These seven religious leaders have been punished for practising their faith, a right guaranteed under international and Iranian law. Imprisoning the Baha'i leadership is tantamount to putting the Baha'i community as a whole on trial.

The second person on whose behalf I am advocating is the senior Iranian cleric, Dr. Boroujerdi. He is now in his ninth year of imprisonment. At the moment he is at risk of passive execution through the withdrawal of necessary and emergency medical care. He was imprisoned on trumped up charges for doing nothing other than advocating religious freedom in Iran, for advocating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and for advocating on behalf of other political prisoners in Iran. For that, he has not only been prosecuted, convicted and sentenced, but he continues to be persecuted in prison for doing nothing other than exercising fundamental freedoms protected under the Iranian constitution and protected under international law.

In conclusion, our Iranian political prisoners global advocacy project seeks to put us in a situation where we not only take up the case and cause of these political prisoners, but by telling their stories, we seek to make it clear internationally to the people of Iran that we stand in solidarity with them, that they are not alone, that we will continue to advocate on their behalf, and that we will not relent in our advocacy until their freedom is secured and Iran itself becomes free.

Iran Accountability WeekGovernment Orders

7:10 p.m.

Calgary East Alberta

Conservative

Deepak Obhrai ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and for International Human Rights

Mr. Chair, I want to thank the hon. member, who is one of the most respected parliamentarians, for fighting for human rights around the world. His work is indeed very valuable. Today he very eloquently gave a very good insight into the situation of human rights abuses in Iran. He spoke about one of the areas which is of major concern to us which is the political prisoners in Iran.

As he knows, only last year, in 2014, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran came to Canada after he released his report. We had an opportunity to meet with him and listen to him about the situation in Iran. I want to inform the member that the UN Special Rapporteur will be coming later this month to Canada and I will be hosting a lunch for him. We will carry on with our conversation in reference to human rights in Iran.

As in his report, the UN Special Rapporteur mentioned that at least 895 prisoners of conscience and political prisoners were reportedly imprisoned in Iran. This includes political activists, religious practitioners, human rights defenders, civic activists, journalists, bloggers and student activists.

I agree with the member that we need to stand up and speak about political prisoners to ensure that they are freed, as he said in his remarks.

About a year ago, at the beginning of 2014, I was in Mongolia at a conference where I met with dissidents from Iran. We talked about how we can use social media to highlight many of the abuses that are taking place inside Iran. As mentioned, the Iranians are imprisoning journalists and have tight control over any kind of dissidence in Iran. However, we feel that through social media and so on, it is possible to get messages to the people in Iran on the situation of human rights and what the international community is doing.

I was wondering whether my good friend knows anything about this area and whether we can co-operate and work together to ensure that this is one of the areas where we can get information to the people inside Iran on what the regime is doing.

Iran Accountability WeekGovernment Orders

7:10 p.m.

Liberal

Irwin Cotler Liberal Mount Royal, QC

Mr. Chair, I want to thank the parliamentary secretary for his remarks. Indeed, the whole purpose of our Iranian political prisoners global advocacy project is to get the message out not only in terms of our international global advocacy on their behalf, but also within Iran.

I might add parenthetically that two prisoners who were part of our political prisoners advocacy project taken up by members of Parliament in the House have in fact been freed. One of them is Nasrin Sotoudeh, and the other is Hamid Ghassemi-Shall, who is an Iranian Canadian political prisoner.

Perhaps as a result of this Iran Accountability Week and our advocacy, this may result in the freeing of more political prisoners, but mainly the importance is to put a face, put an identity on this, make their cause our cause, as I said, ensure that they are not alone. Working together as we do across party lines with the government's initiative and commitment in this regard, we trust we will be able to bring about the freeing of political prisoners, the lessening of their conditions of imprisonment which include at this point torture and the risk of execution, and improve the human condition for political prisoners and others in Iran.

Iran Accountability WeekGovernment Orders

7:15 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Chair, I also want to thank my friend from Mount Royal for his leadership on this issue.

