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Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was fact.

Last in Parliament October 2015, as NDP MP for Ottawa Centre (Ontario)

Lost his last election, in 2015, with 39% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Iran Accountability Week May 5th, 2015

Mr. Chair, the whole idea of sanctions was to get Iran to come to the table to discuss the issue of nuclear proliferation. That is what the P5+1 process is about, to stop Iran from having access to a nuclear weapon.

We should be cautious but supportive. Everyone wants to achieve the aspirational goal on which we all agree, and that is to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons in general.

As an aside, I hope the government is fully engaged with the NPT review process that is going on.

It also goes without saying that we have to be vigilant on human rights. Some people suggest that we cannot do both. We must trust, verify and ensure that we are holding Iran to account on the nuclear question. It is absolutely critical. Supporting the P5+1 is important, because what is the alternative? At the same time, we need to be focusing on the human rights conditions and supporting the human rights defenders. One of the most important human rights defenders was arrested today, again.

We need to be focused on this. We need to support the process in which our allies are involved. However, we must not take our eye off the human rights situation in Iran.

We also have to step back for a moment and understand how the Iranian regime works. There are many different layers. Therefore, when we see Rouhani doing the public diplomacy, smiling and engaging, that is one part. Then there is the other part, which is the people who are being jailed in Evin prison and the people who are being executed. We must not forget them. We must stand by them. We must support them.

Iran Accountability Week May 5th, 2015

Mr. Chair, I rise today to join the debate that we have had in past years during Iran Accountability Week. I want to talk about a couple of aspects in my speech.

Before I begin, I want to say that we have a responsibility here in Parliament to shine the light on human rights. Whether it be in Iran or elsewhere, it is imperative. I have raised this in the formal committee on foreign affairs, of which I am the co-chair, but I want to just underline that I would like to see Parliament actually have a separate committee for human rights that is independent, and the importance of having that. As members know, the human rights committee is a subcommittee of the foreign affairs committee. Frankly, I think we should have a separate committee. It deserves to be an independent committee. I have nothing against the committee right now. It does terrific work. As has already been mentioned, it does work by consensus and it has raised important issues. However, the fact that it is a subcommittee is unfortunate, and I just wanted to make sure that the point is made.

I also want to bring to the attention of the House some recent information that has come to light. One of the leading human rights defenders has just been arrested in Iran. Narges Mohammadi is the deputy head of the Defenders of Human Rights Center, and she has just been arrested. She has been an extremely important human rights defender in Iran. She has been arrested before, but she has just been arrested again as of today. This news is just coming out.

She is the mother of two, and she has been steadfast in standing up against the whole issue of the death sentence, which we have talked about already tonight. She wants to have that abolished. I think it is pretty obvious why we should abolish the death sentence in Iran. She has been speaking out on behalf of those who are not able to speak, and she has just been arrested. I wanted to bring that to the attention of the House, to call for her release, and to support her cause to end the death penalty in Iran. In fact, it is something that we should be promoting around the world as part of our foreign policy.

As I mentioned to the last person who spoke, I was asked to support Iran Accountability Week by taking on a political prisoner, and I have done for the last couple of years. His name has already been mentioned, but I am going to focus my comments on Saeed Malekpour. Last June, people around the world got involved in his case through social media. We have talked about the importance of social media and how it can help in these cases. It was a very basic thing, to wish him a happy birthday last June to bring attention to his plight. There was a hashtag, #HBDSaeed, which went viral. It was very creative, and it brought attention to his plight.

To give some background on Saeed, who he is and how he ended up in prison, he is a software engineer, or a techie, if we will. If he had been able to see the online wave of well-wishers, I am sure he would be pleased with this whole hashtag campaign. Unfortunately, though, he does not have access to basic rights such as computers right now, much less Twitter. For nearly seven years, Saeed has spent every birthday and every other day in a cell in Iran's notorious Evin prison.

In 2008, Saeed was a permanent resident in Canada, with a home in Richmond Hill, as has already been mentioned, and he wrote a blog. He was preparing to begin his graduate studies at the University of Victoria. However, during a trip to Iran to visit his terminally ill father in 2008, Saeed was arrested. He was charged with blasphemy and accused of developing software that was subsequently used by a pornographic network. According to a letter that he was able to smuggle out of prison, he was tortured physically and psychologically, whipped with cables, paralyzed with electrical shocks, and thrown for nearly a year in solitary confinement without medical attention.

When Saeed's abusers finally extracted a forced confession, he was sentenced to death. After four years of heavy pressure from governments and civil society worldwide, Saeed's sentence was commuted to life imprisonment in 2012. This progress is proof of the real power of international opinion and pressure, even within an authoritarian regime like Iran's display of trumped up charges and treatment. We know we can have an effect when we speak out.

