Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee
Human Rights Situation in Iran
Hon. Diane Ablonczy (Minister of State of Foreign Affairs (Americas and Consular Affairs), CPC):  
    Madam Chair, part of my duties as minister of state is to look after consular services that are provided to Canadian citizens who travel and live abroad. I want to enter this debate from the aspect of how conditions in Iran impact consular cases and our ability to assist individuals who are suffering tremendous difficulty in that country.
    I would like to add my congratulations and thanks to the hon. member for Mount Royal for spearheading this debate. It is important that Canadians know what their elected representatives think, say and know about conditions around the world, particularly in a case like this where we have a very unstable situation and contravention of the values, principles and rights that we as Canadians hold dear.
    As background on consular matters, our government offers consular services in more than 260 locations globally. On an average day we open 686 new consular cases. These include distress situations such as medical emergencies, arrest and detention, child abductions and custody issues, and deaths abroad.
    I would like to highlight for Canadians our deep concerns about many individuals in Iran who have been sentenced to death after highly questionable processes. In addition, we are troubled by the lack of co-operation from Iran when it comes to Canada’s ability to provide consular services to dual-citizen Canadians imprisoned in Iran.
    One of the greatest challenges is obtaining access to our citizens who are dual nationals. In fact, many countries, and Iran is one of them, do not even recognize dual nationality and do not believe that Canada has the right to access, visit, or even to any information about our citizens. Naturally, Canada firmly believes that our citizens should have access to consular services regardless of what other citizenship they may hold.
    We have made consular services part of Canada’s controlled engagement strategy with Iran. The Canadian embassy in Iran is committed to providing the best consular services that it can. Unfortunately, we have had very little, if any, co-operation from the government of Iran.
    Fortunately we do not have many cases there, but the ones that do arise pose serious challenges. That is why we have made them important priorities for our government.
    Canadians may be aware that laws in other countries often limit or sometimes completely prevent the ability of Canadian officials to provide consular services to Canadians of dual nationality who find themselves in distress. Nevertheless, as in the case of Iran, our government continues to press the authorities for due process, fair treatment and consular access to Canadian citizens detained in that country. Canada will continue to advocate on behalf of Canadian citizens who hold dual citizenship.
    I would like to talk about a couple of very high profile consular cases in Iran.
    One is the incarceration of a journalist, Hossein Derakhshan, who is a Canadian citizen and has been incarcerated for some time. We have made strenuous efforts to assist Mr. Derakhshan.
    Last October, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the minister of foreign and European affairs of France issued a joint declaration calling for the release of Mr. Derakhshan and asking Iran to recognize his dual citizenship and guarantee consular access in accordance with the Vienna conventions. We have enlisted other partners in making our concerns heard in Iran. Our government’s position has been clear. Iran must release Mr. Derakhshan and other journalists who have been unjustly detained and sentenced, and it must allow media to report freely.
    We also continue to be active in the case of another Canadian citizen imprisoned in Iran, Hamid Ghassemi-Shall. Canada has actively sought and continues to seek consular access to Mr. Ghassemi-Shall. Both the Minister of Foreign Affairs and his parliamentary secretary have been in touch with Mr. Ghassemi-Shall’s wife to discuss this very troubling case. In addition, the Minister of Foreign Affairs has written and spoken to his counterpart in Iran about the case.
    The promotion and protection of human rights is integral to Canada’s foreign policy, and it has been under any government in Canada. The protection of human rights is a core element of Canadian values, which is why we are so disturbed about the recent wave of executions in Iran that my colleague from Mount Royal and others have mentioned this evening.
    We are also particularly concerned about Saeed Malekpour. Mr. Malekpour is a permanent resident of Canada. He has reportedly been condemned to death after software that he created was allegedly deemed offensive to the regime in Iran. He is one of many Iranian citizens and others facing a harsh sentence imposed for a questionable crime in a country that lacks respect for the rule of law and basic human rights.
    As recently as two weeks ago, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs stood in this House and highlighted the case of Mr. Malekpour. Canada continues to be deeply concerned as well by the case of Ms. Ashtiani. As members know, we have taken a firm stand on this case. The House unanimously voted in November to call upon our Minister of Foreign Affairs to take the strongest possible action to demand that the Government of Iran permanently stay the execution of Ms. Ashtiani.
    Our government has been a relentless advocate in speaking against a regime that flagrantly abuses the fundamental rights of not only Canadians but its own citizens. We will not be silent. We will continue to speak out and denounce the inhumanity that is so unacceptable to our country and to others around the world.
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Mr. Mario Silva (Davenport, Lib.):  
    Mr. Chair, I would like congratulate the hon. minister on her new file as Minister of State of Foreign Affairs (Americas and Consular Affairs).