As part of Iran Accountability Week, I am very proud to be trying to raise awareness about the case of Atena Farghadani. She is a 28-year-old woman, an activist and an artist. She was initially jailed for political cartoons, for relatively mild satire. She has been on a hunger strike. She has been relocated from prison and hospitalized. We are not sure of her status right now. We need to raise awareness of the risks to her health. We do not know if she is alive now. We are championing her cause and calling on all Iranian leadership to ensure that she is safe and to release her.

My question for my hon. friend is, what more should we do? We are having an Iran Accountability Week. We are trying to raise awareness. What concrete steps would he advocate Canada should be taking?

Iran Accountability WeekGovernment Orders

7:15 p.m.

Liberal

Irwin Cotler Liberal Mount Royal, QC

Mr. Chair, one of the things that we have been advocating, and that we should be trying to implement, is supporting targeted sanctions against the major Iranian human rights violators who are responsible for, for example, the ordering of complicity in the wanton executions of which I spoke and the massive assaults on human rights, and those responsible for the imprisoning of political prisoners. Put them on notice that they will be held accountable before the law, including sanctions under section 4(1) of the Special Economic Measures Act, for their role in violating the human rights of the Iranian people.

I have a private member's bill, called the global Sergei Magnitsky justice legislation, which would seek to further bring about the capacity to bring these major Iranian human rights violators to justice. I am working with the government on this, and I hope that it will become government legislation so that we can sanction those in Iran who are responsible for these major criminal human rights violations.

Iran Accountability WeekGovernment Orders

7:15 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

Mr. Chair, again, I want to congratulate my colleague for the tremendous leadership that he has shown on so many files and different cases around the world, but particularly for coming together with other members of the House to start Iranian Accountability Week and to really put the flashlight and be able to showcase some of the violations that continue to happen there.

Many of us on this side of the House are advocating for a variety of individuals. Some of them were involved in the issue of the freedom of press, which does not exist in many of these countries, particularly in Iran. People are jailed quickly for nothing more than trying to send out a message on social media if it is in existence.

One of the other concerns that I would like my colleague to comment on is what happens with these nuclear discussions that are ongoing. The people of Iran are suffering tremendously as a result of the current sanctions that are there. If they are unable to reach a comprehensive agreement, is there anything else that we can do to try to ensure that the agreement is solid one? More importantly, what would we be able to do to help the people of Iran, should these agreement talks fail?

Iran Accountability WeekGovernment Orders

7:15 p.m.

Liberal

Irwin Cotler Liberal Mount Royal, QC

Mr. Chair, we need to establish and should have established a linkage between the ongoing nuclear negotiations and the ongoing massive repression. We should not be conducting the nuclear negotiations in terms of business as usual while ignoring, if not thereby sanitizing, the massive domestic repression.

We should make it a priority of Canadian foreign policy and a matter of principle and priority for us, as parliamentarians, to ensure that the human rights situation in Iran remains at the forefront of our national and international human rights agenda. Whether this agreement succeeds, and even more so if does not, whenever we speak of nuclear negotiations, we need to ensure that the human rights situation in Iran remains at the forefront of our concerns as a government, as parliamentarians and as citizens of this country.

Iran Accountability WeekGovernment Orders

7:20 p.m.

Richmond Hill Ontario

Conservative

Costas Menegakis ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

Mr. Chair, I am pleased to stand today as we are all here to speak about Iran in this Iran Accountability Week. I want to begin by saying that my riding of Richmond Hill, indeed the region that I live in, York Region, is home to the largest population of Canadians of Iranian descent in our country.

It is a community of people who are indeed very hard working, progressive and dynamic. It is a community of people who have distinguished themselves with success in small business, medium business, large business; in academia; in medicine; in education; in the trades. It is a community of people of deep values with a love for their language, culture and the country that they came from, and with love, respect and very much appreciation for Canada, their home country now.

A day does not go by when I or a member of my staff does not communicate with someone in my constituency who has come from Iran. That community is that large in the area. They speak of Iran with their eyes welling up and with much pain and often fear in their hearts. They speak of Iran's system of government, which is corrupt to its core.

