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Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was first.

Last in Parliament October 2019, as NDP MP for Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou (Québec)

Won his last election, in 2015, with 37% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Aboriginal Affairs May 29th, 2012

Mr. Speaker, Canada has had many shining moments, but we have also had our dark chapters. Later, governments apologized and took responsibility for them. An example is the residential schools apology.

Despite that apology, there are still survivors that have yet to have their cases addressed. This includes the experimental Eskimos. In the 1960s, seven Inuit children were removed from their homes and sent to live with families in Ottawa. The government wanted to see if Inuit children could succeed in a formal education system. They were removed from their families, communities and their culture, just as we residential school survivors were.

When they came to make their claims under the residential school settlement, they were told that their experience was not within the criteria for claims. They were forced to turn to the courts, where they have been for four years. The government has fought them at every turn, denying them an apology and compensation that they are due.

I call upon the government to stop its obstruction and give these survivors their basic dignity.

Iran May 14th, 2012

Mr. Chair, I do not think that was a question; it was a comment.

I think one of the things that we seem to forget a lot of times when we are debating human rights around the world is the fact that—yes, I agree—we need to work collectively, and I did mention that in my text. I gave the example of the work that we did for more than 23 years at the UN in drafting and negotiating the text of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. That was a collective effort by many people.

The government across the way came to power in 2006, and it decided to obstruct the process at the UN. It was unfortunate that the government did that when it arrived for the first time in 2006.

A lot of collective effort is required in fighting against human rights violations around the world. That is what this party is going to do come 2015.

Iran May 14th, 2012

Mr. Chair, I cannot wait to see the initiative that is going to be proposed. I do not think the office has been created yet, but we will wait and see what the contents and the mandate of the office will be.

Having said that, I would like to take this opportunity to continue on some points that I wanted to mention earlier. When I was talking about Rights and Democracy a while ago, one of the important parts of the mandate of Rights and Democracy for many years has been to promote many fundamental human rights for people around the world. One of them, of course, was religious freedom.

How do we do outreach with civil society in countries where there are many human rights violations? How do we do that outreach?

One of the best means we have had for two decades was Rights and Democracy. The government decided to cut that for ideological reasons. That should be denounced as well.

We can continue on and on all night denouncing human rights violations in Iran, but there are a lot of other countries where we should do the same. We should not act just on economic or commercial expediency, turning a blind eye to human rights violations in many countries around the world.

Iran May 14th, 2012

Mr. Chair, I thank my colleague for her question and especially for her comments as well.

To a very large extent my colleague is absolutely right in saying that human rights violations do not occur only in Iran. There are human rights violations in many countries in the world. It seems striking to me that while we are denouncing human rights violations in Iran, we are not doing the same thing for human rights violations in China, for instance, or Ukraine, or Ethiopia and so on.

One of the ways through which we promoted human rights and democracy for the past two decades was exactly that institution, Rights and Democracy, which the government has decided to slash.

I have worked with Rights and Democracy for a very long time. It has one of the greatest reputations as an institution, not only in Canada but around the world. I worked with Rights and Democracy at the UN for more than a decade. I have seen the job it has done, not only for Canadian aboriginal peoples but also for aboriginal peoples throughout the world. As we know, there are more than 370 million aboriginal people on this planet, and Rights and Democracy has done great work for South America, for Africa and throughout the world. It was a decision that was unfortunate for many Canadians and for many other people around this planet.

Iran May 14th, 2012

Mr. Chair, I would like to thank my colleagues from all parties who have risen to share their points of view.

A lot has been said in this evening's debate, but I think that the remarks can be summed up in one very simple principle: human rights are fundamentally important in a modern society and are an essential precondition to true democratic development.

I think that everybody here agrees with this principle, and our discussions have, to date, confirmed that.

My speaking time will be dedicated to three specific points: the fate of Iranian Canadians imprisoned in Iran, freedom of the press and the use of the death penalty in Iran.

In recent years we have witnessed cases of Iranian Canadians who have been detained, charged and, in some cases, threatened with the death penalty. Certain cases have received a lot of media attention, including the case of Hamid Ghassemi- Shall. There have also been cases such as that of journalist Zahra Kazemi, who was arrested and died in detention, as well as Maziar Bahari, who was repeatedly beaten and threatened with execution during his 118-day imprisonment in Iran.

Mr. Ghassemi-Shall was arrested in Iran when he went to visit his bereaved mother in 2008. He was then accused of spying and sentenced to death. Last year, he was told that his sentence would be commuted to life in prison. However, he was returned to death row last month. He was called to an interview at Evin prison and, according to his sister, he was told that he would soon be hanged.

Photojournalist Zahra Kazemi died in an Iranian prison on July 11, 2003, almost three weeks after being arrested for taking photos outdoors during a student protest in Tehran. Two days later, the official Iranian news service stated that Ms. Kazemi died in hospital after suffering a stroke during her interrogation. On July 16, 2003, the authorities changed their tune. Iran's vice-president admitted that Ms. Kazemi had been beaten and had died of her injuries. After her death, her son Stephan Hashemi demanded that Iran return his mother's body to Canada for burial. Iran refused.

Mr. Bahari is a journalist who was arrested by Iranian intelligence officers in Tehran in June 2009 in the aftermath of the election demonstrations that swept across the city. He was held in Iran's notorious Evin Prison. Iranian interrogators accused him of being a spy for the CIA, Mossad and M16. He was never told why he was arrested. He was interrogated and tortured repeatedly during his incarceration. After 118 days, he was finally released.

