Mr. Speaker, there is overwhelming agreement among the parties here today, and I can attest to that with confidence because of my work as vice-chair of the Subcommittee on International Human Rights. I am proud of the work we have done on the subject of human rights in Iran. I also appreciate the collegiality that exists among the three parties represented on the subcommittee and how we focus on addressing human rights in Iran. We do this in a non-partisan fashion, because it is a non-partisan issue.
I am disappointed in today's opposition day motion, because it forsakes a real opportunity to fortify our consensus. Instead of bringing forward a motion on the matter of Iran that could be supported by all parties, and this would have been the simplest and easiest thing to write, my hon. colleagues in the official opposition have decided to play politics instead. If the party opposite truly cared about this issue, it would be reaching out and extending a hand to all the other parties so that a sense of unity of purpose could be established within this chamber, but no, our hyperpartisan colleagues cannot resist the sensation they can wring out of this. Instead of trying to work with everyone, they drafted a motion that they well know contains language the other parties cannot support.
While New Democrats agree with much of the motion being debated here today, particularly the support it expresses for Iranians and their fundamental human rights, we object to the call to “immediately cease any and all negotiations or discussions with the Islamic Republic of Iran to restore diplomatic relations”.
People in my riding of Windsor—Tecumseh have been following the citizenship and immigration issues that come with diplomatic strains, and they are astute to what is going on here.
In April, CBC reported about the case of one of my constituents, Pooya Mirzabeygi, who had to wait more than 40 months for his permanent residency application to be finalized. He holds a master's degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Western Ontario, and he is currently working in research and development in the automotive industry.
I wanted to express that more pointedly for Canadians. For those out there today watching this debate, those who happen to care about the awful situation of human rights in Iran, please take note. The party opposite knows that we will not accept this language. It added it for the sole purpose of attempting to drive a wedge between us and Canadians. Conservatives care more about manipulating messages and scoring cheap political points against their opponents than they do about addressing the issue of human rights in Iran. This is unfortunate, given how much overwhelming agreement there is among the parties here today on the situation of Iran's human rights abuses and aggression.
Canadians and New Democrats stand shoulder to shoulder with the people of Iran in their aspirations for freedom, peace, democracy, and the rule of just law. We will continue to stand with them and speak out when their voices are unfairly silenced. We will unequivocally condemn comments by Iranian cleric Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami, who threatened cities in Israel, and comments by supreme leader Ali Khamenei regarding the destruction of Israel, as has been mentioned, including, most recently, when he said that “Israel is a malignant cancerous tumor...that has to be removed and eradicated”. These comments are an unacceptable incitement to violence against an entire population.
We support the right of Israel to defend itself. We urge Canada to do everything in its power to avoid an escalation of conflict in the Middle East. New Democrats are deeply concerned about the human rights situation in Iran. We believe that Canada should continue to be firm in its dealings with Iran and push harder on human rights issues.
According to human rights organizations:
[Iranian] authorities heavily suppressed the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly, as well as freedom of religion and belief, and imprisoned scores of individuals who voiced dissent. Trials are systematically unfair. Torture and other ill-treatment was widespread and committed with impunity. Floggings, amputations and other cruel punishments were carried out [as a matter of grim routine]. The authorities endorsed pervasive discrimination and violence based on gender, political opinion, religious belief, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation and gender identity. Hundreds of people were executed, some in public, and thousands remained on death row. They included people who were under the age of 18 at the time of the crime....
Among those targeted were peaceful political dissidents, journalists, online media workers, students, filmmakers, musicians and writers, as well as human rights defenders including women's rights activists, minority rights and environmental activists, trade unionists, anti-death penalty campaigners, lawyers, and those seeking truth, justice and reparation for the mass executions and enforced disappearances of the 1980s.
Many prisoners of conscience undertook hunger strikes to protest their unjust imprisonment.
Popular social media sites have been blocked.
Freedom of religion and belief was systematically violated in law and practice. The authorities continued to impose codes of public conduct rooted in a strict interpretation of Shi'a Islam on individuals of all faiths. Non-Shi'a Muslims were not allowed to stand as presidential candidates or hold key political offices.
Widespread and systemic attacks continued to be carried out against the Baha’i minority. These included arbitrary arrests, lengthy imprisonment, torture and other ill-treatment, forcible closure of Baha’i-owned businesses, confiscation of Baha’i properties, bans on employment in the public sector and denial of access to universities.
For Iranian authorities, the Baha’i have long played the role of first scapegoat of choice and are routinely blamed for everything from economic decline to Zionist spies.
As well, Kurdish people in Iran are targeted.
Iran's border guards continued to unlawfully shoot and kill, with full impunity, scores of unarmed Kurdish men known as Kulbars who work as cross-border porters between Iraqi and Iranian Kurdistan. In September, security forces violently suppressed protests in Baneh and Sanandaj over the fatal shootings of two Kulbars, and detained more than a dozen people.
There was a heavy police presence cross Kurdistan province in September when members of Iran's Kurdish minority held rallies in support of the independence referendum in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq. More than a dozen people were reportedly arrested....
Earlier in the year, judicial officials had exerted persistent pressure on the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology to request that Telegram relocate its servers to Iran and close tens of thousands of Telegram channels, which according to the judiciary “threatened national security” or “insulted religious values”. Telegram said it rejected both requests.
Other popular social media sites including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube remained blocked.
Journalists and online media workers faced a renewed wave of harsh interrogations and arbitrary arrests and detentions before the presidential election in May. Those using Telegram were particularly targeted for harsh prison sentences, some exceeding a decade.
Freedom of musical expression remained curtailed. Women were banned from singing in public and the authorities continued to forcibly cancel many concerts. In August, several hundred artists called on President Rouhani to end such restrictions.