It is testimony to the importance of naming and shaming individuals and states that violate human rights, democratic freedoms, due process and the rule of law. It shows it can work, in fact. That is why we are doing what we are doing this week.

Yet this commutation is small consolation to Saeed's sister Maryam, who now lives in Edmonton, and other members of his family, because he has a life sentence. It does nothing to remedy the greater problem of a continued pattern of horrific and unacceptable human rights abuses in Iran, particularly in the Iranian prison and justice systems.

Tragically, Saeed's arrest, sham trial and illegitimate conviction on charges of blasphemy are far from unique. We have heard some of the stories tonight. Freedom of religion and expression are not just essential elements of democracy, they are non-negotiable and non-partisan principles that Canadians support and expect their elected representatives to defend.

The criminalization and punishment of expression, contrary to certain religious interpretations, is totally arbitrary and reprehensible. The imposition of the death penalty or even life imprisonment in such cases is especially egregious and abhorrent.

In Saeed's case, this already illegitimate law was stretched to preposterous limits. If pornography is a crime, Saeed did not commit it. He designed and developed software that was then sold on for further use. He did not determine and was not responsible for how that software was used.

His conviction would be farcical, perhaps even laughable, were it not so appalling. Yet if we are to hold Saeed responsible, it should be to thank him. Saeed's work made it easier for everyday people in Iran and around the world to express and share their thoughts and beliefs quickly, creatively and effectively. His software was all about that. He made the world a bit more free. In doing so, he ran up against those who seek to curtail that freedom, and to couple repressive practices with regressive policies.

President Rouhani has spoken of the need for “constructive engagement,” and the Iranian people have given him a clear mandate for reform. Yet his administration persists in violating and ignoring its own international legal and human rights obligations. So long as Iran prevents and prohibits the free exercise of free speech, its government cannot and will not be accepted or welcomed in the international community.

Two years ago, I was proud to receive unanimous support from all parties for my parliamentary motion marking the 25th anniversary of the 1988 massacre of thousands of political prisoners in Iran, which has already been referenced by the member for Westmount—Ville-Marie. I thank him for his work and his support.

This motion made Canada the first country in the world to officially recognize this mass atrocity in 1988 for what it was, a crime against humanity. Just as we must remember the crimes of the past, we must speak out and stand up against the crimes of the present.

Saeed Malekpour moved to Canada because he loved our country and what it represented. All Canadians can be proud of what Saeed represents. We must not rest until he is home. That is my cause. That is the cause of what we are discussing tonight. That is the importance of human rights protection and those who are human rights defenders.

Iran Accountability Week May 5th, 2015

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?

Government Contracts May 4th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, access to information requests show that IT contracts at the Department of Foreign Affairs frequently exceed budgets. According to La Presse, a $62,000 contract ended up ballooning to more than $400,000, and a $1 million contract exceeded almost double the cost that was budgeted. This is on top of an internal investigation into IT consultants fabricating time sheets.

Why is the Conservative government throwing money at high-priced consultants? What happened to transparency? What happened to oversight? Where is the accountability from the Conservative government?

Canada Post May 1st, 2015

Mr. Speaker, this week, city counsellors heard from people from across Ottawa who are concerned about home mail delivery. In neighbourhoods like densely populated Centretown, people are worried about super boxes taking over scarce green space.

The Conservatives are turning their backs on the people of Ottawa. For example, they have given Canada Post the power to put these super mailboxes wherever they want, regardless of what the city wants or what local people want. They have run roughshod over their rights. When will the Conservatives stop this reckless plan?

Ongoing Situation in Ukraine April 29th, 2015

Mr. Chair, I had little time and I am sharing my time so it was something that I intended to do, but I laid out in the five minutes I had our position on sanctions, so I will let my colleague read the record.

In terms of our support for what the government has laid out in support for the troops and training, it was very clear what we wanted to see. It was just very clear goals, ensuring it is the professionalism. The government has acknowledged some concerns around theft or people wanting to profiteer from the mission and ensuring that is not going to happen. We are providing what I think we should be doing and being consistent on it, as official opposition, to say that we understand what the government's intentions are and we will monitor it closely. We want to ensure the goals are established clearly.

That is why we always look forward to debate. Ultimately, debate and a vote is what we normally ask for in these situations. That is exactly what we have done, and we have been consistent on that. My colleague from St. John's East has been crystal clear on our objectives as the official opposition in terms of keeping the government to account and at the same time, of course, supporting the people of Ukraine.

Ongoing Situation in Ukraine April 29th, 2015

Mr. Chair, I would actually strengthen the sanctions, as I just mentioned.

While I am on that, I wanted to add something. I had the opportunity yesterday to meet with Vera Savchenko, who is the sister of Nadiya Savchenko. Nadiya Savchenko is being imprisoned in Russia. She is a Ukrainian woman pilot who was abducted by the Russians and is from eastern Ukraine. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and international governments have urged her release from this precarious situation she is in. I want to put on the record that we should be putting sanctions directly related to her case on Russian officials. I hope the government takes this seriously.