    In her new role as the Minister of State of Foreign Affairs for the Americas and Consular Affairs, could she talk about what is happening in Venezuela? In speaking with several officials, I know there is concern about what is taking place there, specifically with the Jewish community, and Iran’s influence and involvement in that country and around that part of the world. There have been a series of secret flights taken back and forth. We are not sure what it is about. We are very much concerned and are monitoring that situation. I want to know if the minister has anything new to add on that particular situation.
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Hon. Diane Ablonczy:  
    Mr. Chair, we are very troubled about this situation. As the minister mentioned, there have been some tremendous difficulties in this relation. We are concerned about the shrinking of democratic space, as we might say, in Venezuela. We maintain though a policy of principled engagement with this country. We believe that it is important to bring to bear the opinions and the interaction of our neighbours and friends in the Americas to strengthen democracy and protect the kind of human rights that we are talking about today.
    We have had tremendous co-operation from others in the Americas and we will continue to work very hard, not just in Venezuela, but in all countries in our American hemisphere to strengthen democratic institutions and the rule of law. That will promote the kind of economic growth that will provide a strong future for people in that country.
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Mr. Wayne Marston (Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, NDP):  
     Mr. Chair, the report that the Subcommittee on International Human Rights tabled in the House via the standing committee had 24 recommendations but there are two that I would like a response from the minister on. Perhaps she may be aware of whether the government is considering following these recommendations.
    The first recommendation is:
    The subcommittee recommends that the Government of Canada continue to provide moral support and should increase, if possible, its financial support for Canadian and Iranian civil society organizations and other human rights groups that document and report on human rights abuses committed by the Iranian regime.
    The second one is:
    The Subcommittee recommends that the Government of Canada consider funding a research chair at a Canadian university dedicated to the study of Canadian-Iranian relations, including the human rights situation in Iran.
    As I said in my remarks a little earlier, the important thing that witnesses have told us is about the documentation and information gathering on this regime and the importance of this to them going forward.
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Hon. Diane Ablonczy:  
    Mr. Chair, as the Minister of Foreign Affairs said in answer to a similar question this evening, the recommendations of the report are being carefully studied. We appreciate and commend the work that was done by this committee. It was extremely thorough. We share its outrage at Iran’s human rights abuses.
    However, the report is being studied and there will be a response tabled in the House when it has been completed. In the meantime, and as part of that, we will continue to call on Iran to live up to its human rights promises. In fact, Iran has made commitments, signed on to international treaties. We call on Iran to live up to its word and keep its promises. We are and will remain on the side of those in Iranian prisons who have been unjustly imprisoned on grounds of their religious, political or social beliefs.
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Mr. Harold Albrecht (Kitchener—Conestoga, CPC):  
     Mr. Chair, I, too, would like to add my words of congratulations to the minister on her recent appointment as Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, with specific responsibilities for the Americas and also for Consular Services.
    There is no question that all of us in the House are disturbed by the suppressing opposition of the protests that are happening in Iran, the activists who are being arrested, the government’s increased crackdown on minorities and opposition groups, Iran’s use of intimidation and violence to suppress dissent, and its unjust detention of human rights defenders.
    Our responsibility here in this House is certainly to address these situations, and we need to be concerned about all of those in Iran who are suffering, but I think our primary concern as Canadian parliamentarians needs to be the well-being of our Canadian citizens.
     I would just like the minister to expand perhaps on her comments earlier regarding Canadians of dual citizenship who are being detained in spite of the lack of due process that was followed in their arrest and detention. Certainly it is important that our government speaks up on their behalf, and I know our minister is working hard in terms of the consular services she is offering them, but I would just like her to expand a bit on her comments about the services that the government it providing to Canadians of dual citizenship who are being unjustly detained in Iran.
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Hon. Diane Ablonczy:  
    Mr. Chair, the best way to answer his question is to use as an example a very current case, the case of Mr. Ghassemi-Shall. Mr. Ghassemi-Shall is actually a citizen of Canada and, as I mentioned, was arrested and imprisoned in Iran for a website that he designed that somehow offended that regime. Mr. Ghassemi-Shall’s wife who is in Canada is very distraught, as everyone can appreciate. We are doing everything we can to assist Mr. Ghassemi-Shall and his wife.
    We have run into some real difficulties, which will not surprise anyone. The regime does not recognize dual citizenship, let alone permanent residency, but we will continue to provide assistance to the family. Since learning of the arrest, we have been in contact with Iranian authorities, both politically and diplomatically, including by diplomatic notes. We have sought consular access to Mr. Ghassemi-Shall.
     The Minister of Foreign Affairs has written to his counterpart, Iran’s foreign affairs minister, demanding that Canada be afforded consular access. Our officials at the embassy in Tehran continue to seek consular access consistent with the provisions of the Vienna Convention on consular relations, which Iran signed on to. We will continue to seek access and provide every possible assistance to his wife and family.
    It is of tremendous concern to us that these situations arise. This is just one example but there are others. We are active, we do not let up and we continue to press the case forward for these individuals.