The supreme leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, preaches the virtues of a modest life but has an estimated net worth of $95 billion. This fortune has been built at the expense of the Iranian people in his over 25 years as unopposed leader of the nation.

Likewise, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, or the IRGC, a branch of Iran's military charged with defending the Islamic system, spends much of its time running the biggest businesses in Iran, from energy to the infrastructure sector. Some estimates link the IRGC to over 100 companies and over $12 billion in annual revenue, which is revenue that the IRGC then uses to line its pockets and to support terrorist groups throughout the region. The IRGC is ever widening its controls over strategic industries, commercial services and black market enterprise.

The situation is so dire that even Iran's President Rouhani admitted that an institution with that much power is bound to be corrupt. Nevertheless, after recognizing the corruption replete throughout the IRGC, Rouhani still increased the IRGC's budget by 45%, another stark reminder of why we must continue to judge Iran by its actions and not by its words.

It is not just government expenditures and grants that enrich the elite in Iran. Corrupt government contracts and practices support a system that ensures that the IRGC members, parliamentarians and those loyal to the regime remain in positions of power and restricts rights and opportunities for ordinary Iranians. Many of my constituents cry when they speak of their loved ones they have left back home, and long for them to live in a country that respects human rights, freedom, democracy and the rule of law like we do here in Canada. This corruption filters down into the government bureaucracy over there.

While far from perfect, an ongoing Iranian parliamentary investigation into corruption in Iran estimates that 70% of all government hiring during the previous administration in Iran was conducted using corrupt practices. In an oft-cited case, the daughter of a governor who did not speak Arabic was hired as an Arabic teacher. Iran's attorney general has taken the unusual step of recognizing the rampant corruption in government, acknowledging that all three branches are corrupt after investigating a case of rampant embezzlement by public officials in May 2014. He said more than 500 individuals were involved, including most senior executives and managers in banks, the president's office, ministers and senior members of the intelligence and judiciary ministries.

Freedom House, in its worldwide study of corruption, bluntly summarized the situation in Iran:

Corruption is pervasive at all levels of the bureaucracy, and oversight mechanisms to ensure transparency are weak. The hard-line clerical establishment and the IRGC, to which it has many ties, have grown immensely wealthy through their control of tax-exempt foundations that dominate many sectors of the economy.

Bribes, graft, unfair elections and systematic corruption are ubiquitous at the centres of Iranian power. All of this corruption is enabled by a leadership structure that leaves little doubt that the system is functioning precisely as was intended.

All candidates for president as well as for parliament must be vetted by Iran's Guardian Council. The Guardian Council in turn consists of six Islamic theologians appointed by the supreme leader, in addition to six jurists nominated by the head of the judiciary, who is appointed by the supreme leader and confirmed by parliament.

Free and fair elections exist in Iran only insofar as one ignores the fact that the election processes are rigged from the get-go. The supreme leader may allow a popular vote to determine the president, as he did with Rouhani, but the result of the convoluted, circuitous vetting processes ensure that the only options on the table are candidates approved by the supreme leader.

As is its wont, corruption likewise plays out in the government's control of the press. To control the press is to hide corruption from the public eye, and Ayatollah Sadegh Amoli Larijani, the head of the judiciary, has announced that journalists could face public punishment for reporting corruption stories. He has banned members of parliament from publicly discussing or disclosing details of corruption cases under investigation. Ayatollah Larijani has followed through for perhaps the only thing that one can trust the Iranian regime with, which is its assurances about cracking down on free speech.

Take the case of Ali Ghazali, for example. He was the managing editor of two moderate news sites and was thrown in jail for reporting on how state-owned companies were to be sold with the assistance of fake documents, one of the largest fraud cases in Iranian history.

It is clear that the concept of accountability has been perverted in Iran. Feed the system and flame the fires of corruption, and one shall be rewarded, but those who fail to uphold the kleptocracy and challenge its legitimacy will indeed be held accountable, thrown in jail without due process by corrupt and compromised judges.

It is important to recall that we are here not just to talk about corruption in Iran's government and the complete lack of accountability mechanisms to counter it, but also of the impact this has on the people of Iran, on their human rights, living conditions and future prospects. The impact of corruption on the people in Iran is enormous.