There are two particular individuals. There is the director of the Federal Security Service, an individual who was Putin's director for the FSS before becoming prime minister and president; and finally, the head of the Investigative Committee of Russia who was involved in the abduction, we believe, of this individual.

That is my response for my colleague. Strengthen the sanctions and call for the immediate release of Nadiya, as I know the government wants to do and has done.

Ongoing Situation in Ukraine April 29th, 2015

Mr. Chair, I just want to say at the outset that I will be sharing my time with the terrific member for Parkdale—High Park.

Tonight, we have heard a lot of debate and comments around the government's recent announcement. That is important. I want to thank my colleagues, in particular my colleague from St. John's East, our defence spokesperson, for laying out some really important questions, and for a good back-and-forth with government to clarify some points.

I want to focus a little on the sanctions regime. It is really quite important that we talk about this. We all have the same goal, and that is to help the people of Ukraine. It is important to keep that in mind. The actions we have seen, the aggression we have seen and the posturing we have seen from Putin and from the Russian Federation are clearly unacceptable.

It is a question of how we respond, and how we can be effective in our response. I want to reassure, from our side of the House, the people of Ukraine that we are there to help the people of Ukraine. We are there to help them become more independent, obviously, to look at strengthening institutions, to strengthen their economy, to make sure the people, particularly in the east who have been most adversely affected by this aggression, are going to get the support that we can provide to them. Of course that means helping the government in general.

One of the tools that we have been very focused on on this side of the House, and I know the government has engaged and has made mention of sanctions, is to talk about sanctions and what they are intended to do, and how sanctions can be used to attain the goal. I am going to lay that out. The goal should be paramount. It is not just sanctions for sanctions' sake. It is not just to say we are doing something. It is to say we have sanctions for a clear delineated goal.

It is interesting that I have to go over our position that we have been reiterating. There has been a little change on the other side, thankfully, on the sanctions that we think are missing from the government's list that are incorporated, frankly, by the EU and by our friends in the States. My colleague from Parkdale—High Park just raised this question, but it bears repeating.

With regard to Igor Sechin, the government did, and I acknowledge, put Rosneft, the oil company, on the list. Just so members know, Rosneft owns about 30% of an oilfield here in Alberta, Canada. Rosneft is now on the sanctioned list by our government, and I want to acknowledge that, but not Sechin.

I would really like to hear from the government why Igor Sechin is not on the sanctions list. As I said, I acknowledge they did put his company on the list, but if we are actually going to be effective and use sanctions as a clear tool to effect change, to have an impact, we need to coordinate it with our allies, obviously, and we have to put individuals like Sechin on the list. First, because it sends a message; and second, because it will actually affect and hurt Sechin, and of course Putin and the people around him.

We have also asked for Rostec, the state-owned defence and industrial firm, to be on the list. The CEO, Chemezov, has been on the list. He is the chairman of basically an arms export agency. He was a leader in the United Russia Party. His company was sanctioned in the U.S. in September 2014. In this case, we sanctioned the individual but not the company. This is an inversion of what we have seen.

What we have in some cases is we are putting companies on the sanctions list and not the individual, and in this case, looking at Rostec, we are putting the individual on the list but not the company. What requires an explanation here is the incoherence of the government's approach, which is not in keeping with that of our allies.

Yakunin has been mentioned before. He is the CEO of the Russian railways. He is a long-time friend of Putin. He was sanctioned by the U.S. in March 2014. He is involved in Russian rail projects, joint venture agreements with Canadian companies.

We have these individuals who are not on the list and some companies that are, and it lacks coherence.

I want to just highlight those individuals and those companies because, in the case of Igor Sechin, we will not find someone who is closer.

I would just end with this. Sanctions will be ineffective unless they target significant economic relations. The U.S. and the EU sanctions are what brought the Russians to the negotiating table. Canada's make-believe sanctions have deprived it of any role in these talks. Russians, no strangers to deception, can recognize a ruse when they see it. That was by Michael Byers, who is a professor of law. He pointed this out. I am pointing it out. We have a problem in our approach with sanctions, and I want to lay that on the table.

Points of Order April 29th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I respect my friend, of course, same city and all, but was directing my comment at the Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister. He used to have the job, but he no longer does, which is unfortunate, I guess. The point was income splitting.

Points of Order April 29th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, while I am glad the Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister read my householder, during question period he said that in it there was information about income splitting, which of course has not been passed by Parliament and is not in the document.

I give him the opportunity to actually clarify the record, because I do not put in things that are not accurate in what I put out to constituents, unlike the government that puts out advertising about things that actually have not been passed in Parliament yet.