While each of these cases is unique and has its own sets of human rights violations, they are all part of a greater pattern of disrespect for the very concept of human rights. In each of these cases and in its own way, the Government of Iran completely disregarded the very basic human rights of these Canadian citizens. These cases also show that many of the structures that we depend on to ensure our human rights are respected in Canada are simply not in place in Iran or, if they do exist, do not have the power to ensure those rights are protected.

The most recent United Nations human rights committee report on Iran, dated November 29, 2011, speaks directly to some of these weaknesses. For example, in this report the committee expresses its concern about “reports of the use of general and blanket arrest warrants which do not contain the names of the accused and are not based on a judge's review of evidence.” It also expressed concern that the “independence of the judiciary is not fully guaranteed and is compromised by undue pressure from the executive power.” In the cases I mentioned earlier, we saw the judicial system used as a tool to suppress the views of others, to punish those who disagree with the government and as a way to bypass the basic human rights of these individuals.

In any truly democratic society that respects human rights, a free press is an extremely important pillar. In the cases of Mrs. Kazemi and Mr. Bahari, we saw those basic human rights ignored.

We have seen throughout history that when human rights are being abused and ignored, freedom of the press is restricted and in some cases the press itself is co-opted and controlled by the state to suppress the human rights of minorities.

In Iran, the state control over the media and the absence of freedom of the press are certainly of great concern when it comes to human rights violations.

In the recent report of the United Nations Human Rights Committee on civil and political rights in Iran, these concerns are expressed very well:

The Committee further notes that the Human Rights Committee expressed its concern that: Many newspapers, magazines, as well as the Journalists Association, have been closed by the authorities since 2008, and that many journalists, newspaper editors, film-makers and media workers have been arrested and detained since the 2009 presidential elections. The Committee is also concerned about the monitoring of Internet use and contents, blocking of websites that carry political news and analysis, slowing down of Internet speeds and jamming of foreign satellite broadcasts, in particular since the 2009 presidential elections.

These are very concerning actions taken by the Government of Iran. These methods of controlling the media and access to information help the government keep its activities that suppress human rights in the dark.

In this age of high technology, the Internet and social media, these approaches are not as effective as they once were. We saw great examples of that during the Arab Spring last year when people organized and put their stories out through Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Citizens go around these digital roadblocks put up by their governments to share their stories.

The last point I would like to raise this evening is Iran's death penalty. Many countries have stopped imposing the death penalty for serious crimes. Canada had the wisdom to do so in 1976, I believe.

However, not all countries have chosen to eliminate it. Some have even gone in the opposite direction. Iran is one of those countries. The United Nations Human Rights Committee report on Iran, which I just quoted, highlighted the following points with respect to the death penalty in Iran:

The Committee continues to be deeply concerned about the extremely high and increasing number of death sentences pronounced and carried out in the State party, the wide range and often vague definition of offences for which the death penalty is applied, and the large number of capital crimes and execution methods. The Committee is also concerned about the continued use of public executions, as well as stoning, as a method of execution. It also notes with concern the high rate of State executions in ethnic minority areas...

The Committee is gravely concerned about the continued execution of minors and the imposition of the death penalty for persons who were found to have committed a crime while under 18 years of age...

Finally, this is the context for use of the death penalty in Iran, according to the Canadian section of Amnesty International.

During this evening's debate, we have all raised examples of how human rights are being violated in Iran. Sadly, there are many such examples, and many other cases of people being punished and mistreated in that country. Still, by talking about them and calling the world's attention to them, we may be able to put pressure on that government to change its ways.

I want to say, in conclusion, that I was lucky to spend over 20 years at the United Nations during the negotiations leading up to the UN's Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. I was able to see how activism by the international community can result in great progress.

Let us add our voices to all those calling for human rights all over the planet, and let us all be part of the solution.

Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act May 8th, 2012

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank the member for her contribution to this debate.

Earlier this afternoon, in her speech about the budget, the member for Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke said that there were to be no cuts to health or education. I believe I heard her correctly. I made notes about those comments.

However, we know that the budgets for health programs provided by certain organizations, such as the Assembly of First Nations and the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, or ITK, have been slashed by 40%. The Métis National Council and the Native Women's Association of Canada have both lost 100% of the funding for their health programs.

Can the member tell us how these measures will affect the health of first nations people in Canada who are already coping with very difficult conditions?

Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act May 4th, 2012

Mr. Speaker, on Tuesday we learned that the president of Taseko Mines had sent the Minister of the Environment a letter requesting three things: that no aboriginals be appointed to the committee assessing his project; that the hearings not start with an aboriginal drum and prayer ceremony; and that spirituality not be considered an aboriginal right.

I would like my colleague to tell me whether the measures proposed by this government will help in meeting that kind of request.

Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act May 4th, 2012

Mr. Speaker, there are many parts of the budget that are troublesome to me.

I would like to ask my hon. colleague a question about the changes to the environmental assessment and review processes that are proposed in what the government is calling a budget bill. Why is the government calling this a budget bill? Does the member think the government is trying to hide the huge changes that would be made to the environmental assessment process?

International Cooperation May 4th, 2012

Madam Speaker, while the minister is living high on the hog, Canada is ending aid to Rwanda, Nepal, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Niger and Cambodia. Canada is delivering less and less aid where the need is greatest.

When will the government stop backsliding on foreign aid and focus on the world's poor instead of the minister's comfort?

International Cooperation May 4th, 2012

Madam Speaker, the true impact of the Conservatives' decision to cut international aid is becoming clear.

As expected, not only are the employees feeling the effects, but so are programs and services. While the minister is drinking $16 glasses of orange juice, Canada is cutting its funding to the fight against TB by $10 million.

How did this government come up with these ridiculous priorities? Will it reverse its decision on these reckless cuts?