Corruption contributes to restrictions on freedom of expression, including on the media, and freedom of association. It limits economic opportunities, career prospects and even access to education. It smothers political dissent and limits minority representation in positions of power. Iranians of all stripes and from all walks of life are negatively affected by the corruption endemic in their political system.

Today, we look around the world and see that we are faced with a multi-dimensional threat emanating from the kleptocrats at the head of the Iranian regime. They are using their powers to suppress free speech, to proliferate weapons, to support terrorist entities such as Hezbollah and the Assad regime in Syria. They do all this in order to expand their empire, repress their population, cling to power and line their own pockets. Corruption is the spine that runs through the Iranian system.

The people of Richmond Hill and York Region in Canada have many examples they can give from many of our residents who have been affected by the practices of this regime. We call once again for the release of Saeed Malekpour, a web designer and resident of Richmond Hill who was arrested and thrown in prison simply for voicing his opinion.

It is for these reasons that Canada and Canadians will continue to act with determination on this file. We will continue to hold Iran to account for its human rights violations, for the support for terrorism and for the corrupt practices that enable the Iranian regime to survive and thrive while it robs a deserving Iranian people of the economic opportunities and resources that they want and need. Iranians deserve better than that government. At the very least, they deserve accountability.

Iran Accountability WeekGovernment Orders

7:30 p.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Chair, I will be speaking soon and referring to Saeed because he is the one I adopted, so to speak, for accountability week in Iran. One of the concerns we have had with the regime is the seemingly arbitrary way in which people are arrested. As I said, I will talk about the case of Saeed, who the member just referenced, in my speech.

We have discussed some of the actions we could take, such as what we are doing this week, bringing the issues up here in Parliament, but I am curious as to what he thinks we can do beyond what we are doing today in raising the issues, particularly if we can do more with the UN, and finally, where he stands on targeted sanctions.

We know there are assets of members of the regime invested here in Canada. Is he supportive of the notion of targeting sanctions on those who are tied to the regime and making sure the sanctions will affect them so we can make sure we are doing everything we can?

Iran Accountability WeekGovernment Orders

7:30 p.m.

Conservative

Costas Menegakis Conservative Richmond Hill, ON

Mr. Chair, of course I am supportive of the sanctions we have put in place. I am in support of them because I believe that the best way to assist, at least, in the resolution of the big problem in Iran is for the regime to feel pressure from within its own population. I can say that, from speaking with my constituents, they are very adamant about the fact that irrespective of the rhetoric that comes out of Mr. Rouhani's mouth and from the regime's attestations, their actions speak much louder than words.

Canada needs to continue to have a very strong voice, as we do. We need to continue to support these sanctions and stand with the Iranian people. Our quarrel is not with the Iranian people. It is, indeed, with the Iranian regime and the way it governs its own people there. We also need to stand with Canadians of Iranian descent who are longing to go back to their country, in a free and democratic society, so they can see their loved ones, visit their ancestral homes and participate in the growth of that beautiful nation.

I should say this. Iranians bring to Canada a wealth of beautiful culture and tremendous contribution not only in the region I live in but, indeed, across our great nation.

Iran Accountability WeekGovernment Orders

7:30 p.m.

Conservative

Cheryl Gallant Conservative Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, ON

Mr. Chair, in a desperate attempt to leave some semblance of a positive legacy, the President of the United States has put forth a framework for a nuclear deal with Iran. Iran contends that it needs highly enriched uranium for medical isotopes, but it has put into use hundreds of centrifuges, way too much for medical isotopes. Already Iran has enough HEU for 25 years worth of medical isotope production. It says maybe it will develop nuclear-powered submarines. The current proposal is that Iran will have a limited number of centrifuges to ensure enrichment does not go beyond 20% to 90%, but the knowledge to make that jump is not that great. Iran says something one day and then does another thing another day.

The additional protocol signed by some countries, including Canada, allows the IAEA inspectors to look wherever they want, provided there is cause. Should the additional protocol be one of the key requirements that Iran signs before Canada ratifies a deal on Iran?