The authorities continued their violent raids on private mixed-gender parties, arresting hundreds of young people and sentencing many to flogging.
Censorship of all forms of media and jamming of foreign satellite television channels continued. The judicial authorities intensified their harassment of journalists working with the Persian BBC service, freezing the assets of 152 former or current BBC journalists and banning them from conducting financial transactions.
The Association of Journalists remained suspended.
Scores of students continued to be barred from higher education in reprisal for their peaceful activism, despite President Rouhani's election promise to lift the ban.
Bans on independent trade unions persisted and several trade unionists were unjustly imprisoned. Security forces continued to violently suppress peaceful protests by workers, including on International Workers' Day.
Dozens of environmental activists were summoned for interrogation, detained and prosecuted for participating in peaceful protests against air pollution, disappearing lakes, river diversion projects and dumping practices.
Opposition leader Mehdi Karroubi and Mir Hossein Mousavi and the latter's wife, Zahra Rahnavard, remained under house arrest without charge or trial since 2011....
Torture and other ill-treatment remained common, especially during interrogations. Detainees held by the Ministry of Intelligence and the Revolutionary Guards were routinely subjected to prolonged solitary confinement amounting to torture.
Failure to investigate allegations of torture and exclude “confessions” obtained under torture as evidence against suspects remained systematic.
The authorities continued to deprive prisoners detained for political reasons of adequate medical care. In many cases, this was done as a deliberate punishment or to extract “confessions”, and it amounted to torture.
Prisoners endured cruel and inhuman conditions of detention, including overcrowding, limited hot water, inadequate food, insufficient beds, poor ventilation and insect infestations.
More than a dozen political prisoners at Karaj’s Raja'i Shahr prison waged a prolonged hunger strike between July and September in protest at their dire detention conditions. Some faced denial of medical care, solitary confinement and fresh criminal charges in reprisal....
In February, the Supreme Court upheld a binding sentence issued by a criminal court in Kohgiluyeh and Boyer-Ahmad province against a woman in retribution for blinding another woman.
Dozens of amputation sentences were imposed and subsequently upheld by the Supreme Court. In April, judicial authorities in Shiraz, Fars province, amputated the hand of Hamid Moinee and executed him 10 days later. He had been convicted of murder and robbery. At least four other amputation sentences were carried out for robbery....
In May, a woman arrested for having an intimate extramarital relationship was sentenced by a criminal court in the capital, Tehran, to two years of washing corpses and 74 lashes. The man was sentenced to 99 lashes....
Trials, including those resulting in death sentences, were systematically unfair. There were no independent mechanisms for ensuring accountability within the judiciary. Serious concerns remained that judges, particularly those presiding over Revolutionary Courts, were appointed on the basis of their political opinions and affiliation with intelligence bodies, and lacked legal qualifications.
This past December and January, protests began in reaction to the Iranian budget. Iranian people engaged in widespread protests calling for clerics to be reined in, an end to corruption, the end of support for Assad in Syria, and the end of the dictatorship. Iran has reportedly arrested nearly 5,000 people during recent protests, and at least 25 were killed. The majority of those arrested are educated young people. These protests are the country's biggest unrest in a decade. Human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch have demanded that the deaths of protestors be investigated.
Many of the concerns of protestors are about the Iranian economy. Unemployment remains high for youth; inflation is soaring; real wages are stagnating; and housing remains expensive and unaffordable to many. Some 80% of all workers in Iran are in insecure, temporary contracts. In the recent budget, which prompted protests across the country, the clerics were given billions to pay for religious libraries, for religious foundations, and to lead Friday prayers. This was on top of the purported further billions allocated to finance the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. Since the protests, however, President Rouhani has announced some economic reforms.
We are also encouraged by the many Iranians, including many women, who are currently speaking out for their rights. The hijab protests were started by Masih Alinejad, the founder of My Stealthy Freedom, an online movement that opposes the dress code.
The hashtag #WhiteWednesdays quickly spread across social media, with women of all ages posting pictures of themselves wearing white as a symbol of protest. Dozens of women have been arrested in Tehran for removing their head scarves in public. Many women recorded their acts of defiance, waving their head scarves around in busy crowds.
The NDP urges the Canadian government to advocate for the human rights of all those in Iran whose inalienable rights have been infringed.
Across the country, talented Iranian nationals' permanent residence applications are stuck in our system. The government recently acknowledged that the problem exists but has taken no concrete action to fix it.
The NDP is calling on the government to finally put an end to these delays once and for all. The government needs to immediately review the current system, identify the cause of delays, revise the process to prevent further delays, and ensure that Iranian nationals are not subject to wait times that are astronomically higher than those for other applicants.
Coming back to the motion being debated today, one of the main reasons we believe it is important to maintain diplomatic ties with regimes we do not like is that it is crucial to have lines of communication open between our officials and the officials of other countries precisely for those times when we need to work for the release of one of our unjustly imprisoned nationals. How can Canada possibly defend our people when we have no one in the country to do it on our behalf, no one who knows the lay of the land, the right officials to approach, and so on?
At the present time, Canada maintains diplomatic ties with a number of regimes that quite obviously do not share our values. Canada does this for the very practical reasons I have mentioned. My friends in the Conservative Party can correct me if I am wrong, but I do not recall hearing them call for shutting down our embassies or consulates in the Philippines, China, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, or the Democratic Republic of the Congo. There is no shortage of unsavoury regimes in the world.
The NDP has communicated on multiple occasions the urgency and scope of the problems created by diplomatic tensions. I urge us, today, to understand the language that has been laid out before us with this motion and leverage the actual ways in which we can advance human rights in Iran.